David C. Ring Jr. remembers the phone call he got from Sister Delia Dowling, chairman of the board of directors of the Institute of Notre Dame. At the time he was superintendent of the bi-state Delmar School District in Delaware and Maryland.
To his puzzlement, she was explaining the mission of IND. He asked her why she was calling.
"She said, 'We're looking for a new president,' " Ring recalled. "So I said, 'My first name is David. I'm a man.' "
Her reply, he said, was, "We're thinking outside the box and looking for a male candidate."
And so it came to pass that Ring, 58, husband and father of two, was chosen to be the first male to hold the office of president of the renowned all-girls high school in Baltimore. Now a resident of White Marsh, he takes the reins as the fifth president of the 168-year-old school.
"If I can throw a little religion in there, I think it was God's plan," he said.
He said he embraced Baltimore years ago and became a rabid Ravens fan. However, the native New Yorker remains — brace yourself — a Yankees fan. "I grew up in Yankee Stadium," he said with a shrug.
The new president has an upbringing steeped in Catholicism, including a sister who is a nun. He graduated from Monsignor Scanlon High School in the Bronx, took a bachelor's at St. Francis University in Loretto, Pa., a master's in education at St. Joseph University in Philadelphia and his doctorate in education at Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale. Prior to his marriage, he was for many years a Franciscan brother.
From 1981 to 1995, he taught at several Catholic high schools in Pennsylvania and Florida before taking the post of principal at Our Lady Queen of Peace Elementary School in Middle River. After that, he held teaching and administrative posts in Baltimore County public high schools including Eastern Technical and Milford Mill prior to being an assistant principal at Kenwood High School from 1999 to 2005, when he went to the Delmar district.
He takes over a school with a storied history that dates to before the Civil War, when it was part of the Underground Railroad for escaped slaves. During the war, the sisters and students nursed both Union and Confederate soldiers.
Located amid the low-income Latrobe housing development, it has a strong relationship with the community. A banner reading "soul sisters" was placed on the school by neighbors when riots raked across the city after the assassination of Martin Luther King in 1968 and the school was spared from damage.
Among IND alumnae are Sen. Barbara Mikulski and Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic minority leader of the U.S. House of Representatives.
The school was founded by Mother Theresa (Caroline Gerhardinger), a nun, educator and immigrant from Germany. She is depicted in a stained glass window in the school's chapel hugging the orphans brought her doorstep who gave her the idea of starting a school for girls.
"She believed that if you educate the girls, you educate the entire family," said Lil Knipp, the school's director of public relations.
Ring said his approach to Catholic education is thoroughly modern, acknowledging that half a century ago, Catholic schools meant "rote learning" and strict discipline.
These days, Ring, along with the rest of the school's leadership, is especially proud of IND's STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) program, which it calls Project Lead the Way. In partnerships with Johns Hopkins Hospital and W.R. Grace, the school emphasizes bio-medicine, engineering and computer science.
"It's a major draw for us," Knipp said.
Family connections keep coming up at IND. Peggy Gessler, M.D., a former pediatrician from Locust Point who now chairs the science and technology department, attended Archbishop Keogh High, but said IND has a special place in her heart because her aunt, the late Sister Louis Marie, lived there.
"I have fond memories of this place," she said, adding that all four of her daughters are alumnae.
Senior Lauren Matheu — a K-8 student at St. Ursula's School in Parkville before enrolling at IND — is headed to Towson University next year. She said the closeness of the girls in her graduating class has a special appeal.
Does she socialize with them outside school?
"We play laser tag and go to football games at Calvert Hall and Curley," she said with a grin.
Nicole Fortune, a sophomore, has a family that splits its time between the United States and their home nation of Venezuela. She said she also feels the kinship with her classmates. "All the girls are really close," she said.
Both Lauren and Nicole said they can envision having daughters who one day attend IND.
President Ring said one of his top priorities is "reclaiming the alumnae."
"I want to re-establish a relationship with them," he said.
Meanwhile, he is content to soak up everything he can about the Institute of Notre Dame.
"It's normal for the new guy on the block to sit back and observe," he said.