By Michael Gresham
The Texas Catholic
Police officer. Teacher. Principal. And now nurse.
For Rachel Dzurilla, new challenges are just a path to new opportunities to serve.
Dzurilla, who has served as principal of St. Elizabeth of Hungary Catholic School since 2014, will leave the Oak Cliff school this June after nearly two decades of service to pursue just such an opportunity.
“It’s going to be very hard to leave. All my friends are here,” Dzurilla said. “As I tell everyone, though, I’m not leaving the area. This is still my parish. This is still my home.”
Dzurilla, a native of Denton, has spent much of her life at St. Elizabeth, first as a student from second through seventh grade then since 2001 as a teacher, assistant principal and most recently principal.
“The hardest part about leaving is all the relationships — not only with the teachers, but with the kids and parents,” said Dzurilla, whose four children also attended the school as well as her alma mater, nearby Bishop Dunne Catholic School. “You know everything about them, and then suddenly you don’t get to see them every day anymore.”
Jennifer Borth, assistant principal at St. Elizabeth, said Dzurilla always puts students first and lovingly refers to the outgoing principal as the “crazy lady” she met on her children’s first day at the school.
“I walked my three little ones into school on their first day not knowing anyone here. My children were terrified to be in a new school,” Borth said. “As soon as we walked in, Rachel’s bubbling personality greeted us…she was the first to greet us at the door with her infectious smile, and 18 years later she still meets families at the door with her infectious smile.”
Borth praised Dzurilla for encouraging her to attain her master’s degree and thanked her for the ongoing support and encouragement she gave teachers and students
“No matter what I may be struggling with, she was always there to listen. Her response would be honest and heartfelt — she had a way of putting people at ease,” Borth said. “She also has an undying amount of energy and can-do attitude that pushes all of us to constantly want to improve and keep moving forward.”
Michael January, who had one son graduate from St. Elizabeth and another still attending, credited Dzurilla for creating an openness to communication and a feeling of inclusiveness at the school.
“I’m certain I will miss our morning conversations in the car line. Some mornings I have to drop my son off and walk back to finish the conversation so I don’t hold up the line,” January said. “Rachel and I have always had a good relationship and her ability to connect will be sorely missed.”
It’s another chapter of Dzurilla’s life that has sparked her desire to serve the community in a different way.
Dzurilla was attending the University of Dallas when she decided to enter the Dallas Police Academy in 1986. She spent 10 years with Dallas Police Department, four of those as an officer for Methodist Hospital’s emergency room, fueling her fascination with the medical field and prompting her to gain certification as an emergency medical technician.
Last August, Dzurilla began a 17-month program at the University of Texas at Arlington, where in December she will receive her bachelor of science degree in nursing.
“It’s a very intensive, online accelerated program,” Dzurilla said. “I’ve always had that fascination with the medical field, and this has always been something in the back of mind that I wanted to try.”
In May, as part of the program, Dzurilla was set to begin clinical work at Children’s Health Dallas. Her goal upon graduation from the program is to get back to working in an emergency room.
“I might have to start out somewhere first, but ultimately that’s where I want to be,” she said. “It goes back to my experience as a police officer.”
While admitting she’ll miss the connections she’s made at the school, Dzurilla said she is ready to take on the new challenge and hopes it is one last lesson she can teach the school community.
“I’m excited about trying something different,” she said. “I tell people it is never too late to try something new.”