By ANDREW NELSON, Staff Writer | Published January 12, 2024
ATLANTA—Catholic education leader Julie Broom, who had a big heart for the overlooked, died on Dec. 25 at the age of 63.
Colleagues remembered Broom’s legacy of service as associate superintendent of the Archdiocese of Atlanta schools and as the former principal of St. John Neuman Regional School in Lilburn.
In 2017, she joined the school and played a pivotal role in reversing its low enrollment by engaging with the community. She retired after four years, but later returned in 2022 as an archdiocesan education administrator, aiding faculty and staff at all 16 archdiocesan schools.
Dr. Diane Starkovich, the school superintendent, said her colleague had compassion for the “underdog and underrepresented,” was always ready to lend a hand and mentored many educators.
“We all learned something from Julie. She took collaboration to the next level. Julie did whatever was needed at the moment to help principals and teachers. She so enjoyed being with our teachers and working collaboratively with them,” she said in an email.
The cause of the educator’s death was pancreatic cancer, said her husband, Deacon Kirk Broom.
From New Jersey to Atlanta
Broom was born on Jan. 8, 1960, in Montclair, New Jersey, the youngest of nine children. She graduated from the University of Northern Colorado in 1981 with a bachelor’s degree in recreational therapy and special education. Her fascination with how the brain learns led to working with children. She studied recreational therapy and special education before earning advanced education degrees, including a doctorate in educational leadership and administration.
In addition, she served as executive director of The Institute for Research and Reform in Education. Broom was an elementary school teacher in Texas public schools and later taught in Catholic schools in Texas and Colorado.
Broom is survived by her husband and college sweetheart, Kirk, a deacon who serves at Holy Spirit Church, Atlanta. They celebrated nearly 42 years of marriage. The Broom family worshipped for many years at St. Paul the Apostle Church in Cleveland.
Deacon Broom called his wife an “amazing mother, wife, friend and spiritual touchstone.”
Packed in her car were food and blankets for when she’d stop by the side of the road to aid homeless individuals. People in need were a priority because she believed she would be serving Jesus.
“Her comment was always, ‘it could be Jesus.’ That’s what we were taught. That’s how she believed. And she really saw Christ in every person she met.”
Education was her life’s work—especially putting children’s needs first—because that was key to changing lives, he said.
“She saw potential in everyone. She wanted them to reach their full potential. That’s what made her a great educator, that’s how they would change their lives,” said the deacon.
The Brooms have three grown children, Owen, Caroline and Hannah Rose. She is also survived by her daughter-in-law, Janet; three grandchildren, Lily, Cael and Lucy; five siblings and nieces and nephews.
A standing-room-only congregation, including uniformed students, school principals and friends, filled the 900-seat St. John Neumann Church for her funeral on Dec. 30.
Students and school alums sang in the Mass choir and served at the altar. Bishop Bernard E. Shlesinger III served as the celebrant, along with Father Sunny Punnakuziyil, Father Fabio Alvarez Posada and Father Luke Ballman, assisted by Deacon Mike Byrne, Deacon Mike Hayward and Deacon Greg Ollick.
Revitalizing St. John Neumann Regional School
In 2017, when she was hired as the Lilburn principal, Broom told The Georgia Bulletin, “Living my faith out loud, integrating it into every aspect of my day and sharing it openly is very exciting to me.”
Broom led the school to update the campus and remodel the entranceway—making it a more welcoming environment. Enrollment increased every year as the school grew in diversity and academic achievements flourished, said Starkovich.
Her efforts brought a renewed vibrancy to faith education and gained the confidence of the faculty and the parents that knitted a sense of community to the school and all its activities, she said.
The school recently honored Broom by dedicating the library to her.
Broom’s mentorship legacy
Mike Remshik followed in Broom’s footsteps. She served as his mentor as he moved into the principal position.
“The most important thing I learned from Julie was the importance of being available to your community. It means you have to truly be a part of the school’s community. You have to want to be a part of the lives of your students and staff. You have to be willing to humble yourself, when necessary, listen to others and realize that your plan might not be what is best for the school,” said Remshik.
Her down-to-earth personality won people to her side, he said. “Her faith was infectious and her love for Catholic education was incredible,” Remshik wrote in an email.
Indeed, her office was a place where students facing discipline problems experienced reconciliation, he said.
“Julie saw God’s glory in everything and was able to infuse her faith into almost anything she did here,” said Remshik.
The school experienced an enrollment boom during her time on campus. Remshik said Broom arrived as the school—which goes from pre-kindergarten to 8th grade—enrolled just over 200 students and was struggling.
Broom understood the importance of community in the school’s success. She went to work to recruit students by attending festivals and approached families at restaurants to share the value of a Catholic education. By persuasion and force of personality, she was willing to do whatever it took to draw students to St. John Neumann, he said. Now, it has 337 students.
Remshik said Broom celebrated its diversity to mirror the global Catholic Church. The school boasts a diverse student body, with individuals hailing from nearly 40 different countries and speaking 10 languages at home.