In 1976 Leonard Defiore became the first lay person to be named superintendent of schools for the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Washington, D.C. Twelve years later, he had the similar distinction of becoming the first lay school superintendent for the Diocese of Metuchen, New Jersey. In July, Defiore claimed another first. He became the first lay person to take the reins of the 92-year-old National Catholic Educational Association, which represents the nation’s Catholic schools, colleges, and seminaries. Defiore, who attended Catholic schools in Philadelphia, takes over the organization at an auspicious time for Catholic education. After three decades of declining enrollments, Catholic schools have seen four consecutive years of increases. Enrollment is up by about 160,000 students from its low of about 2.47 million in 1990. For the past 10 years, under the leadership of Sister Catherine McNamee, the NCEA encouraged local Catholic schools to improve their marketing and fund raising. Many also added early childhood programs, which have helped boost overall enrollment. “For 20 years, the problem was we had more buildings than we had children,” DeFiore says. “We have quickly turned in many places, especially in the suburbs, to where we have many more children who want to come than we have buildings to put them in.’' With Catholic education apparently no longer on the defensive, Defiore says the NCEA can now focus more on instruction.
A version of this article appeared in the September 01, 1996 edition of Teacher