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 | By Mary D. Dillard

The evolution of a passion

A small-town principal’s story of finding Catholic education

Courtney Magee, principal of St. Joseph Regional Catholic School in Florence, knows a thing or two about service.

Being a product of the public-school system, the last place she thought she would ever end up was at a small-town Catholic school in Northern Alabama. Sometimes, she even asks herself, “What am I doing here?” A servant’s heart, however, longs to follow God’s plan.

Magee grew up in Lawrenceburg, Tennessee, where she and her family were members of the Church of Christ and where her mother made a living as a public-school educator, teaching history at the high school level. “I never really aspired to be a teacher,” admits Magee. “I saw what she did and what she put into it,” she recalls. “I saw how much she gave of herself for that job.” Her mother’s complete giving of self was admirable, of course, but it wasn’t exactly enticing for the young Magee.

Deciding to blaze her own path, Magee meticulously devised plans for college, enrolling at the University of Chattanooga as a communications major. Everything was in order until the spring semester of her senior year of high school. Magee chose to take a peer tutoring class, and within the first three weeks, her entire outlook had changed. The connection she felt with the students she was tutoring was not only new but also unexpectedly captivating. Naturally, she knew teachers felt a sense of obligation to their students, but the joy she received from helping her peers succeed was almost irresistible. 

Without a moment of hesitation, she began looking for a college where she could pursue her new-found love. She enrolled in the University of North Alabama and graduated four years later in 2004. With the groundwork laid, she forged forward, trusting her path paralleled what God wanted. 

Shortly after graduating, she became engaged to a young man named Bryan, who just happened to be Catholic and a graduate of St. Joseph’s School. Around the same time, Magee began working on her master’s. Wanting to get some experience in the classroom, she began seeking substitute teaching jobs at local public schools, yet her fiancé had another idea.

Even though he hadn’t set foot in St. Joseph’s in almost a decade, he knew the school’s heart was steadfast, being a strong and true presence in the community for more than 100 years. “It’s a home away from home,” he told Magee. 

Although somewhat skeptical, she arranged to have some clinicals for some of her master’s courses at the school, anticipating a rather average experience. “There’s no way that anything is that special,” she thought.

Yet, as soon as she walked in the door of the little school atop “Catholic Hill,” she knew the school was different, for it was in the faces of the children. She was able to discern the children felt safe and supported. “In that type of environment,” Magee explains, “they are naturally able to learn because they feel loved.” When a teaching position at the school opened, she jumped at the chance to be a part of what St. Joseph offered its students. After becoming a member of the faculty, she had to put her master’s on hold indefinitely. This time of new beginnings, however, was far from over. 

In the fall of 2005, Magee also started taking R.C.I.A. classes at St. Joseph Catholic Church with the support of the late Father Andy Sullivan. “It was all happening at one time,” Magee remembers, but she never once doubted her path.

Life would continue to ebb and flow. She became Catholic, married Bryan, and became the mother of three wonderful children. At St. Joseph’s, she would teach fourth and fifth grades as well as junior high social studies and math. At one point, she even found her teaching “sweet spot” as the fifth-grade teacher, but it wasn’t long after that a leadership role opened in 2021. Being principal “had never entered my mind whatsoever,” Magee attests. Most certainly, her humility kept her from feeling she was the right person for the job, but she was also mindful that the school had experienced several consecutive years of staff and faculty turnover. “I knew that we needed continuity,” she recounts. 

Administration isn’t the typical crescendo most teachers envision. Even Magee is quick to admit to missing the classroom. “We go to school to be teachers,” she notes, “then it evolves. There’s so much more to being an administrator, especially in Catholic schools where you wear many hats.” She has never looked back, though, and she has begun work towards her now required master’s degree: the same one she put on hold eighteen years ago. 

Thanks to the newly established Msgr. Michael F. Sexton Continuing Education Endowment, Magee was awarded a scholarship to pursue her certificate in leadership and instruction at the University of North Alabama.

While online classes have taken some adjustment on her part, Magee emphasizes that she is “blessed” to be able to receive the scholarship. “Even though I do not have the same background as many of the teachers here, coming from Catholic schools, it is now a passion of mine!” For her, just being able to see the effects that Catholic education has on students and how it molds them into who they are as adults is a blessing. “To be a part of that is priceless,” she contends. “It’s hard for me to explain. It’s something you feel and are only able to understand when you are here. Once you come in the doors, you don’t want to leave!”

So, while she may, every now and then, still ask herself, “What am I doing here?” the answer to that question is all around her: the outstretched hand of a kindergartener, a middle-schooler’s beaming smile between classes. “They trust me, and it makes me want to do everything I can to make this the best place for them.” 

Monsignor  Sexton, a native of Ireland, was ordained in 1961 for the then Diocese of Mobile-Birmingham. Throughout his 60-year tenure as a priest in Alabama, Msgr. Sexton has supported school communities, including serving as the assistant principal at John Carroll Catholic High School. When asked what is the best investment a donor can make, Msgr. Sexton is quick to respond by saying, “Catholic education.” Through the generosity of an anonymous donor and Msgr. Sexton’s unwavering commitment to Catholic education, the Catholic Schools Office is able to award scholarships to individuals who wish to continue their education or pursue advanced degrees. For more information about the endowment’s scholarship opportunities, please contact the diocesan Catholic Schools Office at 205.838.8322. To contribute to the Msgr. Michael F. Sexton Continuing Education Endowment, please visit

Want to be a part of Catholic education?

The Faith in Education Endowment is a financial and spiritual commitment to help our Diocese of Birmingham Catholic Schools advance the mission of Catholic education for years to come. Faith in Education funds can assist schools from the diocesan level to address priority needs or to further programming in areas that may be outside the established school budget or that occur due to an unplanned need.

Currently, this advancement is achieved through grant awards to individual schools with an application process that occurs during the summer. The Faith in Education Grant Review Committee, consisting of the superintendent of schools, the chief financial officer, the director of development and stewardship, and representation from clergy and from the Diocesan Advisory Council for Catholic Education, reviews the applications and, using a rubric, makes the award decisions.

To support our schools through contribution to the Faith in Education Endowment, please visit