A changing of the guard will soon occur at Tarrant County’s largest Catholic high school.
At the end of June, the Rev. Richard Villa will leave as president of Nolan Catholic High School, ending more than five decades of leadership at the school by the Marianists.
Officials with the Roman Catholic Diocese of Fort Worth, which has owned the school since it opened its doors, say this change — which is sparking mixed reaction from alumni — has been in the works for years.
A nationwide search for Villa’s replacement is underway. And while the school will have new leadership in the coming school year, officials maintain that the longtime traditions, Catholic tone and high academic standards will not change.
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“Nolan Catholic has been and will continue to grow as a source of evangelization, faith formation and academic excellence,” Fort Worth Diocese Bishop Michael Olson said. “We are committed to sustaining and enhancing its legacy.”
Since Nolan Catholic High School opened in 1961, first as Our Lady of Victory, it has been guided by the Society of Mary, or Marianists.
The school’s name was changed in 1964 to honor Monsignor Robert M. Nolan, one of the leaders of Catholic Charities in Fort Worth. Nearly 1,000 students now attend the coed college preparatory school.
The upcoming shift in management has been looming for years, officials say, as the number of Marianists dwindles and the order works to redirect its personnel to the areas of greatest need. Marianists have withdrawn from other schools nationwide as well.
Villa has been president of Nolan Catholic since July 2009. With his departure, the Marianists’ community house at the school also will close.
After he leaves the school in June, he will be assigned to a different post, according to a statement by the Catholic diocese.
“The Diocese of Fort Worth is deeply grateful for the service of the Society of Mary at Nolan Catholic,” said Olson, who was ordained as the fourth bishop of the diocese this year. “We understand the order’s need to consolidate their resources at the schools they own as well as operate.
“Although the order offered to continue the sponsorship agreement, with the support of Marianist personnel for one additional year, it was my decision that this important transition should begin immediately.”
Some reaction to the change was filtering out onto social media websites such as Facebook by Friday.
“I think what most people aren’t realizing is that this was in the works, it is just happening a year sooner,” wrote Emily Vader Pfaff on an unofficial Nolan alumni Facebook page. “The tradition is strong and will continue to be strong.
“Change is hard, but not all change is bad.”
Some were still surprised by the news, including Letty McDonnell Mays, a member of Nolan’s Class of 1986.
“I know change is needed to grow, but what about maintaining heritage and tradition?” Mays asked on Facebook.
Patricia Gilmore Pierret said it’s time for people to look forward.
“All is good,” she wrote. “The Marianists and the traditions . . . will be missed, but we have 52 yeas of it to build on and move forward.”