For Jim Power, Catholic education is more than just his career – it has been his life’s work.

After attending Catholic schools from grade school to high school and college, then serving with the Jesuit Volunteer Corps, and later teaching at and leading Catholic schools, Power joined St. Anselm’s Abbey School in Washington, D.C. as headmaster starting July 1.

“I was a high school English teacher, a basketball and baseball coach, a drama, newspaper moderator, and I just loved the life of school,” Power said.

Coming to St. Anselm’s after almost three decades as a head of school, including 11 years at Georgetown Preparatory School in North Bethesda, Maryland, Power said he hopes that the school sponsored by the Benedictines can continue to influence the lives of the young men that attend grades six through 12 there.

“We’re helping boys become their best selves,” he said. “What could be more worthwhile?”

One of his favorite aspects of Catholic education, Power said, is the language that a Catholic education provides.

“Catholic schools work for lots of reasons – part of that is sacramental and notions of grace – but also part of that is cultural and just having the language to talk about things that are important,” he said.

After graduating with his undergraduate degree from the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts, Power joined the Jesuit Volunteer Corps, drawn to the mission of the religious order and the idea of servant leadership. Through the program, he was sent to South Boston to be an elementary school teacher. The experience, he said, taught him a lot about the complexity of human relationships, but also opened his eyes to a potential future working with kids in education.

Years into his career in education, Power later received his master of arts in teaching degree from Boston College, where he completed his dissertation in educational leadership on character development in secondary schools.

“I discovered that religious schools have a much more dramatic influence on students than do secular schools,” he said. Power went on to receive his doctorate in education from Boston University.

St. Anselm’s Abbey School is the 10th school that Power has worked in – ranging from boys' schools, girls' schools, co-ed schools, military schools, boarding and day schools. Through his tenure in Catholic education, he said he has had the opportunity to work with Notre Dame sisters, Sacred Heart sisters, Benedictine monks and Jesuit priests.  

“I’ve enjoyed schools that are rigorous,” he said of his experience in Catholic education. “It’s really about the impact you have on the boys – the challenges that require them to really stretch.  

“St. Anselm’s is one of those schools where kids have to stretch. We tend to attract a lot of bright, talented boys, but what really shapes them is that they have to roll up their sleeves and really get to it. I think the teachers here model that, the monks of course model it, too. They all aim extraordinarily high, and I think that’s inspiring.”

Power added that he is proud of the fact that St. Anselm’s Class of 2020 had an average SAT score of 1400. Additionally, more than 40 percent of  the students there self-identify as a historically underrepresented minority and nearly 40 percent of the young men receive financial aid.

As his students are currently distance learning and the administration evaluates the current situation of the COVID-19 pandemic, Power said his team is working hard to ensure both the safety of students and the quality of education.

“It’s more complicated than an on-and-off switch,” he said. “It’s trying to gauge what is the right time. I know we can’t wait until there is a vaccine or a perfect world for us. We’re going to have to embrace in-class teaching (safely) long before the virus is gone.”

When asked why education, and specifically a Catholic education, can play such a large role in a young person’s life, Power commented on how Catholic education shaped his own life.

“My whole life has been a response to the care I received in high school,” Power said, noting the teachers whom he knew always truly cared for him.

“I really believe that if the boys can do something, we should let them do it,” he added. “Aristotle was onto something when he spoke about how you have to learn courage by doing courageous things. Developing courage is more like riding a bike than reading a book.”

Reflecting on his own teaching experience, Power said he enjoys being able to influence the lives of young people in such a unique way.

“When someone does call to thank me for something, (and my phone is not ringing off the hook most days!) it’s not something from the lesson plan,” he said, adding that so much of education goes beyond the textbooks and into modeling the mission of the school.