Kerns, praising sisters’ legacy, announces plans to step down as head of Georgetown Visitation
July 9, 2018
First as a student, then as a teacher and an administrator in Catholic schools, Dan Kerns said he learned from the example of women religious.
And he will do just that as he prepares to take the next step in his educational career – completing his three-decade tenure as head of school at Georgetown Visitation Preparatory School in Washington at the end of the 2018-19 school year.
“The time seemed right for a seamless transition,” Kerns said, noting that the school’s board has invited him to take on an emeritus role there. “I’ll still be around to support my successor,” he added.
And in doing that, he’ll follow the example of his predecessor, Visitation Sister Mary Berchmans Hannan, the president emerita of Georgetown Visitation and a 1948 graduate of the school. “When I took over as head of school (in 1989), she handed over the reins to me,” he said, noting that after he succeeded her, she remained as the school’s president. “I always had her as a mentor and supporter.”
In a statement, Sister Berchmans praised the impact that Kerns has had at Georgetown Visitation. “He is a man of steadfast faith who has embraced the mission of Visitation wholeheartedly,” she said.
This spring, Kerns announced that he would be stepping down as head of school at the end of the next school year, and the school’s board has appointed a search committee to find his successor.
In an interview, Kerns noted that this year, Georgetown Visitation completed a capital campaign that raised nearly $25 million, and the school broke ground on a hall that will be named in honor of Sister Mary Berchmans and will include additional classrooms, science labs and an art studio.
After serving as a teacher and then principal at Our Lady of Lourdes School in Bethesda, Kerns came to Visitation in 1986 as academic dean and assistant head of school. For the previous decade, he had been the coach of Visitation’s championship soccer team.
Three years later, Kerns began serving as its head of school, becoming the first man to lead Georgetown Visitation Preparatory School, which was founded in 1799 and is the oldest Catholic girls’ school in the 13 original states. “The sisters took me under their wing,” he said.
Kerns has called the Visitation sisters his role models in education. “They are women who truly make a difference in the people they meet,” he said.
Twenty-five years ago, in July 1993, a devastating fire raged through Visitation’s historic academy building. Despite that loss, Kerns said the sisters demonstrated “a sense of hope and resurrection,” adopting the theme, “The Spirit Rebuilds the Place” in the drive to rebuild the school.
That fall, the school opened with a record enrollment of students, who attended classes in temporary buildings. Kerns helped lead the effort to restore the school’s facilities, and the academy building reopened within a few years with its exterior restored, and with a state-of-the-art interior that included computer wiring and energy efficient heating and cooling systems.
During his tenure, Kerns also helped lead the efforts to build Visitation’s Fisher Athletic Center and its Nolan Performing Arts Center. As head of school, Kerns supervised its daily operations, including its academic program and spiritual life, for the 500 students there, with about 125 seniors graduating each year. He said a special accomplishment has been witnessing nearly 4,000 young women graduate from Georgetown Visitation after completing their academic and faith journeys there.
“We want them to be women of faith, vision and purpose,” said Kerns. He has said his goal as an educator is to help form women of faith and action who will make a difference in their community and their world, guided by the Salesian spirituality they learned at Georgetown Visitation that emphasizes the importance of lay people living out their faith in their everyday lives.
Two weeks after the 1993 fire at Visitation, Kerns married Alice Fleury, who was part of the fourth generation of her family to attend the school. They have four children: Matt, who will be a senior at James Madison University; Tom, who will be a sophomore at James Madison; Danny, a member of the class of 2018 at Gonzaga College High School who is going to Penn State University; and Katie, who graduated this spring from Our Lady of Victory School in Washington and who will be a freshman this fall at Visitation.
“It’s very special that Katie will be here. She’s grown up on campus,” said Kerns, noting that as a young girl, she appeared in Visitation musicals, including “Bye, Bye Birdie.”
Kerns, a New York native, graduated from St. Patrick School in Salamanaca, Diocesan Prep in Buffalo, and St. Bonaventure University near Olean, before earning a law degree at George Mason University in the Washington area.
“I came to Washington, and initially I planned to work on Capitol Hill,” he said. But after becoming a teacher at Our Lady of Lourdes School in Bethesda and teaching language arts, history and religion and later becoming principal there, Kerns said he found his niche, and life’s work, in Catholic education.
“I think the greatest blessing for me has been being part of a faith community and contributing to the formation of young men and women, to participate in their faith journey and help them grow,” he said.
Kerns, who was the first lay principal at Our Lady of Lourdes School and also coached CYO soccer and basketball there, said he was inspired by the faith, kindness and humor of the Sisters of St. Francis of Glen Riddle, Pennsylvania, who staffed the school.
Another highlight of his years in Catholic education has been coaching soccer at Lourdes and then his 22 years in that role at Georgetown Visitation, getting to know his players and teaching them lessons about winning with grace and dealing with the disappointments of losses. “The next day, you pick up, and it’s a fresh start,” he said.
In 1996, the educator received the Bishop Thomas Lyons Distinguished Principal Award from the Archdiocese of Washington, acknowledging then, as he does now, what he has learned from the women religious who taught him, first in the classroom, and then as colleagues and mentors.
“As lay people carrying on the sisters’ tradition, we remember why we’re doing that. We were educated by nuns and stand on their shoulders,” he said.
And reflecting on his years at Georgetown Visitation, Kerns said, “I’ve been in a very good place.”
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