2017-06-16 / Faith

Catholic school principal leaves a lasting legacy

By Dawn Megli-Thuna

HOW SWEET IT IS— Laurie Croasdale, left, and Suzanne Duffy admire the festive cake made in Duffy’s honor for her retirement party May 25. Duffy, the first lay principal of St. Paschal Baylon School, has been at the helm for 20 years. She called those years “blissful.” HOW SWEET IT IS— Laurie Croasdale, left, and Suzanne Duffy admire the festive cake made in Duffy’s honor for her retirement party May 25. Duffy, the first lay principal of St. Paschal Baylon School, has been at the helm for 20 years. She called those years “blissful.” For the past 20 years, when the students of St. Paschal Baylon School in Thousand Oaks heard high heels clicking down the halls, they knew they’d better be on their best behavior.

“They would straighten up in their desks because they knew she was coming,”said the Rev. Michael Rocha, parish priest.

“She” is Principal Suzanne Duffy, who will retire this month after running the private Catholic K-8 school on Janss Road since 1997.

“It’s been 20 blissful years,” she said.

When the mother of four took over the school’s top spot, she was a departure from her predecessors. The Sisters of Notre Dame opened St. Paschal Baylon School in 1963. Duffy, whose children attended, was the school’s first lay principal.

“My three youngest were not thrilled their mother was going to be their principal,” she said.

But just because the Thousand Oaks resident wasn’t a nun didn’t mean she was any less Catholic. Not only does Duffy serve as principal of the school, she’s also a parishioner at St. Paschal on the weekend.

“She lives her faith,” Rocha said. “She’s here with her husband every Sunday.”

During her long tenure as principal, Duffy oversaw a complete overhaul and modernization of the campus that’s included air conditioning, computers and internet access.

But, she said, technology is not the biggest change she’s seen. The biggest difference between now and when she started is the pressure that kids face from social media.

Despite the proliferation of technology in students’ lives, Catholic values have remained the same at St. Paschal. Since Duffy took over, St. Paschal has become the only school in the Los Angeles archdiocese to have achieved a 100 percent Catholic student body.

“We still stay the same,” she said. “We believe there are certain inalienable moral truths and they don’t change with time.”

She said Catholic values give St. Paschal an advantage over other schools in the competition to attract students.

“If you’re going to compete with Oaks Christian and La Reina, or CVUSD, which is free, you have to produce an amazing product and offer something beside. If we say we’re Catholic, we’ve got to be Catholic.”

Another change Duffy has seen during her time as principal is that the majority of mothers now work. The school is sensitive to the fact families are under greater financial pressure than ever, she said, adding that St. Paschal tuition is less expensive than other private options and the school offers financial assistance to one-quarter of its student body.

“This is a place where people do their best and try to live their faith,” she said. “We try to support them where we can.”

Priscilla Harding is an accounts manager who’s worked at the school since shortly after Duffy was hired. As a parent of three children who’d been attending St. Paschal, she was so excited by Duffy’s vision for the school she decided to work there after a stint as a full-time mother.

“I remember she said anything that stops a student from learning or a teacher from teaching is wrong,” she said. “I have a lot of respect for her. We were laughing the other day that we’ve spent a third of our lives together.”

Rocha said Duffy’s energy and spirit will be missed.

“She loves that school,” he said. “It won’t be the same without her.”

For Duffy, life won’t be the same without the school.

“For 30 years, my car has come here every morning,” she said. “The students have been the best part. They’re amazing, awesome, wonderful little beings, and I will miss them most of all.”

Duffy’s final day at St. Paschal Baylon School is June 30.

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