The title of Thomas Wolfe’s novel, “You Can’t Go Home Again,” certainly doesn’t apply to Ashley Lewis, who has returned to St. Mary of the Assumption Catholic School in Upper Marlboro, Maryland, to serve as the new principal at the school she graduated from and where she was a teacher and administrator before moving to Japan while her husband served in the Marine Corps there.

“I’m home!” Lewis said, noting that she had been a St. Mary’s parishioner for more than 20 years during her childhood and then as an adult. “I tell everybody now (that) because I have a familiarity and love for this school, but I’m also coming in from almost four years away, so I have the added benefit of fresh eyes and identifying the school’s strengths and areas we can work together to improve.”

Now the 2002 graduate of St. Mary of the Assumption School works in the principal’s office, but when asked if she was ever sent there as a student, she laughed and said, “I was not! I was a really good kid.” But she added, “I had to stay in recess one time for wearing hoop earrings that were too big.”

She was the oldest of six daughters in the Stickley family and attended St. Mary’s from the fifth through the eighth grade. “I was one of the Stickley girls. We pretty much always had someone here” attending the school, she said.

The children who were in her first class when she began teaching prekindergarten at St. Mary’s in 2010 are now eighth graders there, and some students whom she taught still greet her as “Miss Stickley.”

In becoming principal there, she succeeds Dr. Steven Showalter, her mentor and former teacher there who retired this summer after serving 25 years at the school, including as principal since 2006.

“He gave me my first job out of college, so it was pretty special taking over after him,” said Lewis, who credited her academic background at St. Mary’s with helping her gain a full scholarship to attend Bishop McNamara High School in Forestville.

Her education at St. Mary of the Assumption School, she said, “was the foundation” for her life, helping her to excel at Bishop McNamara. She then earned a full tuition scholarship to attend the University of Maryland, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in early childhood education, and she later earned a master’s degree in early childhood special education from Johns Hopkins University.

She also credited Showalter – who was her middle school computer, Latin and religion teacher there – for making a lasting impression on her faith.

“He lived it,” Lewis said, adding that he chose her to be the sacristan for the eighth grade class, helping to set up for school Masses.

Then when she graduated from the University of Maryland, Showalter hired her to teach in the school’s expanding prekindergarten program, which she did for three years, before becoming the kindergarten teacher there for two years. Then in 2015, she became assistant principal and a third grade teacher there, but during the school year, her husband, Marine Capt. Joseph Lewis, was transferred to Japan, and she had to leave St. Mary’s School.

In Japan, Ashley Lewis coordinated four child development centers for Marine Corps families in Okinawa. The Lewis’s son Joseph was born and baptized there last year. Then they learned that Capt. Lewis would be transferred back to the Washington area and serve as an attorney at the Marine Corps base in Quantico, Virginia. Later, Ashley found out that the principal’s position was going to be open at St. Mary of the Assumption School.

Lewis said she decided “I should go for it,” noting that her job interviews were done via Facetime in the middle of the night from Japan, due to the time difference.

In an email response to the Catholic Standard, Showalter said Lewis’s “coming home” as the new principal at St. Mary of the Assumption School was fitting for her, after she had been a top student and model teacher at the school. He praised his successor as principal, noting that he had earlier joyfully welcomed her back to the school as a new teacher after she graduated from college.

“Her love for St. Mary’s has brought her back to the school she attended as an elementary student. Now as principal, Ashley is uniquely qualified to continue the strong traditions of our school in both passing down the faith and upholding our unflinching commitment to academic excellence,” he said.

Showalter noted that as someone who has known her from her youth, “I can attest that she has many qualities that make her such an ideal fit for St. Mary’s. She is well organized, budget conscious, academically oriented and most importantly, staunchly Catholic, allowing me to retire with confidence knowing the school will be in good hands for years to come under her leadership.”

Now Lewis has come home to lead the 208 students attending St. Mary of the Assumption School, and as she did as a student and teacher, she continues to appreciate the school’s Catholic identity. She said going to the school’s weekly Mass and being able to speak about the faith with students and teachers, “just really makes Catholicism part of everyday life.”

Of returning home to St. Mary of the Assumption School as principal after being a student, teacher and administrator there, Ashley Lewis says, “I'm home.” (CS photo/Andrew Biraj)

Rose Hartman, who was Lewis’s middle school science teacher and is now retired but helps with testing at the school, praised her as an outstanding student who later became a wonderful colleague on the teaching staff. She said the new principal’s progression from being a student to a teacher to the principal there “is not surprising. That’s the kind of person Ashley is. She’s sincerely motivated to bring out the best in each child.”

Kristi DeCesaris graduated from St. Mary of the Assumption School two years after Lewis, and later succeeded her as the kindergarten teacher there. “She’s a great mentor,” she said.

Speaking about what makes the school special, the kindergarten teacher said, “We’re all a family here,” and she noted that her own father attended the school, as did her two brothers and her aunts, uncles and cousins.

That point was echoed by Hannah Ruckstuhl, who graduated from St. Mary’s School in 1996 and teaches second grade there and is now the school’s assistant principal. A Golden Apple Award winning teacher, Ruckstuhl is in her 13th year teaching at St. Mary’s, and she noted that her daughter and her son are now attending the school, as did her grandmother, her mother and her three siblings. She tells students, “This will always be home.”

That’s the feeling that helped bring Lewis back to St. Mary of the Assumption to serve as the school’s principal. Her office includes group photos of students and teachers from her years there, drawings done by her former pre-kindergarten students, and letters written to her by her third graders when she left for Japan.

Speaking of her goals for St. Mary’s students, Lewis hopes that they, like she once did, will receive a strong foundation in academics and faith, “and a sense of community, that they can always come home.”

Ashley Lewis, right, the new principal of St. Mary of the Assumption School in Upper Marlboro, joins fifth grader Myla Harding in running an obstacle course during a gym class there. (CS photo/Andrew Biraj)