By ERIKA ANDERSON REDDING, Special to the Bulletin | Published October 5, 2017
SMYRNA—Mary Jo Nichols is no stranger to Catholic schools. Now as the new director of parish preschools for the Archdiocese of Atlanta, Nichols will play an instrumental part in helping to grow Catholic early childhood education throughout north Georgia.
Nichols assumed the director position from Terry Graham, who retired this summer.
Nichols began her career in the archdiocese at Christ the King School, Atlanta, and also taught at Immaculate Heart of Mary School, Atlanta, and at St. Joseph School in Marietta. In 2007, she helped launch the new preschool program at Holy Family Church in Marietta. They originally opened their doors with 12 children, but the program grew within the first month to more than 20. When Nichols left for her new position, there were 104 students in their care.
“It was amazing to see it grow,” Nichols said. “We started with a three-year plan, then a five-year plan, and to see it come together was incredible.”
Nichols said she has always been passionate about young children and Catholic education, and serving as the director of the Holy Family Preschool was a great fit for her.
“It became my passion. I worked with so many wonderful women and there were so many wonderful families there,” she said. “I feel really lucky to have been a part of it.”
Nichols said she is an avid supporter of Catholic education because of the academic and spiritual formation children receive there.
“Based on my own education in Catholic schools, they all have different gifts and talents and they all want to share that with families and children,” she said. “Our schools give these children not only a spiritual foundation, but access to each other. Raising young children can be challenging, but it helps to be in an environment with others who share the same faith and values.”
When Graham announced her retirement, she encouraged some of the preschool directors, including Nichols, to apply.
“I had a firm feeling that my replacement needed to come from the pool of directors we had,” Graham said. “(Nichols) will fill her own shoes—not mine, but hers. She really values relationships, and that’s a huge part of this job—developing those relationships with the directors.”
Nichols is excited to connect with the preschool directors in a stronger way.
“I’ve met everyone at conferences and meetings, but I’m really looking forward to getting to know the directors on a one-on-one basis,” she said. “Each of our preschools is uniquely Catholic, and I’m excited to go out and see what they are doing. I’m hoping to meet the needs of the directors—whatever those needs may be. It may be increasing enrollment or growing their Catholic presence, or creating more awareness in their parishes. Whatever they feel will help their program to thrive, I’m willing to help.”
Above all, Nichols feels like her new role is a blessing.
“I’m just so enthusiastic and really excited to be here,” she said. “I feel like this is exactly where I’m supposed to be. It’s like all of my other jobs led me to this point in my life.”