Saint Mary Church and School on First Street will say goodbye to two of its esteemed leaders who have served the community of Gilroy for decades: One is a principal, the other a priest.
On March 19, School Principal Christa Hanson, 63, was offered a position at the Learning and Loving Educational Center, a Presentation Sisters-sponsored ministry in Morgan Hill. Also known as the Sisters of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Catholic religious congregation of women is “committed to the service of God and the spread of the gospel,” according to the organization’s website. Sisters of the Presentation are part of the San Jose Diocese and are directly affiliated with Saint Mary School in Gilroy.
Hanson has served as principal at Saint Mary School for 22 years, marking the longest consecutive tenure of any principal in the school’s 140-year history.
“The opportunity to use my talents and skills at a smaller agency was a major factor,” Hanson wrote Tuesday via email.
As the new director of the Learning and Loving Educational Center, a place Hanson describes as “a literacy center for women,” the longtime principal will continue to work in the area of education.
The Learning and Loving Educational Center is a non-profit, educational project aimed at providing learning opportunities and outreach to low-income and immigrant women and their children in Santa Clara County, according to the organization’s website.
As for finding a replacement to fill Hanson’s shoes, the opening has been made public and a search committee will be formed to help determine the next principal, Hanson said.
Hanson said she will still live in Gilroy and might continue to write the annual Advent Program that Saint Mary puts on before Christmas. Hanson will finish out the remaining school year and help with the transitioning of her replacement during the summer.
In a serendipitous announcement last weekend, Pastor Dan Derry – a familiar fixture at weddings, funerals, first communions, sermons and animal blessings during his 17-year residency at Saint Mary Parish – told his congregation he will officially retire Dec. 31.
A celebration marking Father Derry’s 50th anniversary as an ordained priest (as of March 2013) will follow shortly after.
The 74-year-old pastor who lives at Saint Mary is one of two priests currently employed by the church.
“It’s hard to fill any pastor’s shoes,” speculated Parish Office Manager Debbie Pelliccione. “Everything is going to change. It’s all going to be different.”
Pelliccione described Derry as a “compassionate” figure “working double duty” between daily mass, Bible studies, a “huge” confirmation program, funerals/weddings and various church and school-related activities.
David Cox, executive director of Saint Joseph’s Family Center in Gilroy, underlined Derry’s retirement as well-deserved, but bittersweet.
“He’s been such a great leader in this community and a strong voice for those that are underserved and less fortunate,” said Cox, who serves with Derry on Saint Joseph’s Board of Directors. “Those are pretty big shoes to fill. His departure will be a loss for the community…when you lose somebody like that, it’s a pretty big hole.”
Longer stories separately highlighting Hanson and Derry will be published in the coming months.