Ms. Celine Kerwin

School Principal

Celine Kerwin, Principal of St. Catherine’s School for ten years, and a teacher in our school for nine years before that, has a goal in life she has not yet achieved. Celine wants to make a jigsaw puzzle out of wood.
Say that again?
As Celine tells the story, it was an elderly relative, herself a famous puzzle-maker, who introduced Celine to the art of the puzzle. Celine was fascinated. Then, lo and behold, someone gave her a jig saw!

All kinds of puzzles fascinate Miss Kerwin. Still a math teacher at heart, our Principal loves the puzzle of mathematics. Putting those numbers together in just the right formula, making those equations balance, is math-in-action for her. But it is teaching children to solve the jigsaw puzzle of math that gives her the greatest satisfaction. “I like seeing people realize that they have learned something,” she says. “It lights me up.”

Celine graduated from the College of Mount Saint Vincent in Riverdale, New York, aiming at a career as a nurse practitioner, but also having earned her teaching certificate as an undergrad. Her career goals changed, however, when she took a teaching position right here at Saint Catherine’s, teaching math and science in the 7th and 8th grades for one year in 1978-79. She says that was her year as a “baby teacher.” During a longer stint teaching at a Catholic school in Lincoln Park, she matriculated at Montclair State, earning her Masters in Educational Administration and Supervision.

But when her Principal, Sister Ellen, came to St. Catherine’s in 1992, she invited Celine to rejoin the faculty here as math teacher in the seventh and eighth grades. “How did I get to be Principal of St. Catherine’s?” Celine muses, “It’s all Sister Ellen’s fault.” Her humor betrays her admiration for her early mentor and also traces the origins of Celine’s own mentoring influence on the present faculty of St. Catherine’s.

To Miss Kerwin, technology is another puzzle, and it fascinates her. That’s because technology draws you always deeper and deeper, she says. “There’s always one more web site to visit. You’re always trying to solve the puzzle of how to do things faster and better that once took so many hours.” Under her leadership, information technology has increased its footprint in the school. It’s now in every classroom, the children use it in every class. It is a part of the educational experience rather than a separate class subject. Furthermore, as Celine points out, “This is the children’s world. This is what they know. They have no fear of technology.”

An avid golfer for more than 25 years, Celine reports that (unlike many golfers) golf in her world is a stress-free sport. She finds God on the golf course. “Every game is so different,” she observes. “I don’t get into the competition stuff. It’s just a nice walk in the woods.” (Though she freely admits that her game is often too much a “walk in the woods”!)

Why has she chosen to be an educator in a Catholic school? When asked that question, Miss Kerwin responds, “I believe in the teaching mission of the Catholic Church, and I believe that it is in a Catholic school that we can be most effective in instilling faith in our children.” She sees the School as an integral part of the Parish, and she constantly urges parents to involve themselves in the Parish community as well as in the life of the School. When a child grows up within the three communities of a Catholic family, a Catholic school, and a parish community, that child stands the best chance of forming a full and informed Catholic faith that will sustain the child throughout life.

It is children who are the ultimate “puzzle” that fascinates this would-be puzzle-maker. But children are different from any other form of puzzle, she muses. “They are so intangible.” It is to children that Celine has dedicated her life. Her work as Principal is different, she observes, from that of the teacher. She loves the fact that as Principal, she is able to interact with children of all ages, not just one grade. “Besides,” she observes with a smile, “I get to play in the Pre-K!”

Celine credits her success as Principal here at St. Catherine’s to two factors: prayer and support. “Prayer? I can’t start my day without it,” says Celine. “Doing my job depends on it.” “I have chosen this,” she says about her work. “This is where God wants me.” When she thinks about her faculty, many of whom have served with her for years, she sees the second pillar of her success. Their support gives her strength and joy.

In her own parish, St. Mary’s in Rutherford, Celine is a committed parishioner and serves as a Eucharistic Minister. She says that she is “overwhelmed” by the beauty and love in this ministry. “I’m passing on Jesus to someone!” It seems that this Sunday ministry is just another form of the ministry she exercises every school day: “passing on” Jesus to a new generation. Perhaps one day Celine will fulfill her dream of making a jigsaw puzzle out of wood. We’re sure that she is solving puzzle after puzzle right now at St. Catherine’s School. The amazing roster of her graduates gone on to success in higher education and careers is proof that she knows the secret of puzzle-solving.