By Michael Gresham
The Texas Catholic
A sense of community first brought Stephanie Garza to St. Pius X Catholic School. The beauty of the Catholic faith has kept her there.
Garza, who is in her 10th year at the east Dallas school, has served as both a classroom teacher and an assistant principal. This fall, she steps into the role of principal.
“I’m extremely honored to be in this position,” Garza said. “We have a wonderful community, wonderful students and an amazing faculty. It’s an exciting time for all of us.”
Originally from Memphis, Tennessee, Garza taught for 15 years in public schools in Georgia and Dallas, but found her way to St. Pius X while exploring education opportunities for her two sons, Zak and Noah.
“At the time, my older son was going to junior high and I was exploring options. We did so many things with members of this parish community, but it was when we actually came to a volunteer clean-up at the parish and school that I decided this is where they needed to be,” Garza said. “Everybody was so friendly and welcoming. The community was great. It was like home.”
Garza enrolled her sons and soon found herself being pulled into the community.
“The principal at the time, Cindy Elwood, said she heard that I was interested in administration. She asked me to run a summer camp at the school,” Garza recalled. “As soon as that camp ended, she offered me a teaching position.”
Garza, who was raised in the Lutheran church, recalled fondly how the experience at St. Pius X inspired Noah to convert to Catholicism.
“He wanted to go through Confirmation with his classmates,” she said. “So we worked with Father Michael Guadagnoli, who was the parish priest at the time, and my younger son became Catholic.”
That experience proved a catalyst for Garza making her own journey of faith as well.
“I’d watch things like May Crowning and the Stations of the Cross. It was all so beautiful, and I just wanted to be a part of those celebrations of faith,” she said. “Not being able to receive the Eucharist, I knew that I just wanted to be a part of this…I wanted to become Catholic.”
In 2013, Garza became Catholic, sharing the journey with her eighth-grade students and her son.
“It was a lot of fun that we were able to share that experience together. We would have conversations about our faith together and my son even helped me pick my saint,” she said. “It was very special to go through that journey with my son.”
As the new year begins, students return to find a renovated library, courtesy of a grant from The Catholic Foundation.
“It looks fantastic,” she said of the renovation, which included new carpet, paint and improved air conditioning. “The kids are going to love it.”
While Garza is full of praise about the school’s library, librarian Kathleen Huggins points out that St. Pius X will benefit from their new principal’s passion.
“One of her strengths is that she loves the students and wants to be an integral part of their Catholic formation here at St. Pius,” said Huggins, noting that Garza brings a wealth of hand-on experience in the classroom to her new position. “As well as being a tireless worker, she is quick to lend a helping hand, be it for a student, teacher or parent. She is always available with a listening ear and caring heart.”
In addition to the library renovations, volunteers continue work on the school’s new STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math) lab, which is being funded by monies raised during the school’s auction. Garza said hopes are that the lab will open in the first quarter.
“The addition of the STEAM lab shows St. Pius X is keeping up with the latest technology and educational opportunities,” she said. “When you can integrate all those aspects — the science, the arts, the technology, it benefits the students so much.
“It gives students new and innovative ways to learn,” Garza added. “There’s something about being able to get hands-on experience when learning.”
And as she steps into her new role as the school’s principal, Garza said she excited to give back to a community that has made her feel so welcome over the years.
“The people, the students, the whole community — I absolutely love it here.”