James B. Sellinger, chancellor of education for the Archdiocese of Baltimore’s Department of Catholic Schools for nearly eight years, will retire June 30, Archbishop William E. Lori announced May 2.
Sellinger was the archdiocese’s first-ever chancellor for education, taking up the role after a 35-year career as an executive with the IBM Corporation.
“Leading our Catholic schools through historic challenges including a global shutdown due to COVID-19, Jim helped steer an increase in enrollment and lead our students toward academic achievements that have truly defied the odds,” Archbishop Lori said.
The archbishop called Sellinger a “tireless advocate” for the archdiocese’s elementary and secondary schools, noting that the chancellor petitioned lawmakers in Annapolis to support the BOOST (Broadening Options and Opportunities for Students Today) scholarship program that helps children from low-income families attend Catholic and other nonpublic schools in Maryland.
As chancellor, Sellinger has been responsible for promoting the enrollment and fiscal health of the Catholic school system.
In an interview with the Catholic Review, Sellinger said he was proud to take a collaborative approach to leadership. He works closely with Dr. Donna Hargens, superintendent of Catholic schools, as well as associate superintendents and archdiocesan school board members.
“It’s not about me,” Sellinger said. “I’m just one individual. The team has done a phenomenal job working with our (school presidents and principals) to sustain and grow our Catholic schools these past eight years.”
Overall enrollment has ticked up significantly in recent years, now standing at approximately 16,500 students. Sellinger acknowledged, however, that some schools had to be closed during his tenure because of struggles with finances, enrollment declines or other challenges.
“Nobody likes to close schools,” he said, “but as Archbishop Lori and I discussed, sometimes you have to get smaller to get bigger. You affect a lot of people’s lives when you close schools, and it’s an emotional drain on everyone. I think we did a good job ensuring our families that were affected by school closures (that they) had opportunities working collaboratively with us to attend other Catholic schools.”
One of the highlights of Sellinger’s tenure was opening the $24 million Mother Mary Lange Catholic School in West Baltimore in 2021, the first Catholic school built in the city in 60 years. Archbishop Lori said Sellinger’s “vision, commitment and effective fundraising” were “pivotal” in the development of the 65,000-square-foot school.
“The school has opened up more than academic pathways for the students,” the archbishop said. “Rising within an under-invested community in West Baltimore, the school brings hope, faith and opportunity to long-deserving families.”
Sellinger helped steer archdiocesan school policies related to COVID-19 protocols, working with the archbishop and with civic and public health experts. He was a driving force behind reopening Catholic schools for in-person learning in the 2020-21 academic year at a time when other school systems did not.
“We have wonderful faculty and staff that responded to the call to go back into the classroom,” said Sellinger, a parishioner of the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen in Homeland.
When COVID-19 positivity cases declined sharply during the 2021-22 academic year, the archdiocese lifted the mask mandate in Catholic schools in jurisdictions that allowed it. The archbishop noted that Sellinger implored the mayor of Baltimore to “join other Maryland jurisdictions in advocating for parental choice when it came to wearing masks in our schools.”
Born in Cincinnati and raised in St. Louis, Sellinger is the youngest of nine children and the son of Francis J. Sellinger, a master brewer and chief executive officer of Schlitz Brewing Company. His uncle was Jesuit Father Joseph Sellinger, former president of what is now Loyola University Maryland in Baltimore.
Sellinger told the Catholic Review that he and his wife are looking forward to spending more time with their three children and six grandchildren. He noted that he came out of retirement to work for the Archdiocese of Baltimore. He spent his entire professional life at IBM and the archdiocese.
“In the business world, that’s a lot of years,” said Sellinger, 66. “We have the opportunity now to smell the roses a little bit.”
The archbishop said the archdiocese will conduct a national search to find Sellinger’s successor.
“I firmly believe that our schools are well-positioned for the future with Dr. Hargens in place,” Sellinger said. “I know my successor will work with Dr. Hargens to continue to move the ball down the field.”
Email George Matysek at gmatysek@CatholicReview.org
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