The First Lay Principal: Charlie Dullea

Steven Nejasmich ’65 (then a Jesuit priest) arrived in the fall of 1994 to replace Fr. Prietto as principal. In his three years on the job, he instituted several innovative programs and traditions, including the Fine Arts Assembly, which gave the entire school the opportunity to see student singers, dancers and musicians perform in the McCullough Gymnasium. He also created the position of Director of Professional Development and gave his support to Steve Phelps in that office. He instituted the Transition Liturgy to honor the senior class and mark the junior class’s new status as leaders of the school, and he fine-tuned the way department chairs were trained. In November 1997, however, he announced a leave of absence from the Jesuits to revisit his vocation and asked assistant principal for student affairs Charlie Dullea to serve as acting principal.

Dullea had an open-door policy with the students as assistant principal, and that continued after he moved offices. “I think my secretary had a hard time dealing with all the seniors sitting in my office.” Dullea formally applied for the job that February and was chosen from among three finalists to lead SI as the first lay principal in the school’s 143-year history.

On May 1, before the assembled faculty, Fr. Anthony P. Sauer, SJ, announced Dullea’s appointment and praised him for his 26 years at SI where he had worked as chairman of the English department, director of the summer school and assistant principal for student activities.

Dullea, a fifth-generation San Franciscan and a resident of San Carlos, graduated from SI in 1965. Dullea’s grandfather, Charles Dullea, served as San Francisco’s chief of police in the 1940s, and two of his uncles were Jesuit priests: the late Fr. Charles W. Dullea, SJ ’34, served as president and chancellor of USF in the 1960s, and Fr. John Dullea ’46, is a college counselor at Verbum Dei in Los Angeles. Dullea’s father, Edward, graduated from SI in 1937 and worked in San Francisco as an attorney in private practice.

While the appointment of a lay person marked an historic first for the Sunset District campus, the move was not unusual among the nation’s 47 Jesuit high schools. Of those schools, 38 had, at the time, lay principals and three had lay presidents.

After graduating from SI, Dullea received his bachelor’s degree from USF in 1969 and then received a commission in the U.S. Army where he served for two years, earning the rank of captain. After his discharge, he received his teaching credential in 1972 and started working at SI that year.

Since the founding of SI, the Jesuit provincial for California had determined who would be principal at the school. In December 1997, Fr. Sauer, in conjunction with the school’s Board of Regents, appointed an 11-member search committee, chaired by Mark Cleary ’64, that interviewed several candidates for the job. Eventually, the search committee selected three candidates, all of whom met with faculty and students. The search committee then gave the three candidates’ names to Fr. Sauer, and he made the final selection.

“I believe Charlie Dullea has the vision, the wisdom and the goodness to continue the good programs of our school and introduce new programs to forward our mission,” said Fr. Sauer in his remarks to the faculty.

After his appointment, Dullea said he was “delighted by the new challenge. I know the community well, having come up through the ranks. I’ve grown up with the institution not only educationally but also spiritually. It will be a wonderful challenge to serve as principal of my alma mater and of a community in which I’ve invested the majority of my adult life.”

His job as principal, he said, “is to keep alive the rich traditions of a school such as St. Ignatius but also to incorporate the innovations that will take us into the 21st century. To do this, my primary focus will be to serve the teachers at SI and to challenge them to be the best in their ministerial profession that they can be.”

Dullea’s wife, Pattie, is the assistant principal at La Entrada Middle School in Menlo Park, and their daughter, Jennifer, works in human resources for the Gap Corporation. Dullea also has a brother who graduated from SI — Edward Dullea ’62 who is retired from the San Francisco Police Department.

Dullea, early on, challenged his teachers not to rest on their laurels but to continue to improve. He started the Excellence in Teaching Program and asked teachers to set and meet a new goal each year while continuing to learn better ways of teaching. “There are more than 100 teachers at SI, and they are in the front line dealing with kids. We expect them to have mastery of their subject, be involved in extracurriculars and develop their spiritual lives.” To help them towards the first two of these goals, he asked Steve Phelps to continue in his role as Director of Professional Development. For the third goal, he asked Fr. Greg Goethals, SJ, and Rita O’Malley to form the Adult Ministry Office in 2000.