Greg McNally is a familiar name around many tables in Catholic education across Canada. From committees to curriculums and from local school boards to national events, McNally has become a respected leader throughout his 40 years in education.
For his outstanding commitment to Catholic education in the country, McNally has been chosen as the 2013 recipient for the Canadian Catholic School Trustees’ Association Justice James Higgins Award.
The CCSTA’s Higgins Award is presented annually in memory of Canadian Catholic school trustee and jurist,
the Honourable Justice James Higgins. It reflects recognition of an exceptional contribution to Catholic education in Canada.
Nominated by the Catholic District School Board of
Eastern Ontario, McNally said he was astonished to hear of being chosen for an award which he personally knows is CCSTA’s highest honour. “It’s humbling to win the award,” he said. “It also recognizes the work that others have done with you over the years.”
In the CDSBEO’s nomination, the board stated that McNally is “well-known and respected for his faithful and faith-filled commitment to Catholic education.” Furthermore, the nomination said that McNally has “been a Catholic leader who has exemplified noble qualities of leadership in Catholic education locally, within his parish and community, regionally in his many roles within the school board, as well as provincially and nationally…”
An educator for 40 years, McNally got his start at St. John Separate School in Perth in 1970 teaching religion, English, history, math, physical and health education to students in Grades 7 through 10. From there, he became vice-principal and then was appointed principal, spending 17 years in total at the school, spanning 1970 to 1987. McNally was already making a name for himself then, as is noted in his nomination papers, that he was the first principal of St. John School, since 1892, who was not a Sister of Providence.
From there, McNally became the Superintendent of Education for the Lanark, Leeds and Grenville County Roman Catholic Separate School Board, in Smiths Falls, Ont. McNally came into that leadership position at a time when change was afoot in terms of defining geographic boundaries of Catholic school boards. Amalgamation had just begun and he witnessed reconfigurations throughout Ontario, specifically the large-scale amalgamation in 1998, which established the Catholic District School Board of Eastern Ontario. Seeing the board through the transition of amalgamation, McNally continued in the role of superintendent of education for the newly-formed CDSBEO.
“He quickly established a reputation for being strongly committed to facilitating growth in the newly-formed board, despite its geographical challenges,” the nomination papers read.
In 2000, McNally was appointed to the role of director of education for the board and served as such until he retired in 2004. During this time, he served as chair of about 10 regional and provincial committees through the board. After retiring from his post with the CDSBEO, McNally accepted the position of executive director for CCSTA, where he stayed for almost six years until retiring.
With CCSTA, McNally successfully moved the national office to Ottawa from Toronto and oversaw the Toonies for Tuition campaign designed to assist students in provinces with partial or no public funding, in addition to facilitating the renewal of CCSTA’s vision.
“I have always been a strong supporter of the role of the trustee – whether it’s at the local level, at the school board level or at the national level, because I see that the Catholic school trustee and trustees in every education system are the voice of the people. They speak for the people, and we really need that role in education,” McNally said.
McNally noted that although his roles were many, they were all fulfilling. “Education is the key to success for students, but also for society,” he said.
Jane McMillan, former supervisory office at CDSBEO and Director of Education in PEI, stated through the nomination process that McNally has been a teacher and a leader who is able to work collaboratively with others while inspiring them to bring their best to the table. “I hold Greg in high esteem because of his extraordinary devotion to Catholic education and the way he shares his gifts, talents and expertise with others,” she said. “Greg builds leadership capacity in others with every action and word; he is an innovator and team builder who is able to create, delegate and trust his team to get the job done.”
Similarly, current Director of Education for St. Clair Catholic District School Board, Paul Wubben, said in the nomination that McNally has represented his vocation with integrity. “If an organization is the lengthened shadow of its leader, then it is clear that the leader in this instance is forward thinking, driven by excellence and unceasingly committed to Catholic students and parents,” Wubben said.
McNally said he had great mentors throughout his career. Each time he took on a new position, he credits these mentors for initially helping him succeed. “I have been fortunate to be associated with wonderful people who I learned from and who assisted me. I set my own way, but I also learned from others.”
Although his career definitely progressed over the years, he still views himself as a teacher. “I consider teaching a calling rather than a job,” he said. With that, he said Catholic education is important. “It approaches a unique philosophy of education; you can put that into action,” he said. “We used examples of our religion in education. We always focused on enriching students’ mind, body, heart and soul and teaching a life curriculum.”
McNally went on to say he never forgot that throughout his career and in his various roles. He always brought every decision, curriculum and strategy back to the essential question of how to provide the best learning experience for the student in the classroom.
One thing that still resonates with McNally is the energy and dedication of people who worked within Catholic education. “No matter where you went, there were such good people,” he said. “Wherever you go – Perth, British Columbia, the United States – you always run into people who give so much of themselves. You really realize how similar it is no matter where you are. The purpose is the same and that spirit of collaboration is there.”
McNally was also recently honoured by the CDSBEO, through the dedication of a boardroom in his name. The formal dedication and celebration for the Greg McNally Boardroom was held in January. The 2013 Justice James Higgins Award will be presented to McNally in Winnipeg at the CCSTA annual general meeting in June.