After firing teacher for same-sex marriage, Waldron Mercy names new principal

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Waldron Mercy  Academy, the private Catholic elementary school on the Main Line that infuriated parents, its own staff, and the gay community when it fired a teacher for being in a same-sex marriage, has announced that it has hired a new principal.

Departing principal Nell Stetser became the public face of the controversy when on June 22, 2015, she dismissed Margie Winters, the director of religious education who was in a long-term relationship with another woman — which Winters said school officials were aware of when they hired her in 2007.

The new principal, Ann Marie Braca, 59, heads the Holy Family Regional School in Phoenixville, a consolidation of several elementary parish schools in the area. Her accomplishments there include improving standardized test scores, equipping students with mobile technology, and balancing the school budget so it has no debt, according to a news release.  She will assume her new post on July 1.

Braca, the mother of three adult children, has a master’s degree in education from Gwynedd Mercy University and a bachelor’s degree from Villanova University. In 2008 and 2009, she volunteered at Waldron Mercy as a choreographer for the annual musical put on by second to fourth graders.

Stetser said Tuesday that she was ready to go back to working directly with students and teachers and curriculum development,  which she did for years before becoming a principal. She said she had no new job lined up and was looking forward to spending the summer with her three sons.

“I will do something else when I fall into it,” she said.

She denied that the controversy over Winters played a part in her decision to step down and said the school community had since healed. The start of the year saw “a very positive energy,” she said.

When she fired Winters, Stetser acknowledged that many people disobey church teachings in their personal lives, but that as a Catholic school, Waldron Mercy had no choice but to follow the letter of church law. The school scheduled numerous meetings to hear parents’ concerns, but remained committed to firing Winters.

Waldron Mercy maintained that its Catholic identity could have been put at risk if it did not follow the church’s teachings on same-sex marriage. While the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Philadelphia does not oversee the school, Archbishop Charles J. Chaput credited school administrators with “character and common sense” in firing Winters.

Parents, however, were so angry that some withdrew their children from the co-ed school, 100 people attended a prayer vigil, and 23,000 signed a petition asking for Winters’ reinstatement. Winters and 50 supporters hand-delivered the petition to the archdiocese.

Last October, Stetser announced that she would resign at the end of the school year. She had been at Waldron Mercy for 27 years, five as principal.

At the time, the board of trustees credited Stetser with shepherding the school through “many challenges and difficult decisions” and said “much pain still exists” within the Waldron family over Winters’ firing.

Kimberly Baxter, board chair, said the community “has come a long way and wants to move forward.”

Stetser’s departure is unrelated to the Winters episode, she said. Neither is the enrollment dip that Waldron Mercy has experienced since 2015. With 486 students, enrollment has declined 1.5 percent. But Baxter said that all private schools were experiencing losses and that Waldron Mercy was doing better than many.

“There’s just not the same number of children available,” she said.

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