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Catherine Ronan Karrels ’86

Catherine Ronan Karrels, a 1986 alumna of Stone Ridge School of the Sacred Heart, is the first lay woman to be named Head of School. She returned to her alma mater in July 2008 with 18 years of experience in education, including successfully starting a Catholic school for at-risk students in San Francisco.

Catherine Karrels with studentsMrs. Karrels is a Potomac, Maryland native who began her education at Stone Ridge in the first grade. Upon completing high school, Mrs. Karrels attended Boston College where she received a bachelor’s degree in English.  While in college, she volunteered at a Sacred Heart school, which ignited her interest in a career in education.  After graduation, she joined the Jesuit Volunteer Corps and she spent a year teaching disadvantaged students in an underserved community.  She then moved to San Francisco,  continued her career and pursued her master’s degree in education at San Francisco State University.

Mrs. Karrels spent six years at Sacred Heart Cathedral Preparatory, a Lasallian/Vincentian co-ed high school which serves 1,200 students in San Francisco, where she was an instructor in English and religious studies, director of student activities, and later was named assistant principal for student life.

From 2001 to June 2008, Mrs. Karrels served as the founding CEO and president/principal of De Marillac Academy.  A Nativity/Miguel school, Mrs. Karrels opened De Marillac in 2001 in one of the nation's poorest neighborhoods, the Tenderloin, in San Francisco. The school, which began with 19 sixth-graders, now has 100 students and 63 alumni. When the school was expanded to add fourth and fifth grades in 2005, it was renamed De Marillac Academy.

As the founder, Mrs. Karrels not only established policies and procedures to admit, discipline and teach students, she raised money to provide full scholarships to all students. She worked with architects on the school’s $2 million renovation project, which dramatically upgraded the overall facility and improved the building’s security.  The school is located in an area where illegal drug activity, gangs, prostitution and homelessness are part of everyday life.

The challenge at De Marillac provided Mrs. Karrels the opportunity to transform the lives of underserved students through a quality Catholic education. Her leadership allowed her to combine many of her professional and personal passions: excellence in education, entrepreneurial vision, social justice, spirituality and community.

Over the years, Mrs. Karrels has received numerous accolades and awards for her outstanding work in education. In 2005, she was honored with the Boston College Alumni Association Award for Excellence in Education. She received the Saint Francis Hospital Community Hero Award in 2004 and the District of San Francisco Distinguished Lasallian Educator Award in 2003.

Mrs. Karrels and her husband, Jim, have a son, Matthew.

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