by Joe Bollig
KANSAS CITY, Kan. — The new president of St. James Academy in Lenexa is a woman religious who brings spirituality, business savvy, and educational experience to the office.
Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann announced on March 5 that Sister Christa Marie Halligan, a Sister of St. Francis of the Martyr St. George, will assume the office of president in June. She replaces Mike Alex, who resigned in October 2009.
“Certainly the opportunity to be the president of St. James Academy at this still early period in its development is the opportunity of a lifetime and allows me to bring the talents and the experience I have to serve the church in the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas, and the parents and students of St. James Academy,” said Sister Christa Marie.
Sister Christa Marie has been the executive director of the Our Lady of Guadalupe Shrine at La Crosse, Wis., since 2003. She oversaw construction of several projects, including the shrine church, which was dedicated on July 31, 2008.
The search committee looked for a candidate who had experience in educational administration, a good sense of Catholicity, and good financial management and development skills, said Father Mark Mertes, pastor of Holy Cross Parish in Overland Park and a member of the St. James board of trustees.
“Those were the main three things we looked for in all of the candidates, and Sister Christa appeared to us to have a wonderful blend of strengths in each of those areas,” said Father Mertes.
The search committee looked at more than 20 candidates, said Tom Wilson, chairman of the St. James board. The committee sifted through the group until they found someone they felt met the key characteristics, he said, and then presented its recommendation to the archbishop.
“Ultimately, the archbishop concurred with the search committee’s decision, which resulted in the offer to Sister Christa Marie,” said Wilson, a member of Good Shepherd Parish in Shawnee.
The search committee was very impressed with Sister’s qualifications, experience, and accomplishments during her career both before and after entering her religious order.
“Subsequent to [entering religious life], one of her positions was as vice president of human relations [for a hospital], which gave us a good gauge of the whole area of personnel management. Recruiting and training — which is critically important for a high school — is one of her strengths,” said Wilson.
“And then the thing that impressed us tremendously, where we thought she’d be a good fit with where we’re are at St. James, was the work she did at the shrine in La Crosse,” he continued. “We explored in great detail with her the process she had gone through — all the way from development to managing the construction, and the hiring and management of the staff and work with volunteers.”
Sister Christa Marie was born and raised in North Kingstown, R.I. Her degrees include a bachelor’s in education and English, a master’s in Eng- lish, and a master’s in business administration, all from the University of Rhode Island.
She began her professional life as a high school teacher. After eight years in education, she entered the corporate world. In various companies she worked in labor relations, staff and human development, and human resources. She left the corporate world to follow a calling to the religious life.
“I have felt since the time I was in the third grade that I was called to be a Sister,” said Sister Christa Marie. “But as God would provide, he seemed to ask me to get some experience in the business world prior to responding to the call.”
“But having been a Sister for almost 15 years,” she said, “I have now been placed in positions where I have used all those earlier experiences prior to entering [religious life] in a way that hopefully serves the church with whatever talents I can bring.”
The charism of the Sisters of St. Francis of the Martyr St. George is to show the merciful love of Christ in any and all ways the church asks the Sisters to serve, she said.
The ways the Sisters live out their charism includes nursing, teaching and day care. Members of the order also take care of the households of Cardinal Justin Rigali in Philadelphia and Archbishop Raymond Burke in Rome.
St. James Academy opened its doors for the 2005-2006 school year, and now has an enrollment of 604. The school has 44 instructors.