Through countless long nights and weekends, Mercy High School has been Carolyn Jaworski's second home.
She grew up down the street from the school.
She went to grade school nearby and, in 1964, graduated from the all-girls Catholic high school near 48th and Center Streets.
She has spent her entire education career — 43 years — at the school as well.
After 25 years as the school's principal, Jaworski will retire June 30.
Colleagues and former co-workers say Jaworski stuck to the values of the Sisters of Mercy throughout her decades at the school: faith, knowledge and service.
» Faith, by starting every day with a prayer over the intercom and by asking every teacher to begin class the same way.
» Knowledge, by listening to and getting feedback from her staff while leading the school.
» Service, by requiring girls to complete at least 40 hours of volunteering before graduation.
“Her commitment to the spirit of Catherine McAuley (Sisters of Mercy founder), I think, is outstanding,” said Sister Delores Hannon, who has co-led the school with Jaworski the past four years as Mercy's president.
Jaworski, a sister of longtime Creighton Prep football coach Tom Jaworski, also let more girls learn those values.
In fall 1989, Jaworski's second year as principal, Mercy started its “negotiated tuition” program in which the school meets with each family and sets individual tuition rates based on the family's ability to pay.
Catholic schools are very proud of the term “college-prep school,” said Sister Johanna Burnell, who co-led the school as president for about 20 years with Jaworski.
“Becoming a college-prep school often means you eliminate some students who may have had some learning difficulty as younger students,” she said.
Mercy requires only one thing of its incoming students: a desire to go there. Incoming students must write an essay and go through an interview to determine the sincerity of their desire, a process Jaworski instituted.
Other all-female Catholic high schools partly determine admission by students' previous academic performance.
Jaworski's values might have stayed the same, colleagues said, but the school has not.
She frequently pushed her teachers to create new courses for the school's curriculum, to inject new ideas into the classroom.
She encouraged teachers to take their students on field trips and to bring in guest speakers, said Holly McCoy, the school's dean and athletic director.
Jaworski also urged Mercy teachers to think of different ways to assess the girls' learning, whether through on-demand writing, presentations or projects, said McCoy, who started teaching at the school in fall 1978.
Jaworski also has helped the school become wireless and launch new Advanced Placement courses and dual-enrollment classes, courses in which students can receive both college and high school credits, Hannon said.
“The school is not the school it was five years ago,” she said.
Students have noticed Jaworski's passion as well.
Jaworski welcomed Calla Kessler and her classmates to Mercy by giving the students hugs and roses.
“It's become a really strong, all-girls Catholic high school because of her,” said Calla, who will be a senior this fall.
Jaworski has achieved this success with a talent her colleagues have called “innate” and “God-given”: her ability to understand kids and make the right decisions for their future.
“How envious am I that she has it; I always have been,” said Burnell, the retired Mercy president.
Hannon says it's Jaworski's ability to listen to students and suspend judgment that has helped her often make the right decision.
With an irritable student, Hannon said, “You can start that conversation with, 'Knock that off,' or you can start that conversation with, 'What's going on?' ”
Because of her retirement notice, Jaworski has received thank-you notes from those students she counseled in her office and in the school hallways.
That's what she'll appreciate the most from her years at Mercy, she said: the faces and the names of the students she tried to help, and the students who thought enough of those attempts to thank her years later.
“When you have been blessed to step into somebody's life,” Jaworski said, “that's when you raise a toast, good job, good year.”
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