Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta


New Marist President Hopes To Link School, Missions

By ANDREW NELSON, Staff Writer | Published September 18, 2008

The new president of Marist School aims to build strong connections between the private Catholic school here and its sister schools and missions guided by Marist priests and brothers around the globe.

Father John Harhager will work for the first time in a school after serving in the top levels of the Society of Mary, known as Marists. He served at the world headquarters for the Marists in Rome for a dozen years, where he was responsible for far-flung Marist communities in the Philippines, Mexico, England and New Zealand.

Already students are communicating with peers internationally, and he wants to ensure the Marist School connects across cultures.

“I’m hoping to see us connect globally a little bit more with our missions. You learn so much about yourself and your own country, as well as learning about all these other people,” he said.

“That’s really important for our students in the future. We are going to be more and more connected down the road. It’s really important for the school to take on that dimension,” he said. “We are part of something much bigger than ourselves.”

The school dates to 1901 when it opened as a boys military academy in Atlanta. Today, some 1,000 students in junior and senior high school attend the private, independent Catholic school.

Father Harhager was slated to succeed Marist Father Richmond Egan next July, but the sudden death of Father Egan in January moved forward the transition.

Father Egan had recruited Father Harhager to take over the position. He was one of a handful of Marists who applied to school trustees for the post.

School principal Marist Father Joel Konzen said the new president has a sharp business sense that will serve him well as president.

“Unflappable is a word that comes to mind,” he said.

Father Konzen, who worked as Father Harhager’s assistant in the 1980s, said he’d be a capable administrator as the school develops its

Vision 2020 strategic plan.

Father Harhager has the trim build of a runner who tries to run 15 miles a week. He grew up near Canton, Ohio, the son of a factory worker. He entered religious life as a junior in high school when he attended a seminary for young students outside Philadelphia. He received his master’s degree in theology from Catholic University of America. Next year, Father Harhager marks 30 years as a priest. His free time now is spent on studies from Villanova University where he is working toward an advanced degree in pastoral leadership.

As president, Father Harhager is not involved with school operations or the daily life of students. The school principal acts as the chief operating officer while the president is the chief executive officer, making sure the school follows its mission.

Most of Father Harhager’s experience as a priest has been as an administrator, especially with his knack for finances. He served as provincial treasurer and director of justice and peace in Washington, D.C., and then as the provincial of what was then the Washington Province for four years before serving in Rome. He was elected to the position of an assistant general from 1993 until 2001 and the chief financial officer until 2005.

In 2006, he returned stateside to head the Boston’s Marist Mission Office where he was responsible for raising nearly $200,000 a year to support foreign missions

And he continues in this role. For a few more weeks he’ll continue to wear two hats. He said he looks forward to focusing all his time here so he can attend many Marist weekend events. Students greeted him at a reception with Italian ices at the school on Sept. 8.

Atlanta is his first school assignment. But education has always been a key dimension of the Marist ministry, he said.

“I’ve always admired the mission of the school. The school always strives to promote a whole package of excellence in everything across the board. It works so hard to develop well-balanced students and eventually graduates,” he said.