For the past four years, Glenn Benjamin, the principal of St. Jude Regional Catholic School in Rockville, Maryland, has gone home to do his homework at the end of the school day, just like the students who he leads.

“I’m more than double your age, and I am still doing it,” he told the students after an all-school Mass on Feb. 8.

Benjamin successfully defended his dissertation for his Educational Doctorate in Interdisciplinary Leadership from Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska on Feb. 6, and just two days later, the students and faculty of St. Jude surprised their principal at the end of their all-school Mass by celebrating his new title – Dr. Glenn J. Benjamin.

Students cheer as their principal, Glenn Benjamin, walks to the front of the sanctuary of the Shrine of St. Jude in Rockville. (CS photo/Michael Hoyt)

“Today is a very special day for all of us here at St. Jude’s, in our community, and in our archdiocese,” said Jeanne Donatelli, the school’s assistant principal. “Today, I am proud to announce our Mr. Benjamin is now Dr. Benjamin.”

After quoting the book of Jeremiah, Donatelli said, “God knew the plans He had for you, and you were smart and listened to God.”

Benjamin began as principal of St. Jude’s in 2011, after having taught at Bishop McNamara High School in Forestville, Holy Redeemer School in Kensington, San Miguel Middle School in Washington, and St. John’s College High School in Washington. He arrived at a time when the school’s enrollment was low and had shifted from a double-track to a single-track school.

“He came in here, [and] he fired us up,” Donatelli told the Catholic Standard, noting that due to Benjamin’s warmth and love of education, he attracted many new teachers and students to the school. Now, the school has wait lists for some grades and a new preschool opened under Benjamin’s leadership.

“I knew we were in good hands when you arrived at our school,” Donatelli, who has worked at St. Jude’s since 2000, told Benjamin during the surprise celebration.

When she introduced him for the first time as “Dr. Glenn J. Benjamin,” the students applauded and waived popsicle sticks with a cutout of a graduation cap and a ribbon. When Benjamin came forward to the front of the church, they placed a larger graduation cap on his head, and presented him with a new nameplate for his office door.

Glenn Benjamin holds up the new nameplate that the St. Jude school community gifted him. (CS photo/Michael Hoyt)

Father Paul Lee, the pastor of the Shrine of St. Jude, also congratulated the new Dr. Benjamin, noting that he was impressed at how Benjamin completed the coursework while also working his full-time job as principal.

“That is a great achievement,” he said. “We are really inspired by you. We are proud of you.”

Benjamin’s wife, Kim; his mother, Erna; and his daughter, Kelsey, who is in fifth grade at St. Jude’s, all joined in the celebration as well. His younger daughter, Madison, who is in second grade at the school, was on a field trip that day.

After Mass, when he opened the door to his office, he was greeted with a room full of new Star Wars decorations – in addition to the ones that he keeps there normally. On his computer was a sign that read, “The doctor is in.”

Benjamin’s dissertation was about the behaviors and strategies of resurgent parish elementary schools, and in the process of writing it, he did in-depth research about the success of two different Catholic schools. He interviewed priests, principals, board members, and parents, as well as conducted surveys and observations at the schools.

He said his research was “reaffirming,” because though the two schools he studied were very different, the success of the schools kept pointing back to the efforts of the leaders.

“I heard about other leaders doing wonderful things at Catholic schools and the reliance of pastors on those principals,” he said.

He also said his research showed that for the success of the future of the Church and Catholic schools, “we need to look at how we recruit and train our leaders and clergy.”

Benjamin noted how the importance of Catholic schools is demonstrated through data that shows those who attend Catholic schools as a kid are more likely to attend Mass as adults. He said he believes it is because of the faith formation they get every day at the schools.

Though his research affirmed the importance of the principal in a school’s success, Benjamin was also sure to point out, “the success of St. Jude is not one person, it is because of a group working together to promote the Catholic faith, morals, values and ethics of students.”

Jeanne Donatelli, St. Jude’s assistant principal (at left), and Father Paul Lee, the pastor of the Shrine of St. Jude (at right) congratulate Glenn Benjamin, the principal of St. Jude (at center), for earning his Ph.D. (CS photo/Michael Hoyt)

Rather than focusing on the data of his research when he goes to work every morning, Benjamin said he focuses on making sure the students and teachers have what they need for a successful day.

“I don’t go to work with the weight of the world on my shoulders,” he said. “I go to work because I have 265 students excited to come to school…the metrics don’t matter; the smile matters.”

Noting how Benjamin has hired and trained many great teachers, Donatelli said, “everyone wakes up and looks forward to going to work.”

“[Benjamin] exudes happiness. He exudes love for the children, love for us, and love for the community,” she said. "He supports everybody, wants everybody to succeed. He puts everybody in front of [himself], even when he was doing this [earning his Ph.D].”

The excited community of teachers and students is what Benjamin said he loves most about being the principal at St. Jude’s.

“I know this is a community of faith that welcomes everyone,” he said. “The Catholic faith is universal; everyone who enters this building is part of our community. We take care of them as best we can and hope they will do the same in the future.”