Jeanne Frawley remembers her years at Villa Joseph Marie High School fondly.
Surrounded by other talented, academically-gifted young women, this 1994 alumna felt right at home. Despite thoroughly enjoying her time at Villa Joseph Marie (she even served as the school mascot), Frawley never thought she’d return to those hallways.
Now, Frawley is not only back at her alma mater, she’s leading the charge in educating the next generation of female leaders as the school’s fourth president.
“Since February, we have been on a journey to find the most qualified individual to fill the role of president and to continue the school’s legacy as a premier institution for Catholic education for young women,” said Mary Smithson, chair of the board. “I am pleased that we have found that individual, an alumna, Jeanne Frawley.”
Frawley first became reacquainted with Villa Joseph Marie, currently in its 90th year, when she joined its Advancement Committee, which she’s been co-chair of for the past year. She also mentored a student, who recently received a full ride to DeSales University.
“It was nice to be back on campus and see how Villa has grown. Frankly, it [becoming president] was not an expectation. But when Villa was in the market for a leader, I realized that Villa is the last all-women’s high school left in Bucks County. It was alarming to me and the work is too important,” she said. “I got excited about what we might be able to do with a school that had 70 percent of its graduates last year go into STEM careers. All women. There are a lot of really cool things happening in Holland, Pennsylvania and I wanted to be part of it.”
Prior to this position, the current Yardley resident enjoyed over 20 years in education, with her experience ranging from admissions and student affairs to faculty work. She also has expertise in helping students make major transitions, from high school to college and from college to the workforce, all while ensuring they have the proper skills to succeed.
At Villa Joseph Marie, one of Frawley’s key goals is for the school to continue its tradition of being “a safe place of women helping women.” As a freshman, Frawley was saddened to see her bright, confident peers turn shy and quiet outside the classroom. Yet by their sophomore year, they were the same person both in and out of class.
“Statistically, single-sex education impacts women a bit more than it impacts men with outcomes. There is a greater self-reported sense of confidence and support that they feel in their community. There is a tendency for them to engage in a higher rate in leadership positions after their time in school,” explained Frawley, who thanked Villa’s Sisters of St. Casimir for being tough but extremely supportive. “It’s where I learned that balance of mind, body, spirit. I learned how to be challenged and to embrace that challenge.”
Another of Frawley’s goals is to instill the importance of having meaningful conversations about difficult topics, something that can be hard in a society that’s becoming more polarized by the day.
“It’s never been more important to teach civil discourse,” she said. “It’s really important that we help people find their center and their foundation and help guide their decision making, but more importantly, guide their conversation. When people have the keyboard confidence of what social media provides, it’s really important to create an environment where you lean into those difficult conversations in-person, eye-to-eye. We don’t all have to agree, but we do all have to respect one another, and with that foundation is how we do that.”
Currently, Frawley is enjoying a “listening tour,” which involves getting acquainted with the Villa Joseph Marie community. Moving forward, she hopes to spotlight student achievements, including volunteer service projects and post-grad STEM endeavors, on a wider scale.
“What our students are doing in these hallways is very impressive. Where they’re going to college is impressive,” said Frawley. “I want to make sure families see that as an option.”
She also intends to better engage her fellow alumnus by inviting them to visit and inspire the next generation.
Additionally, a multi-phase campaign will see the creation of a brand new STEAM hallway to provide more opportunities, which already include an engineering program. There is still a shortage of women in STEM fields, and Frawley knows Villa grads would be perfect candidates to someday fill those roles.
“Companies need them and are willing to invest in them,” she said. “I always say, ‘If she can see it, she can be it.’ I want to show students what’s possible and expose them to all of the opportunities out there.”
Samantha Bambino can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org