By William T. Clew
“God, family and St. Peter-Marian. That’s been my life,” said Matthew R. Sturgis.
Mr. Sturgis, will retire as headmaster of St. Peter-Marian Central Catholic Junior-Senior High School effective June 30.
He retires as the longest-serving and last headmaster of the school. A new governing model of Central Catholic schools will begin with his successor, who will have the title of president instead of headmaster, he said.
St. Peter’s and later, St. Peter-Marian, have played a major part of his life. He grew up in the Main South section of Worcester. He attended the city’s Woodland Street School through eighth grade. In 1967 he entered St. Peter’s High School.
At St. Peter’s he was a student-athlete who played linebacker and running back for the football team. After graduation in 1971 he accepted an athletic scholarship to the College of the Holy Cross, where he was a linebacker on the football team.
He graduated in 1975 with a bachelor of arts degree in sociology and began teaching at St. Peter’s. He’s been there ever since. In addition to his bachelor’s degree, he earned a master’s degree in counseling in 1979 from Anna Maria College and completed the school principal certificate program and Worcester State University in 1994.
A year after he started, St. Peter’s merged with Marian High School and moved from downtown to the Marian campus on Grove Street. He taught psychology, sociology, humanities and U.S. and world history.
Mr. Sturgis was a teacher for 10 years and served as social studies department chairman from 1982 to 1986. In 1986 he became guidance counselor and served for a year. He was named assistant principal in 1987 and, in 1988, principal. He served in that capacity until 1996, when he was named headmaster, a position he has held for 20 years.
Under his watch the school established a program for international students who received English as a Second Language courses to help prepare them to function as students in the school of their choice, set up a dual enrollment program with Assumption College which allowed St Peter-Marian students to earn college credit at no cost to them and partnered with Worcester Polytechnic Institute to set up a STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) program, the first Catholic school in the state to do it, among other projects and programs.
Mr. Sturgis, during his career at SPM, also was coordinator of the driver education program from 1981 to 1987, assistant football coach from 1974 to 1976, head football coach from 1977 to 1980 and athletic director from 1987 to 1988.
He said that after he finished as head coach, he was assistant football coach at Nichols College in Dudley for a time. He said he thought about giving up his teaching career to coach football. He said he discussed it with his family and with Father Joseph Garofolo, then SPM headmaster, who helped him decide to stay with education.
He said he is happy with that decision. “I’ve never looked back,” he said.
He said that the headmaster’s job demanded that he sometimes make tough decisions. He thanked Bishop McManus and Superintendent of Schools Delma Josephson for their support over the years.
He said two men who helped him grow in the job were the late School Superintendent Charles McManus and his brother Paul Sturgis, long-time teacher and administrator in the Auburn schools.
“I learned a lot from those men,” he said.
He said he also received “indispensable advice” from a long-time friend and special adviser, Father David Dorian. Bishop Reilly, who appointed him headmaster, gave him some advice he remembers to this day, Mr. Sturgis said. “He said, ‘Matt, think big. Don’t be afraid to think outside the box.’”
He had words of appreciation and thanks for three principals at SPM, the late Patricia Aubertine, Joanne Ethier and the present principal, Denise Allain, of whom he said, “the school is in good hands, especially as we move on to the new government model.”
He expressed his gratitude for the work of assistant principals John Beirdan, John Pace and William Driscoll.
“They’ve been a big part of what we’ve done here,” he said.
In a letter to “Guardian Nation” (The school’s nickname is the Guardians) posted on the school’s website, Mr. Sturgis included a poem which he said captured the essence of his experience at the school. The letter concluded: “Thank you, St. Peter-Marian. It is my sincere hope that I have been able to touch your lives, even is only in a small yet positive way. Godspeed.”
Apparently he did touch lives, because the Class of 2016 made the following proclamation:
“The Class of 2016 wishes to acknowledge Headmaster Matthew Sturgis for outstanding leadership and caring. A Kwanza cherry tree will be planted on the school grounds to honor his dedicated service and mark his retirement as the last headmaster of SPM. With best wishes, the Class of 2016.”
He and his wife Judith live in Dudley. They have three daughters, all graduates of SPM. They are Shauna, Class of 2001; Sara, Class of 2004, and Courtnay, Class of 2008.
He said Sara will be married June 25 at Immaculate Conception Church with Father Walter J. Riley presiding. Mr. Sturgis said that Father Riley was once one of his students. He said Shauna, Mrs. Shauna Porter of Hope Valley, R.I., is due to give birth to her first child, and the Sturgis’ first grandchild in October.
Mr. Sturgis said that, in retirement, he will probably do some more swimming. And for him that’s not just a casual few minutes in a pool.
He said he learned to swim when he was 5 years old at the Worcester Boys Club, where he competed in swim meets for several years. Football took up his time in high school and college. That, and the passage and wear and tear of life, have left him with some souvenirs, including a couple of spinal fusions and two new hips.
So he competes in swimming, open water swimming, where the races are 1 to 1 1/2 miles long in the ocean. New England ocean water tends to be cold and swimmers in those races wear wet suits to fight off hypothermia.
He has competed in Boston Harbor, Gloucester Harbor, Mystic Seaport in Connecticut and Newport, R.I., where he took second place in his age group. He is 63 and swims in the 60 – 64 age group. He said he tries to practice two or three times a week, swimming as much as 3,000 yards a session.
That probably will change now that he is retired.
“Now I can get serious about swimming,” he said.