Sister Mary Agnes Greiffendorf, O.P.

The Institute for the Transformation of Catholic Education (ITCE) at Catholic University promotes the renewal and transformation of the nation’s PK–12 (pre-kindergarten through twelfth grade) Catholic schools. It was established in fall 2021, with Sister Mary Agnes Greiffendorf, O.P., Ph.D. 2021, as director. She has devoted her career to Catholic education in numerous teaching and administrative positions in elementary and secondary schools, and in higher education. She served on the Board of Directors for the National Catholic Educational Association from 2016 to 2022, and is currently a consultant to the Committee on Catholic Education of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

When did you know you were called to religious life?

I had a profound moment in high school. In a religion class, we watched a video about Mother Teresa. I was so moved by her single-hearted devotion to Jesus Christ that I went home and told my family that I, too, felt called to Christ. After much prayer and discernment, I visited the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia from Nashville, a religious congregation that has engaged in the apostolate of Catholic education for more than 160 years, and I knew it was home — I had found my vocation.

Why is Catholic University the best place for the Institute, and what excites you about being its first director?

There is a deep and rich heritage of service to Catholic education at this University. Some of the greatest thought leaders in Catholic education have served, and currently serve, on the faculty. Being here gives us the best opportunity to be a unifying force in Catholic education because we are the national university of the Church in America.

I completed my Ph.D. in Catholic Educational Leadership through the University’s Education Department in 2021. I experienced firsthand the quality and gift of an education degree at Catholic University. I have been blessed to attend Catholic schools from kindergarten through graduate school, and served Catholic education at all levels, from teaching second grade to being president of a college [Aquinas College in Nashville]. I have been so deeply moved and edified by the people I encountered along the way — the children, parents, staff, and teachers. It has been a tremendous gift to experience the gift of Catholic education and now to share in that great work. 

In the Executive Briefings of the Catholic Education Salons [that were hosted by Catholic University in 2020 and 2021], you stated, “We need Catholic schools more than ever.”
Can you tell us why?

As we look around at American culture in particular and at the state of the world in general, we see a lot of unease and division. Catholic education is a force not just for renewal in the Church, but for cultural and societal renewal as well. Catholic education shows young people a complete vision of the human person, to fully flourish as God has made them to be in this life and in the next. The antidote to today’s fractured society is the formation of the next generation in truth and goodness and beauty. 

What are your thoughts on increasing enrollment in Catholic schools?

If I was going to design a recruitment poster, I would borrow from the Army and it would say “Be all you can be!” We provide education that is dedicated to the full flourishing of the human person, that is faithfully, unconditionally Catholic and intellectually rigorous. If we are doing what we are supposed to do, the byproduct of that is increased enrollment. 

Now that we know about your passion for Catholic school education, tell us about your hobbies.

I absolutely love experiencing the beauty of nature, especially taking walks. I usually have a stack of books that I’m reading and appreciate the contemplative nature of study. I really appreciate a good cup of coffee and love to bake — the best part is sharing these treats with others — any opportunity to bring joy and light into someone’s day is a gift.

— E.N.W.