Sister Shawn Marie Maguire has held numerous titles in her nearly 35 years at Maryvale Preparatory School, but ask any student, teacher or parent and the most used description is "beloved."

"She is that truly rare individual who possesses amazing qualities that inspire her students," said Dr. Victor Ferrans, a psychiatrist whose daughter Morgan is finishing her freshman year this week. "Everyone loves her for a kindness and gentleness that is so rare these days."

The woman who knows every student — 361 in grades six through 12 — and parent by name is retiring from the all-girls Catholic school in Brooklandville this year after serving for more than half its history. She leaves a legacy of growth in academics, athletics and community service, missions she said will continue.

During her tenure, Maryvale has expanded from its imposing stone building, known as the Castle, into several new buildings, one the school named Maguire Hall after her, and sports fields. Maguire led a $12 million capital campaign that resulted in the Erinn McCarthy Humanities Hall, a three-story structure dedicated in March, with an auditorium, classrooms, labs, music and computer rooms, and an art gallery.

Enhancing education in science, math and technology has propelled many of those projects, she said.

"Our mission has always been to prepare young women for life," she said. "Our science programs have made a real difference. Women have all the academic capabilities needed to succeed in these fields, if you give them the education."

Carly Ross, student council president this year and Maryvale student since sixth grade, will head to the University of Florida this fall, with plans to study biomedical engineering.

"Sister Shawn is always receptive to new ideas, but she never changed the roots of our tradition," Ross said. "She made community service a big thing, much more than a graduation requirement."

Maguire shies away from taking the credit for the school's successes.

"There were many who saw the need and believed in this small girls' Catholic school," she said. "Word got out that we are here providing a superior education. Our own people are our best ambassadors."

A Philadelphia native who always wanted to teach and a Sister of Notre Dame de Namur for 55 years, Maguire arrived at Maryvale as an intern in a master's program at what was then Loyola College in the late 1970s and never left. Within a year, she accepted a position as vice principal and teacher and in 1981 was chosen the ninth principal, first known as headmistress and eventually president.

"Nobody understands teenaged girls better," said Liz Moag, mother of four, including two Maryvale students. "She will long be remembered for a strong leadership that brought the school to where it is today. She has really stayed on top of everything."

Packing an office full of memorabilia is a bittersweet task, Maguire said, especially since she wants the room to look lived in and worked in as long as possible. Tracey Ford, currently director of development at Towson University, will move in July 1. Much sets Maryvale apart, said Ford, who will be the first lay leader in the school's 66 years.

"The school puts Catholic social awareness into action and is really a great place for girls to develop into who they want to be," Ford said, when she was named president this spring.

Maguire has a to-do list topped with "what to leave to help my successor, what to dispense of and what to keep."

"I am bequeathing much to Tracey," she said, adding with a smile that Ford "won't have to sit through hours of construction meetings or zoning hearings."

Maguire wore the traditional graduation cap when she handed out diplomas to the Class of 2012 last week, and each graduate, all 67 of them, presented her with a sunflower, well-known as her favorite bloom.

"They turn toward the sun the way we must turn toward God," she said of her sunflowers.

She left the podium smiling with her bouquet spilling from a large basket. She plans a little time to unwind, pray and reflect, she said. But a nun never really retires, "we just find other ways to serve," she said.

mary.gail.hare@baltsun.com

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