By Seth Gonzales
The Texas Catholic
When Bishop Lynch High School president Ed Leyden awards his final diploma at the end of the 2014-2015 school year, more than 6,000 students will have graduated from the school under his leadership.
“I’m not the one who educated them and formed them, but hopefully I’ve made it possible or facilitated others to do that,” Leyden said, paraphrasing a quote from one of his heroes, the late San Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero.
On June 30, Leyden will retire after 33 years at the helm at Bishop Lynch. It will mark the end of a 50-year career in education for Leyden and the end of an era for the school.
“The timing is good for me and my wife and my family,” said Leyden, who was ordained a deacon in 2006. “It’s a good time for new insights, new ideas, and new energy.”
Leyden, a native of Burbank, Calif., was hired as Bishop Lynch’s first lay president in 1982 amid uncertainty and worry about the school’s future. The Dominican Order, which had founded and managed Bishop Lynch for the better part of 20 years, could no longer fully staff the school because of a priest shortage. Rather than close the school, the Order transferred ownership and management of Bishop Lynch to the Diocese of Dallas.
Leyden came to Bishop Lynch having already built 20 years of administrative and teaching experience at schools in Texas and Florida. He quickly understood how important the school’s Dominican heritage had been and announced his intent to continue integrating it into the life of the school. The move steadied nerves and provided a measure of confidence for a school in need of one.
Sister Cecilia Sehr, a Dominican nun who had just arrived at Bishop Lynch on a teaching assignment from Sinsinawa, WI, said Leyden displayed a gift for navigating difficult situations.
“He’s got a wisdom that evaluates the situation, then he makes a prudent decision,” said Sehr, who started her career at Bishop Lynch with Leyden in 1982. “[Ed] has been able to get us over the rough spots to where we are now.”
Leyden said while he was eager to maintain the school’s identity, he was even more motivated to find ways of improving every facet of the school.
In 1991, those efforts paid off as Bishop Lynch was selected to receive its first National Blue Ribbon Award, a prestigious honor given each year by the U.S. Department of Education recognizing schools across the nation that have shown exemplary academic achievement.
Leyden said it was one of his proudest moments as president.
“The Blue Ribbon Award just confirmed the academic excellence found at Bishop Lynch,” Leyden said. “Our community was extremely proud of the achievement because it really put us on the map and helped cement our reputation as one of the outstanding high schools in the country.”
Eight years later, the school won the award again. It remains one of only 15 high schools in Texas and the only Catholic high school in North Texas to win the award twice.
By 2001, the school began witnessing the first of many dramatic facility improvements, having completed a new dining hall, reception area, and campus store. But Leyden said it was the opening of the school’s new performing arts center in 2003, with major funding from The Catholic Foundation, that changed the perceptions of what many thought was possible for Bishop Lynch, including, he admitted, his own.
On Aug. 17, 2014, Leyden led a team of donors, alumni and supporters in opening a new 45,000-square- foot complex for arts and athletics. It marked the completion of phase two of a massive five-phase campus improvement project known as Veritas. The final phase is scheduled for completion in 2016.
“That’s 45,000 square feet out there that I never imagined would be there,” Leyden said. “[After the McGonigle Theatre] the other projects, while they haven’t been easy, we knew we could do it.”
Athletics director and girls varsity basketball coach Andy Zihlman said beyond the campus improvements, which have become a major source of pride for the school, he is gratified for the personal and professional guidance Leyden has provided him throughout his own career at Bishop Lynch.
“I think he’s a wonderful leader,” said Zihlman, who began teaching at Bishop Lynch in 1975. “The thing I like about him most, is that he lets you do your job and he expects you to do your job.”
It is Leyden’s brand of leadership and success that has him receiving many accolades, including the 2014 Catholic Foundation Award, which will be presented to Leyden at a Feb. 6 dinner at the Hilton Anatole.
“When you think about the thousands of kids and families that he’s impacted, the breadth of the growth of Bishop Lynch, and how well respected he is as a deacon, I mean this is a guy that has committed his life to Christ,” said Matt Kramer, president of The Catholic Foundation. “He’s lived it out.”
This summer, after conducting his last graduation ceremony and concluding a lifetime’s work in education, Leyden and his wife Barbara will begin enjoying retirement. Chris Rebuck, the school’s current dean of students, will become Leyden’s successor on July 1.
By that time, Leyden said, nostalgia may finally begin to set in.
“The namesake of our school, Bishop Joseph Patrick Lynch once said, ‘If I had to do it all over again, I’d be a priest, but a better priest,’” Leyden said. “If I had to do it all over again, I’d be a Catholic educator, but a better one.”