SOME MAY CALL IT serendipity that Dr. Julie Brua finds herself writing her newest chapter as the School of St. Mary’s principal.
“I decided before the pandemic that it was time for me to retire from the public school system,” says Dr. Brua, most recently a superintendent for the last four years at the Gavin School District in Ingleside. “But I knew I didn’t want to leave education all together. After 34 years of learning in various roles, I really felt called to serve in the Catholic schools.”
As the stars aligned and Dr. Brua found her way to the School of St. Mary, she realized that her personal mission statement and that of St. Mary’s were one in the same—to learn, to serve, and to lead.
“I knew my next step needed to be one where I could integrate my faith and my love of education,” she says. “We only have a small window with children to secure their faith foundation. As educators, we need to always make sure that we’re balancing strong academics and social emotional learning with the Catholic faith. I’ve never been able to do that before. Maybe on the periphery, or indirectly, but now I have the opportunity to do this as my primary role.”
Dr. Brua grew up in western Illinois. She was raised in a family where the importance of education was modeled. Her father was on the school board and her mother was the school secretary. Today, Dr. Brua lives with her husband and daughter in Libertyville. She’s an avid runner, lover of John Hughes’ movies, book club member, and president of the Libertyville Junior Woman’s Club. Dr. Brua comes to St. Mary’s with breadth of educational accomplishments, including passing referendums and securing Blue Ribbons.
“I’ve only been at St. Mary’s for a couple of weeks, and I can already tell what this school means to this community,” she says. “For my first 90 days or so, my most important job is getting to know people and building relationships with them. It’s critical as a new person coming into an established school to learn about its culture and honor its traditions.”
“Mother Teresa is a tremendous source of inspiration to me, and her advice was to always let people know how important they are to you—that the conversation you’re having at that moment is the most important one you’ll have all day. That’s not always easy, but it’s always my goal.”
Dr. Brua’s top initiative as principal is to make sure that the right educators are in the best roles for engaging the students. “I’ve been working closely with Kathy Thompson [assistant principal], Bradley Doherty [dean of students] and Mandy Castle [director of admissions] to make sure we have great classroom scenarios in place,” she says. “Then our next task will be to dig into the long-term strategic plan for St. Mary’s. We want our students to continue to be recognized in high school as having strong academic backgrounds and character.”
St. Mary’s—located on two campuses with more than 400 students enrolled— anticipates that it will open its doors this fall with as close to a normal school experience as they can offer. The Archdiocese of Chicago schools proved in 2020 that schools could safely open and operate. At a press time, Dr. Brua and her team were fielding daily calls from prospective new families.
“I think we learned a lot about what it means to be resilient last year,” Dr. Brua says, explaining how she stayed longer than originally planned in her superintendent role to help her district schools navigate the year through the pandemic. “Lake County administrators are a tight group and we realized how much stronger we are when we all work together. I know we’ll continue to share ideas as we start the new year.”
As the mother of a soccer player, Dr. Brua appreciates the importance of students being in a classroom with their teachers and peers and having the chance to do all of the things that students need to do—like sports, clubs, and service projects.
“I’ve never felt for one day that my role in education was a job,” Dr. Brua says. “I keep saying to our pastor Fr. Nacius that I feel so lucky to have found St. Mary’s. But he often reminds me that it wasn’t luck at all—it was a blessing.”
To learn more about the School of St. Mary in Lake Forest, visit schoolofstmary.org.