After leading Bishop McNamara, Marco Clark sees his new work in Holy Cross education continuing a mission of hope
Jun 30, 2020
In 1997, Heather Gossart, then the president of Bishop McNamara High School in Forestville, Maryland, invited Marco Clark to return to his alma mater and serve as principal there.
“She said, ‘Marco, it’s time for you to come home,” remembered Clark, a 1985 graduate of Bishop McNamara.
After graduating from the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts, where he studied psychology and English, Clark had begun his career in Catholic education in 1989 working for eight years at DeMatha Catholic High School in Hyattsville, Maryland, serving as a teacher; guidance counselor; an assistant football, baseball and basketball coach; admissions director; director of guidance and summer school principal.
Clark did indeed come home to Bishop McNamara, serving as principal there from 1997 to 2010, when he became the school’s president and CEO for the next decade.
“From the moment I walked in and met the teaching faculty, I knew we could do something special,” he said.
After leading his alma mater for 23 years as principal and then as president and CEO during a time when the school’s enrollment and academic programs and facilities expanded, Clark has left his longtime home at Bishop McNamara and in Prince George’s County, where he grew up, married and raised his family, to begin a new chapter in his life this summer, serving as the executive director of the Holy Cross Institute at St. Edward’s University in Austin, Texas, where he will also be an assistant professor of education.
In an interview, Clark said he felt sad to leave a school that he loves dearly.
“I found my vocation as a Catholic educator at Bishop McNamara,” he said. “It’s sad to leave, but I feel God’s call right now is to pull me out of my comfort zone and to be of service to the Congregation of the Holy Cross and the brothers, and in a meaningful way, to advance that important educational ministry of the brothers.”
The Holy Cross Institute is responsible for strengthening and assuring the Holy Cross character and identity of the secondary schools and the colleges and universities sponsored by the Congregation of Holy Cross. The 17 schools sponsored by that congregation in the United States include Bishop McNamara and the University of Notre Dame. The institute provides resources and programs that educate administrators, faculty, board members and students on the educational legacy of the Congregation of Holy Cross.
In announcing the appointment, Brother Thomas Dziekan, provincial superior of the Moreau Province of the Congregation of Holy Cross, said, “Clark is the perfect person for this position as he has been attentive and faithful to our Holy Cross values and traditions at McNamara and has devised ways to help the school community bring hope to the world.”
On June 1, 2020, John Barnhardt became the new president and CEO of Bishop McNamara High School. A statement on school’s website noted Barnhardt “has dedicated his career to building and refining transformational schools for students and families in the D.C. region.” For the past 12 years, Barnhardt served as the director of school design for KIPP DC, working with a team in managing 18 schools across the District of Columbia. He earlier served as president of a membership division for alumni and student life at the University of Wisconsin-Madison where he led a $60 million capital campaign.
Marco Clark, who earned an educational doctorate in interdisciplinary leadership in 2015 from Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska, earlier earned a master’s degree in education in guidance and counseling at Bowie State University in Maryland. In 2012, he was awarded the Secondary Schools’ Administrator of the Year Award from the National Catholic Educational Association for his leadership and contributions to Catholic education.
For Clark, that vocation began when he was a student at the Catholic high school in Forestville that he would later lead.
“Bishop McNamara was that place that helped me believe in myself,” he said, adding that the school opened his heart to service. The Holy Cross Brothers and lay teachers there made a lasting impact on his life, he said, adding, “They made a difference for me, and I wanted to do that for other people.”
In a letter to the Bishop McNamara community, Clark noted, “We are a proud Mustang family who owe everything to the guiding principles of our Church and school.”
Marco Clark, the son of Gil Clark and the late Nancy DeCesaris Clark, grew up attending Holy Family Parish in Mitchellville, Maryland. After he graduated from Bishop McNamara High School in 1985, his brother Gil graduated from there the next year. Marco Clark’s wife Peggy is also a Catholic school educator, having taught math to middle school students for about the past 15 years at St. Ambrose Catholic School in Cheverly, Maryland, where she was a recipient of the Golden Apple Award for teaching excellence. She earlier taught at St. Joseph School in Beltsville, Maryland.
The three children of Marco and Peggy Clark all graduated from Bishop McNamara. Their oldest son Kevin Clark (class of 2009) teaches at McNamara, serving as a student support specialist in its resource center, while also helping coach football and baseball there. Their daughter Casey Lyle (class of 2011) married McNamara graduate Dillon Lyle and works as an ultrasound technician. They have one and one-half-year-old identical twin daughters, Reagan and Cayden. The Clarks’ youngest daughter, Meghan Maigatter (class of 2013), lives in Austin Texas, with her husband and their sons Landon, 2, and Jackson, four months old.
