Dominican Sister Katherine O’Connor, OP, announced this week she will step down from her role as president of Sacred Heart-Griffin High School at the end of the 2022-2023 school year.
She will leave her post in June, bringing an end to a nearly two-decade career as a leader in Catholic Dominican secondary education in Springfield.
In an announcement to faculty, staff, board of directors, and families of SHG she shared, “My heart is filled with love and gratitude for each of you. After much prayer, discernment, and discussion with family, friends, and congregational leadership, I have determined that this will be my last year as president of Sacred Heart-Griffin High School.”
Sister Katherine took on the school’s presidency in 2005, and before then, as a member of the Dominican Sisters’ Leadership Team, served as council liaison on the Sacred Heart-Griffin High School advisory board.
The president-principal leadership model is now among the most successful administrative models for mid-to-large-size Catholic schools. In this model the president’s role is crucial in building a future for the school.
During her time at SHG, Sister Katherine’s vision and focus has been centered around its students and families, while promoting the mission, future, and long-term sustainability of the school. She has effectively led SHG through historic and challenging times with grace and dedication to the mission.
“Sister Katherine has been a steadying and visionary force at Sacred Heart-Griffin for eighteen years,” said Sister Rebecca Ann Gemma, the prioress general of the Dominican Sisters. “We commend the wonderful working relationship she and the school’s principal, Kara Rapacz, have forged, and we plan to build on that foundation as the school moves forward. SHG’s governing board, faculty, and staff are up to the task of keeping the mission of the school alive. The Dominican Sisters’ Leadership Team looks forward to working with them to assure a continuation of that mission as we look for the school’s next president.”
Sister Katherine successfully led SHG through two capitol campaign projects that raised millions of dollars for renovation of the school’s west campus and Dominican Hall, positively impacting thousands of SHG students now and in the future.
The COVID-19 pandemic brought on challenges of its own. With the health and safety of students, faculty, and families at the forefront of all decisions being made, SHG remained fully opened for in-person learning for the 2020-2021school year.
“Throughout the COVID pandemic, Sister Katherine was a tireless advocate of safe and in-person education,” said board president, Chris McDowell MD. “Working closely with Kara Rapacz, they supported the development of a COVID Response Team and the hiring of a school nurse. During this time, she consistently championed the importance of safety for the students, faculty, and staff. The Board and the entire SHG community are grateful for her leadership.”
Ensuring that SHG remains an affordable option for families in our community, Sister Katherine along with the board of directors, made a bold decision to freeze tuition and offer more financial assistance to families seeking a Catholic Dominican education.
Sister Katherine has lived a life of service and always sought to embody the Dominican values of study, prayer, service, and community. She has made great friendships with students, teachers, staff and administrators.
“Over the last 16 years, I have been blessed to work with and learn from Sister Katherine,” said Principal Kara Rapacz. “Her personal and passionate approach to Catholic education has inspired me to become the leader I am today. She has served a pivotal role in assuring Sacred Heart-Griffin’s status as one of the most well-known and respected schools in the state of Illinois. Our entire school community will be forever grateful for her commitment to Catholic Dominican education.”
Sister Katherine has an extensive background in education. Before her time at SHG, she spent 20 years educating students and serving as principal at various schools, including Sacred Heart School, in Brawley, California where she taught 7th & 8th grades and served as principal. She returned to Illinois in 1979 taking on the roles of principal, assistant principal, and interim principal at schools across the state. It wasn’t until 1994, that Sister Katherine moved to Springfield to become the principal at St. Agnes Catholic School, her last principal position held before becoming president at SHG in 2005.
“The SHG Board of Directors congratulates Sister Katherine O’Connor on her 18 years as president of SHG,” said Chris McDowell. “We are grateful to her for instilling the Dominican values of community, service, study, and prayer across the administration, faculty, and student body. We look forward to working with her throughout this academic year and positioning SHG well for the future.”
Sister Katherine closed her announcement saying, “The last 18 years have been filled with many challenges and opportunities. It has been a privilege to lead SHG during this time. Many changes have taken place but our focus on Academic Excellence in a Community of Faith has remained the same. I will leave Sacred Heart-Griffin feeling extremely blessed. Please join me and the SHG community as we pray for wisdom in finding the next president of SHG.”
The board of directors will conduct the search and recommend candidates to the Dominican Sisters Leadership Team for final approval of the new president.