Nancy Essary, principal of St. Joseph Elementary, retiring after 27 years with Utah Catholic Schools

Friday, Jun. 02, 2023
Nancy Essary, principal of St. Joseph Elementary, retiring after 27 years with Utah Catholic Schools + Enlarge
Nancy Essary
By Linda Petersen
Intermountain Catholic

OGDEN — After a 27-year career in Catholic education, St. Joseph Elementary Principal Nancy Essary is retiring. It’s a reluctant choice made necessary by health concerns, she said. Essay has been working remotely since January; she now feels she needs to retire so she can focus on her health.

A native Utahn, Essary came to education after having worked in oil and gas accounting for 20 years. She grew up in the Salt Lake City area and attended J.E. Cosgriff Memorial Catholic School for kindergarten, then went to public school for the remainder of her primary and secondary education. She completed a bachelor’s degree in behavioral sciences and secondary education from Westminster College. She took business classes with her husband, Danny Essary, and the two “just ended up” in the financial field for 20 years, she said.

After earning a master’s degree in educational leadership at the University of San Francisco, she changed careers in 1997.

“I told my husband when I was 40 that I was going back into education; that was my dream,” she said.

She followed that dream by applying at St. Francis Xavier School and was hired as a fifth-grade teacher, a position she held for three years. She then became the school’s principal. After 10 years there, she served as vice principal of St. Joseph Catholic High School for a year. For the past 13 years, she has been principal at St. Joseph Elementary. During both times as principal, in addition to her administrative duties, she also taught classes regularly.

Essary loves teaching, particularly when the students “finally get that light bulb turning on — that and working with students that struggle and particularly students that hated math, to help them turn around that for a love of math,” she said.

At St. Joseph Elementary, she is especially fond of the students in middle school, she said. “I just seem to connect with them and can relate to them. They struggle so much, but they need people that believe in them, and I’m one of those people. I believe in middle-schoolers, and I believe they can get through this. Those are hard times.”

Beyond helping her students master math and other subjects, Essary hopes she has made a positive impact on their lives. “One of our former teachers said it well, that we hope we develop good people,” she said. “That’s what I hope we’re instilling, that they’re good people, and they give back to their community and to other people.”

Essary praised the educators and staff she worked with at all three schools as “some pretty amazing people that make a difference.” They and other Catholic school educators are “the reason that Catholic schools exist; it’s tremendous work that they do,” she said.

“I just feel really blessed,” Essary said. “Something about Catholic schools is we don’t have some of the challenges that you might deal with in other school settings. I think we’re really blessed because we have such supportive parents.”

In retirement, Essary will continue to help St. Joseph Elementary with its capital improvement campaign to build a new wing. That process has been the most challenging part of her career, she said. “Trying to raise money for a wing with the costs going up continually has been a major challenge.”

If her health improves, Essary also hopes to volunteer at her parish or at one of the schools in the Ogden area. “I will miss the students and the teachers, but I’ll still see them; I’ll still be around,” she said. “I have a love of teaching, so I’ll still probably be doing that somehow, just not in a full-time principal’s position.”

Essary’s position will be filled by Jean Synowicki, who is currently the vice principal at St. John the Baptist Middle School. “I know she will do an amazing job,” Essary said.  

On May 18 Essary was presented with the Christ the Teacher award by Utah Catholic Schools Superintendent Mark Longe at the baccalaureate Mass at St. Joseph Catholic Church in Ogden. “I was very blown away by that,” she said. “It was totally unexpected.”

The following evening at St. Joseph Catholic High School graduation ceremonies, Longe recognized Essary, who was in attendance. “We presented the Christ the Teacher award last night to Nancy Essary after 27 years of dedicated and devoted service to Catholic education in Utah,” he said. “We are grateful for your commitment, Mrs. Essary, and we thank you.”

Essary also received the Madeleine Medal after serving for 15 years on the Diocesan Finance Council and Capital Development Corporation Board of Directors.

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