At McNamara, Clark played quarterback and free safety on the school’s football team, and he continued playing football at the College of the Holy Cross as a defensive back.
When Marco Clark began his career in Catholic education working at DeMatha Catholic High School -- a school for young men sponsored by the Trinitarian order -- he said, “I was fortunate to be around incredible mentors.”
DeMatha’s principal then, John Moylan, gave him his first job there.
“He took a 22-year-old kid with a psychology degree and invited me to be the school counselor. That was a niche in education that was right for me,” said Clark, who added that Moylan, who has been retired for many years, “became the model for Catholic school leadership for me, his tenacity, his work ethic, his belief in all people. He believed in every student.” And Clark added, “He had a knack for attracting great talent,” a quality that he tried to emulate when he later became a school principal and president and hired teachers.
Morgan Wootten, DeMatha’s Hall of Fame basketball coach who died in January 2020, encouraged Clark to pursue educational administration. Clark said Wootten recognized how he enjoyed coaching sports, but told him he could be a school principal one day and be the head coach of his school’s teachers. Clark said he also learned by coaching with Bill McGregor, the longtime varsity football coach at DeMatha, who he said was devoted to helping build a successful future for his student athletes. McNamara’s longtime leader also praised DeMatha’s principal, Dan McMahon, as a friend and colleague in Catholic education.
Clark also remembers words of advice given to him by Bill Kelly, a theology teacher at DeMatha, who told him, “Marco, it’s simple. Love the kids.”
McNamara’s former president and principal said he has repeated that phrase often over the years, because it reflects his approach to Catholic education.
“At the heart of what we do is love. We know God is love,” Clark said, adding that the goal of Holy Cross education “is to make God known, loved and served, and we do that by knowing, loving and serving our students.”
Returning to Bishop McNamara High School in 1997 as the school’s principal, Clark said he learned from the example of Heather Gossart, who was then its president and had invited him to come home.
“She’s the epitome of a Catholic educator… She said there’s such a sacredness in being called to be a teacher. She said Jesus was the master teacher,” Clark said, adding that she emphasized the importance of the call of Catholic school teachers to teach as Jesus did.
During Clark’s first year there, Bishop McNamara was facing enrollment challenges, with 525 students. This past year, McNamara had 850 students representing diverse backgrounds and from seven different counties in Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia.
“We’ve become a prominent, strong Catholic independent school,” he said, noting that Bishop McNamara, which became a coeducational school in 1992, now has a waiting list of prospective students each year, and 100 percent of its graduates are accepted into college.
Construction will soon begin on Bishop McNamara High School’s new La Reine Science and Innovation Center, named in honor of the former school for young women in Suitland, Maryland, that was its sister school. That is the latest in a series of expanded or new facilities at Bishop McNamara, including its Fine Arts and Athletic Center dedicated in 2000, and an expansion in 2007-08 that included a new classroom wing and chapel, an expanded library and main office, and renovated science labs. In 2018, Bishop McNamara’s Andrew Mona Student Center was completed.
Clark praised the community support that has made all those improvements to the school. For Bishop McNamara’s longtime leader, that support has been gratifying, “seeing so many people believe in our school and believe in our kids. McNamara is a beacon of hope.”
The departing school president said he believes his 31 years in Catholic education helped him shepherd Bishop McNamara through his last months there, which included an unexpected shutdown of local Catholic school campuses as a precaution against the spread of the coronavirus. He praised McNamara’s faculty and staff for pivoting to online learning for students. In his farewell letter to the school’s community, he thanked his colleagues, noting their talent and dedication and saying “you are the reason for the great success of this school these many years.”
This spring of the coronavirus pandemic showed “our world needs hope more than ever,” Clark said, noting the mission of Holy Cross education is all about bringing Christ’s hope to the world. He noted this year marks the 200th anniversary of the Brothers of the Holy Cross, and his new work will be devoted to strengthening and uniting the family of Holy Cross schools in that mission of hope and renewal and partnering with the brothers to help continue their educational ministry for generations to come.
“The Holy Cross Brothers have had an amazing impact on American Catholic education,” said Clark, who will also teach a doctoral level course in educational leadership at St. Edward’s University, to help train future Catholic school leaders.
In his farewell letter to his McNamara family, Clark noted how Blessed Father Basil Moreau, the founder of the Congregation of Holy Cross, called on educators to form students to be “men and women with hope to bring.”
Clark has found that hope, as a student and then as a principal and president at Bishop McNamara High School, where he said “the greatest blessing is walking the journey with kids who grow up to become adult leaders who change the world, who go out into the world and make it better.”
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