Cardinal Dolan appointed Michael J. Deegan as superintendent of Catholic schools in the Archdiocese of New York Sept. 17. Deegan, who had served as interim superintendent since April, became superintendent effective immediately.
“As Catholic school systems across the country rise to face the challenges of our modern cultural and educational landscape, we are blessed to have Mr. Deegan guiding the archdiocese’s schools,” Cardinal Dolan said in a statement.
“He is a person of deep faith, possessing an innovative pedagogical vision and decades of operational management. Our Catholic schools are a treasured jewel of the Church, and I believe they will be in good hands through Mr. Deegan’s service.”
As superintendent, Deegan succeeds Dr. Timothy J. McNiff, who retired in April after more than a decade of service. Deegan had also served as deputy superintendent of schools since 2013, overseeing many day-to-day operations of 200 schools.
Deegan, 66, has been a professional educator for four decades, all in the New York Catholic schools. He began his career as a teacher in Catholic elementary and high schools before becoming a principal. In 2004, Cardinal Egan appointed him director of Inner-City Schools to work with the 122 elementary and secondary inner-city schools of the archdiocese.
“I am humbled to be chosen by Cardinal Dolan to be the servant-leader of this 200-year-old precious gift of the Church—its Catholic schools,” Deegan said. “However, the real work takes place every day in the classrooms of our schools where Jesus is brought to every child through our talented and gifted teachers and principals inspired by the personal witness of faith of our priests. Supported by our remarkable staff and devoted donors and benefactors, our Catholic schools are the preeminent educational institutions in New York.”
“I am absolutely overjoyed,” he told CNY in a phone interview Sept. 20.
Deegan was headmaster of Iona Grammar School, New Rochelle, 1991-1994, and taught there, 1975-1978. In Manhattan he served as principal of St. Jude School, 1994-2004 and 1988-1991, and St. Francis Xavier, 1985-1988. Also in Manhattan, he taught at Sacred Heart School, 1982-1985, and the former Power Memorial Academy, 1978-1982.
A product of Catholic schools of the archdiocese, he is an alumnus of St. Philip Neri School, the Bronx, and a graduate of the former Rice High School in Harlem.
“When I was an elementary school student, not only was I a slow learner, I was a terrified learner,” he said. “I was very fearful of school, because I struggled to read properly.
“Our teachers today, both those in the regular classrooms, as well as the special ed programs that we have, are so much better equipped to deal with students that have learning challenges and learning difficulties…
“Back when I was a student,” Deegan said, “I don’t think that there was the knowledge and the expertise to be able to respond to children who struggled with their reading as much as there is today. We are the beneficiaries of a tremendous amount of research and work that didn’t exist back when I was a student.”
He attributes his eventual success in elementary school to his mother’s tenaciousness in tutoring him. “It was she who sat with me every single night to help me to learn.”
He turned things around considerably in high school, graduating fifth out of 200 students.
A storied career as an educator and administrator has brought him full circle. “As soon as I stood in front of my first class in 1975 at Iona Grammar School, I knew that I was doing exactly what God had called me to do. It was a perfect fit, which is so different than my elementary school experience as a student. And I think that certainly shaped me in terms of my sensitivities toward children that struggle to learn.”
Deegan, a Bronx native, is the oldest of two sons of Julia and the late Thomas Deegan. Raised in St. Philip Neri parish, the Bronx, he belongs to Holy Name of Jesus parish in Valhalla. His wife, Angela, is the recently retired principal of St. Francis Xavier School in the Bronx. “She is my loudest cheerleader,” he said.
Catholic schools in the Archdiocese of New York serve more than 62,000 students from pre-K through 12th grade across 200 schools in nine counties and boroughs throughout New York.