By Jerry Duggan
María Isabel Domenech was raised in a Christian household, her mother an educator and her father a banker. She felt called to convert to Catholicism after attending a retreat at Manresa Retreat House in her native Puerto Rico at the age of 21. At the time, she did not recognize how transformational that decision truly was.
Now, decades later, she is principal of Colegio San Ignacio de Loyola, a Jesuit, all-boys college preparatory school in San Juan, Puerto Rico. She looks back on that retreat as providing a framework for her career as an educator.
Domenech attended a bilingual college preparatory school in Puerto Rico before gaining acceptance to Brown University, in Providence, R.I. After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in Hispanic Literature and Culture, Domenech discerned her true calling. Thanks to her mother’s example, she gravitated toward the field of education.
“My mother was a third grade teacher for many years, and, growing up, I saw the dedication she had for her profession,” Domenech said. “It was inspiring and motivating to see how she truly believed in her students and wanted them to succeed.”
Domenech has had many teaching experiences over the years and felt that all her teaching assignments helped her to serve what she calls “a divine purpose.”
“I feel very strongly that I am called to be an educator – that it is what God had in store for me,” she said. “Following my mother’s lead, I have always tried to invest in my students, take a personal interest in their well-being and contribute to them becoming better people.”
Her early teaching assignments have a common thread: caring for the less fortunate.
During college, Domenech taught in the AmeriCorps summer programs, where she worked with students from predominately low-income households. She taught literacy to Latino youth in Providence.
Eventually, she returned to Puerto Rico to teach at her alma mater, focusing primarily on English but also teaching British Literature, AP Literature and Composition and other courses along the way. She developed the approach of a servant leader, staying true to that deeply held belief in a divine purpose.
“Whatever the school, or my students needed, I was there for them,” she said. “To be in this profession can be challenging, but the opportunities for growth and fulfillment are tremendous.”
Along the way, Domenech completed a master’s degree in education and, in 2014, got the opportunity to lead a municipal specialized school in San Juan, Puerto Rico. In 2018, she decided to apply for the position of principal at Colegio San Ignacio.
This marked a transition from leading a municipal school to a Catholic, Jesuit school. Again, Domenech felt called to take this next step as an educational leader with a divine purpose.
“I felt that God was calling me here – Colegio San Ignacio is a sacred place,” she said. “The interview process was rigorous, but it was evident to me that Christ is at the center of this school community – and that drew me in even more.”
As she enters her fourth year, Domenech’s job is busier than ever – filled with meetings, situations that arise with students, parents and faculty and countless administrative tasks. For her, to separate her faith from the more “business” side of her role is impossible.
“My faith is integrated into everything that I do as principal,” she explained.
She maintains an “open door” policy with the Ignatian school community, because she feels that is the best way to lead.
“I’m committed to serve, and that means being accessible to all, hearing their concerns and making myself a visible part of our school,” she said.
Over the course of her educational career, Domenech has found that the seeds planted on that retreat so many years ago have proved to be foundational.
“My values, all along, have been Jesuit values – to be compassionate, to be a servant leader, and to educate with a divine purpose,” she reflected. “To be able to lead Colegio San Ignacio has been the perfect way to express those values and continue to fulfill what I have, for a long time, felt is my calling – to be a transformational school leader.”