By William T. Clew
PAXTON – When Mary Lou Retelle begins her new job Monday at Anna Maria College she will drop one word from her previous title there.
That word is “interim,” and it disappears when she begins her duties as Anna Maria’s 11th president, first woman in that position in 20 years and first lay woman to head the Catholic college in its 69-year history.
Ms. Retelle came to Anna Maria in 2011 as executive vice president. When Jack P. Calareso resigned in July 2014, to take a position as president of St. Joseph’s College in New York, she was named interim president while the Anna Maria Board of Trustees launched a nation-wide search for his replacement.
According to the college, there were 70 applicants for the opening. The Board of Trustees interviewed 16, of whom Ms. Retelle was one.
Asked how she felt about essentially doing the job while 15 other people were interviewed, she said she understood that there was no assurance that because she was interim president she would be chosen as president.
She said she saw it as a chance to help advance the institution. She and the staff prepared for the new president by working to identify the areas at the college they knew needed improvement, such as marketing the strengths of the school and increasing financial aid to the student body, about half of whom are first generation.
After all the interviews, the Board of Trustees decided she was the best candidate for the job.
On May 14, in a press release, Paul A. DiPierro, chair of the Trustees, announced that “Ms. Retelle, who has served as interim president since July, 2014, has the board’s unanimous confidence as not only the best prepared candidate for the position, but the one who has lived it, and performed extremely well.
“In a short time, Retelle has made fiscal decisions that have led to improved student satisfaction, including a nearly 50 percent increase in new student enrollment, improved financial aid disbursement and enhanced relations with key community stakeholders.”
He said that under her leadership, several new undergraduate and graduate programs were started, partnerships with other educational institutions were strengthened and improved marketing communication efforts, including a new college website, have made a significant impact.
Ms. Retelle was born in Lawrence and attended Catholic elementary and high school there. She attended Merrimack College in nearby North Andover, a Catholic college in the Augustinian tradition. She commuted from home, she said. There she earned a bachelor of arts degree in biology.
She then studied at Northeastern University in Boston, earning a master’s degree in education. It was the first school she attended that was not a Catholic school, she said.
Most of the rest of her career has been in academia. After Northeastern she worked in admissions at Herkimer Community College in New York for three years, then returned to Merrimack. After five years there, she took a position in marketing with a company in Grafton, where she worked for three years.
But, she said, she missed her affiliation with students. So she moved to upstate New York and became director of admission and enrollment management at the State University of New York, Potsdam, from 1991 to 1994. Potsdam is not far from the Canadian border. Memories of that town, where winter temperatures of 30 below zero are not unheard of, meant that last winter’s snow and cold in Central Massachusetts “didn’t bother me one bit,” she said.
She came back to Merrimack and at various times served there as vice president for enrollment and student services, vice president for enrollment management and dean of admissions and financial aid.
In 2010 she became enrollment consultant for Suffolk University’s campus in Dakar, Senegal. She traveled extensively in Africa, recruiting students from as far away as South Africa. When that campus closed in 2011, she joined the Anna Maria administration as executive vice president.
She lives in Worcester, near Lake Quinsigamond, and is a member of St. Anne Parish, Shrewsbury.
Formal inauguration ceremonies will take place in conjunction with the college’s 70th anniversary in the fall, she said, when the students are back on campus.