Familiar face takes the helm at St. Peter’s Cathedral School

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Staff reporter

WILMINGTON – The new principal at St. Peter Cathedral School will look very familiar to students when they return to classes next month.

Sister Donna Smith is a familiar face to the school community, as the Daughter of Charity has worked at St. Peter’s for 17 years. She was a fourth-grade teacher for seven years before leaving for Syracuse, N.Y., where she spent three years as a principal. For the last 10 years, she has been the assistant principal at St. Peter’s.

Sister Donna Smith, a Daughter of Charity, will be the new principal at St. Peter's Cathedral School in Wilmington this year. (Mike Lang)
Sister Donna Smith, a Daughter of Charity, will be the new principal at St. Peter’s Cathedral School in Wilmington this year. (Mike Lang)

She believes this will make for a smooth transition. “There’s a lot more work to do, definitely, and a lot of things I don’t know yet. But for the most part, I’ve done most of it. And because I have a relationship with the parents, I think it makes it easier,” she said this week in her office. Some of the parents were her students years ago.

Like many new principals, Sister Donna doesn’t anticipate much change in her first year. She will take a look at everything next June and decide which adjustments need to be made.

“I have things in my head that I’d like to do. But for the most part I think it’s just working through the year,” she said.

Born in Mahanoy Plain, Pa., Sister Donna attended Catholic schools staffed by other religious congregations, including the Immaculate Heart of Mary Sisters, which she originally considered joining. Teaching, however, was not what she wanted to do. She had hoped to work in an orphanage.

She researched various communities, then, while working at Catholic Charities in Pottsville, Pa., she knew a Daughter of Charity who introduced her to the congregation. Sister Donna visited the community and “fell in love.” That was 28 years ago. She was attracted in large part by the Daughters’ vow of service to the poor.

The Daughters of Charity have served St. Peter Cathedral since 1830 and are committed to the school’s mission. St. Peter’s serves a diverse student population, as some walk from the surrounding neighborhood, some take public transportation and others are dropped off by parents coming to work from Wilmington’s suburbs.

The Daughters of Charity who minister at the school – two other Daughters of Charity will be joining the staff for the upcoming year – live across the street, which Sister Donna said the parents like. This year, there will be five sisters in the house, three of whom will work at St. Peter’s.

Sister Donna said she believes her community was grooming her for this position, and parents are excited that she was tabbed as Sister Barbara Ann’s successor.

“For anybody change is hard, but for them to know the person that’s coming in, I think that makes a big difference,” she said.

When she gets some free time, Sister Donna likes to return to Mahanoy Plain to visit her mother and extended family, and she also likes taking walks and listening to music.

A fan of winter, she also likes the occasional snow day. That’s something her students can rally behind.