Mary Beth Lennon keeps a construction hard hat handy on the small conference table in her office at Mercy High School.
As the new president, essentially a chief executive officer for business operations, Lennon, 46, is chief marketer, fundraiser, development officer, budget guru, facilities manager, grant writer and spokeswoman for a 26-acre school with 300 students, 10 percent of them from North Baltimore.
Its annual budget is $4.8 million, its endowment is $3 million, and most importantly, 'We have no debt," said the Hoes Heights resident. "That's the first thing I asked in my interview."
But these days, Lennon's most pressing priority is overseeing a $125,000 renovation project, approved by the board of trustees, that carries symbolic importance — relocating the front entrance from one end of the school to the other in time for the school year that begins Aug. 25.
"It's really great for me to be able to come in and put a new, fresh face on the entrance," Lennon said. "I wanted it. I made a case to the board. It sends a message that Mercy is future-oriented."
Lennon is symbolic in other ways, too. She's the first lay woman and first alumna in the 54-year history of the girls' school to serve as president.
A product of Catholic school education, she graduated first from St. Joseph's School in Cockeysville, and then in 1985 from Mercy High, located at East Northern Parkway near The Alameda.
She is a 1989 graduate of what is now Notre Dame of Maryland University, in Homeland, where she was in the Morrisey Scholar honors program. And, she earned her masters degree in Latin American history from the Catholic University in Washington.
After working for several nonprofits in Washington, including the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the International Center for Journalists, she spent a year at a biotech firm in Baltimore, and then as director of corporate and foundation relations at Notre Dame, essentially the college's grant writer. There, she helped raise $34 million for its capital campaign, exceeding the $20 million goal, she said.
She also was a founding member of the leadership team at Cristo Rey Jesuit High School which opened in Fells Point in 2007. She served as assistant to the president and director of communications until early this summer.
Lennon has been an active alumna at Mercy High, and in the spring arranged for Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake to speak at the school's Career Day.
Now, as president, Lennon is working with the likes of Principal Jeanne Blakeslee, who was her religion teacher when she was a junior, and her former Spanish teacher, Sister of Mercy Anne Smith, who is now the school's director of alumnae relations.
She is rubbing shoulders with people "who helped form me," she said. "I've had a very warm welcome."
Eventually, Lennon, who has taught classes at Catholic University and at Notre Dame of Maryland University, would like to be a substitute teacher at Mercy, she said.
But for now, her most immediate order of business is finishing the renovation, the first phase of a larger effort that includes replacing the 50-year-old heating system and campus signage. She is also closing out a Mercy High capital campaign that has raised $2.8 million of its $3 million goal, she said.
Lennon grew up in Cockeysville, but has long called Baltimore home. The former Charles Village resident now lives near the old Roland Water Tower with Pippen, her Australian cattle dog.
"I love city life," she said. "I'm a bumper sticker."
She is also a bumper sticker for the school, with facts at her fingertips like the number of Zip codes students are from (64), the number of students who live in Govans (15), and the combined amount of scholarship money that last year's 84 graduates received ($7 million). One graduate was accepted at Yale University, she said, and two more are at colleges in England.
She said tuition of $13,350 a year, up slightly from $12,900 last year, compares favorably to other private schools in the region.
"We're certainly an excellent value," she said.
And she is quick to rattle off alumnae who have become well known, such as Mary Ellen Barbera, who grew up in Hampden and is chief judge of Maryland's Court of Appeals.
Lennon is eager to talk about Mercy's 13 sports, including basketball, best known for the annual game against the Institute of Notre Dame, which is played at Towson University and draws 4,000 fans.
On a tour of Mercy, she proudly showed off campus centerpieces like the gymnasium with its regulation-size basketball court; the $6 million Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Auditorium, which includes a dance studio; and a 30-seat chapel.
She is especially passionate about the renovations and their potential for fundraising.
"This is a new phase for Mercy," she said. "I think alumnae are really ready to come back and support Mercy in this new era."Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun