John Convey smiling

By Kevin J. Calkins

I was born in 1974 in Staten Island, N.Y. That same year, 220 miles southwest in Washington, D.C., The Catholic University of America hired John Convey. We were destined to connect at some point in our life journeys! John went on to serve on the faculty for 44 years — including 10 years as University provost — and held the St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Chair in Education from 1990 until he retired in 2018. 

This past September, I visited the newly dedicated Seton Shrine Museum at the National Shrine of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton in Emmitsburg, Md. The museum portrays Mother Seton’s vision, faith, ingenuity, hard work, and selflessness in an inspiring way, as a great patron for Catholic schools. Knowing John Convey as I do, I cannot think of a more deserving contemporary leader to have served Catholic schools in her name. 

John’s wealth of knowledge about K-12 Catholic schools, reflected in an extensive body of publications throughout his career, earned him the admiration and respect of Catholic University colleagues and the broader academic community. His expertise in Catholic school research and evaluation is well known. John is the recipient of numerous awards from the National Catholic Educational Association, and in 2005, received the Benemerenti Medal from Pope Benedict XVI, in recognition of his service to Catholic University and Catholic schools. 

As one of John’s doctoral students, I learned much from him about statistics and how to design a research study. I asked if he would be my dissertation advisor when it was time for me to conceptualize and complete a doctoral dissertation. He said yes. His ability to connect with students through his affable demeanor and infectious curiosity about the subjects he taught was unsurpassed and made him a popular teacher. 

One of John’s former students and a friend of mine, Erick Chittle, Ph.D. 2017, said, “John is a man of great intellectual and administrative ability, but what is most impressive is his Christ-centered care for the students whom he served.” 

John now holds the title professor emeritus. “Emeritus” literally means “veteran soldier.” Those who have worked with him and observed firsthand his service and commitment to Catholic education know the distinction is well deserved.

After I graduated from Catholic University, I asked John if he might work with me to expand my dissertation into a published research article. He said yes again, and I was grateful and honored to have him as a co-author. 

When I recently reached out to John for advice on a future article I wanted to write, he again said yes. It so happens he was in the hospital recovering from back surgery at the time but, being the “veteran soldier” he is, he was happy to help. 

I continue to learn from John. His knowledge and his wisdom, so inexhaustible and so generously shared, have made me into a better statistician, researcher, and Catholic. John leads by example, teaching me (often without words) that faith, hard work, kindness, selflessness, and lightheartedness are necessary to be an effective educator and, more importantly, a Catholic educator. 

My highest aspiration is to provide others the modeling and guidance that John provided me during my time at Catholic University and to this day. And with more Mother Setons and John Conveys, Catholic education will survive and truly thrive. 

Kevin J. Calkins is president of Cathedral Catholic High School in San Diego. He received a Ph.D. in educational leadership from The Catholic University of America in 2018.