During her tenure as president and principal of Archbishop Spalding High School, Kathleen Mahar occasionally spoke to Archbishop William Lori, the Catholic leader of the Archdiocese of Baltimore.
However, a recent phone call from the archbishop caught her completely off guard.
“I have to say it was a little unnerving, but in a really good way,” Mahar said. “I am still stunned, frankly. It’s hard to put into words how I felt when he told me why he was calling.”
A year after retiring, Mahar, a current resident of Annapolis, is one of 10 individuals who will receive the Cross Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice (“for the church and the pontiff”), an honor conferred directly by the pope. Another seven individuals will receive honors in other categories.
“Our honorees for pontifical orders and medals demonstrate through their lives’ work the ways the church is alive in mission and ministry throughout the Archdiocese of Baltimore,” Lori said. “These women and men have given of themselves — by nurturing, inspiring and protecting young people, by building vibrant communities of faith and by shepherding a new generation of priests and religious servants.”
Lori said the recognitions were extended in gratitude for the awardees’ contributions in education, service and evangelization.
Mahar, who has a combined 25 years at Spalding, including a stint as a teacher, was quick to note that an honor for excellence in Catholic education is not the work of one person but of an entire school community of faculty, staff, students and parents. Mahar said it should not be just her receiving this honor.
“The woman is incredible, and she’s humble,” said Catherine Hellie, world languages department chair at Archbishop Spalding High School. “She wouldn’t take sole credit for the great things at Spalding. She’s a visionary with the ability to articulate a plan. She can say it was a team effort, but she was steering the ship. It was her charismatic leadership that got things done.”
Catherine Harding is one of many former Spalding students who stay in touch with Mahar, often meeting for monthly lunch dates, even six years after graduating from high school.
“She is truly one of my biggest role models and her authentic, unique leadership changed my life,” Harding said. “She pushed, and continues to push, me to achieve my goals and push beyond them. Her impact on the Spalding community truly is immeasurable and my experience there would not have been close to as good without her at the helm of the school.”
Stephen Cobbs is a 2019 Spalding graduate who now lives in Boston, but he said it’s impossible not to make plans to catch up with “Mother Mahar” every time he returns to Severna Park.
“High school can be very stressful, but Mrs. Mahar treated students with the same respect and dignity that she treated everyone,” Cobbs said. “She has so much faith in me that I continue to do everything I can to live up to those standards. For her, each one of her students truly matters, and we feel that.”
When asked what she might do for an encore now that she is on Pope Francis’ radar, Mahar joked, “That’s a pretty high bar, isn’t it? I don’t know if it’s possible to top that!”
Lori will confer the papal honors at a public celebration of solemn lauds (morning prayer) September 23 at 9:30am at the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen in Baltimore. The papal honors will be conferred in the archdiocese for the first time in more than a decade, according to an Archdiocese of Baltimore press release.