A search for an interim replacement will soon begin.
By RON COLE
VINDICATOR EDUCATION WRITER
YOUNGSTOWN -- In his 16 years as schools superintendent for the Catholic Diocese of Youngstown, Dr. Nicholas Wolsonovich received several inquiries about his interest in other jobs.
But he didn't pursue any.
That's when he got a letter from a search firm asking him to apply for the superintendency of the Archdiocese of Chicago, the largest Catholic school system in the nation.
For the first time in his 36-year career in Youngstown, Wolsonovich bit.
"I went to Chicago and I said, 'Here are my talents. I have the time, and if you think I'm somebody who can help you continue this wonderful ministry, let me know. If not, I'll go back to Youngstown and be as happy as a pig in the mud.'"
On Thursday, Cardinal Francis George, Chicago archbishop, named Wolsonovich as Chicago's new Catholic schools superintendent.
When he starts: The 57-year-old Youngstown native, who started his career teaching at St. Edward School on the city's North Side, will take over the 130,000-pupil system on July 1.
Wolsonovich, who has run the 14,500-pupil Diocese of Youngstown schools since 1986, said the decision to leave was difficult.
"Youngstown is home," he said this morning from Chicago. "Youngstown is where I got my experience and my education. It's where my family is. It's where my wife's family is. ... So it was a significant step that we had to work through."
Drawn to job: In the end, however, Wolsonovich said he was drawn to the job because of Chicago's strong commitment to try to keep the city's Catholic schools available to inner-city youth.
"It's a big job, it's an important job and it's an important job for the church," he said. "I look at it from the point of view of mission and ministry, rather than a career move."
The Youngstown diocese hopes to name Wolsonovich's interim replacement some time next week and will begin a search for his permanent successor immediately, said Sister Brendon Zajac, executive director of pastoral and educational services.
"[Wolsonovich] is the consummate Catholic educator," she said this morning. "Obviously, we are going to miss him terribly. We will be benefiting from his leadership for many years to come."
Wolsonovich will replace Sister Judith Cauley and Janet Sisler, who have served as interim co-superintendents in Chicago since Dr. Elaine Schuster resigned as superintendent last year.
"After conducting a nationwide search, we believe that we have found a person with both the faith-based educational background and the professional experience that we have been looking for," Cardinal George said in a prepared statement.
"Dr. Wolsonovich takes responsibility for a system of demonstrated excellence. He will work to strengthen it."
"Dr. Wolsonovich exhibited the best qualities of a wide-range of outstanding candidates," said Chancellor Jimmy Lago, chancellor of the Chicago archdiocese and head of the search committee that selected Wolsonovich.
His background: A 1962 graduate of The Rayen School, Wolsonovich began his career with Youngstown diocese schools in 1966 as a teacher at St. Edward School in Youngstown. He also was a high school guidance counselor, diocese director of government programs and curriculum and Ursuline High School principal before being named superintendent in 1985.
In recent years, Wolsonovich has led the effort to expand the school year and beef up teacher training in an effort dubbed the Cornerstones of Excellence.
Last year, he announced the establishment of a $3.4 million Diocesan Catholic School Scholarship Fund in the name of his first wife, Mary Ellen Cushwa, who died in 1998. The fund will help offset the cost of increasing tuition for parochial school pupils.
He also led the school system through difficult closings of St. Patrick and St. Anthony schools in Youngstown in 1996 and St. Dominic School in 1999. St. Patrick reopened as New Hope Academy, an ecumenical school run by the diocese, the Lutheran Church and the Ursuline Sisters of Youngstown.