By ROB HERBST
The Catholic Week
MOBILE — Gwen Byrd has attended nearly every National Catholic Educational Association convention since 1965, but she didn’t know what to expect at this year’s event in Chicago.
Byrd, the Archdiocese of Mobile’s superintendent of Catholic Schools and executive director of Catholic Education, was among the recipients of the NCEA’s Learn. Lead. Proclaim. Award, which recognizes outstanding efforts, contributions and achievements on behalf of Catholic school education. Byrd was chosen from more than 150,000 teachers and administrators, as well as diocesan leaders and organizations dedicated to the nation’s Catholic schools.
“It was humbling to be honest with you,” Byrd said about the award, which she received April 23. “It’s not who I am. I don’t do what I do to be honored and it was a very strange feeling for me. I didn’t know what to expect.”
Byrd is in her 37th year as superintendent and has been dedicated to Catholic education for more than 50.
“I’ve been in Catholic education a long, long time. I love it and I’m very happy in it,” Byrd said.
“I believe in Catholic education and think Catholic education is the best for me. I do. I’ve given my life to it.”
She was joined in Chicago by several staff members, Catholic school principals, McGill-Toolen Catholic High School President Fr. Bry Shields and Archbishop Thomas J. Rodi.
“It was nice to have them there, it really was,” Byrd said. “I was surprised.”
Byrd also said it was nice to receive the award in Chicago, a city she has deep connections to. Byrd received her master’s degree from DePaul University in Chicago and also served as principal at St. Francis de Sales Catholic School in nearby Lake Zurich, Ill., before she returned to her native Mobile.
“Miss Byrd is the complete superintendent: She possesses a wealth of experience in Catholic education as both teacher and administrator. She exercises sound judgement in attending to matters. She is deservedly respected by principals, teachers and parents because of her strong character,” Archbishop Rodi said.
“She genuinely cares about the welfare of the students and those who serve in the schools. Most importantly of all, she is a woman of deep faith firmly committed to maintaining and strengthening the Catholic identity of our schools. We in the Archdiocese of Mobile are blessed to have her.”