NCEA Remembers Sister Mary A. Leahy, S.P.

Former NCEA Vice President of Development was devoted to Catholic education.

Arlington, VA – The National Catholic Educational Association (NCEA) expresses deepest condolences at the passing of Sister Mary Leahy, a consummate champion for Catholic education and a longtime teacher and administrator in Catholic schools. Sister Leahy’s legacy is one of a respected and generous mentor who encouraged staff and provided excellent counsel to colleagues.

Sister Leahy, a Sister of Providence of St-Mary-of-the-Woods for 67 years, was a teacher and administrator in Catholic elementary and secondary schools in Illinois and Indiana for 25 years. She received a Bachelor of Arts from St. Mary-of-the-Woods College and master’s degrees from the University of Pennsylvania and St. Mary’s University, Winona.

Upon receiving her third master’s degree — a Master of Business Administration from Rosary College (now Dominican University) — Sister Leahy moved to Washington, D.C. She later recalled, "I have always had a passion for Catholic education as both a teacher and principal, so it seemed to me that Washington was a good place to advocate for sustaining and strengthening our schools."

In 1987, Sister Leahy became the first vice president for development at NCEA. In that role, she founded the NCEA Development Office (now Advancement) and set up the organization’s first marketing communications office. Sister Leahy also established the association’s corporate partners program, which continues to grow and thrive today.

"While I didn’t have the honor of knowing Sister personally," said NCEA President/CEO Dr. Tom Burnford, "it is such a joy to read of her incredible work for Catholic schools. Since NCEA’s founding in 1904, we have been blessed with many legends, such as Sister Mary, who have done great work in Catholic education."

Former NCEA President, Sister Catherine T. McNamee, CSJ, noted, "Mary founded the association’s annual U.S. Bishops’ Reception, connecting Church hierarchy and Catholic school leadership during the bishops‘ fall meeting. It turned out to be an informal but important venue for keeping the state of U.S. Catholic education in the forefront."

After NCEA, Sister Leahy continued her work to promote Catholic education as associate dean of development at Georgetown University from 1989-1997. Sister Leahy was then recruited to be the executive director of the National Religious Retirement Office (NRRO), where she raised almost $95 million in the annual collection for the Retirement Fund for Religious, including more than $33 million in 1999—a record that stands to this day. In 2000, Sister Leahy moved to the Bradenton, FL, area where she continued her development consulting work for dioceses, schools and parishes before moving to St. Mary-of-the-Woods in 2018.


In service of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, NCEA strengthens Catholic school communities by providing professional development, formation, leadership and advocacy.