Better than Ever
Invigorated by new leadership, Villa Joseph Marie High School continues its tradition of shaping young women into lifelong learners and empowered global citizens
by Pina Rahill

One day this past summer, rising senior Grace Flynn was on campus at Villa Joseph Marie High School in Holland when she spotted the school’s new president, Thomas A. Kardish, walking the halls. Flynn, who is the student council president, decided to introduce herself, and after a few moments of pleasantries, Kardish said, “Set up an appointment with me so you can get to know me and I can get to know you.”

From the very beginning, it was obvious to Flynn that the new president was intent on meeting everyone.

In July, Kardish assumed the role of president of this private, college-preparatory high school in Bucks County, which educates young women in grades nine through 12. While Kardish is only the second president in the school’s 80-year history—before 2007, the principal served in the school’s highest post—he is the first to come from the business world; he previously worked in the pharmaceutical industry and then owned Doylestown Lumber & Millwork Co., which he also served as CEO.

While leading a school is new to Kardish, he believes that “professionally, whether you are making medicine or millwork, business is business.” In his new role, Kardish says the task at hand is to continue the tradition for which the school has always been known: helping each girl become a well-prepared young woman. “We want them to develop their story and give them a safe environment to figure that out,” he says.

Villa Joseph Marie first opened its doors in 1932, to just eight students. It was the realization of a dream by Mother Maria Kaupas and the Sisters of St. Casimir, who envisioned a place where young women could receive a good education while having their Catholic faith nurtured.

Construction of the current school building began in 1957 to accommodate enrollment, which by then had swelled to nearly 180 students. Today, the campus consists of 72 wooded acres that include the historic 1860 mansion that served as the original school and boarding house. More expansion is likely in the near future, as the school is enjoying its highest enrollment ever, at nearly 400 young women.

“I took over a school that is very healthy,” he says. “Enrollment is at record levels. Sports are flourishing. … We will never be huge, but [we will] grow slowly, which will allow us to increase course offerings.”

Today, Villa’s mission is to graduate Christ-like women committed to a life of faith and service, who are lifelong learners and empowered global citizens. Another differentiating factor is the school’s dedicated staff, which is committed to helping students of all levels, including students with learning differences or those who may need extra help. “We’re premier but not elitist,” Kardish says.

One hundred percent of Villa’s graduates are accepted into four-year colleges, and the value of academic scholarships graduates have received from institutions of higher learning has increased steadily; in 2015, the 86 graduates received $17 million in academic scholarship monies.

What convinced Kardish to accept the opportunity to lead the school was the feeling he got when he first entered the school. “This is a very welcoming place. Everybody that’s here wants to be here,” he says, pointing out that nine of the 61 current staff members are former students.

This includes Lauren Carr, a Class of 2000 alumna who was recently appointed principal. Carr has been a member of the Villa staff for 12 years. This past July, after serving as interim principal for two school years, she assumed the official post. She refers to Kardish as a “breath of fresh air.”

“A lot of people [in education] are born and bred in education,” she says, explaining that Kardish looks at things in a way that few other people can. “I’m appreciating it and relying on him for a business and HR perspective.”

Kardish’s immediate goals for Villa are tied to enrollment and guidance, and Carr says he is off to a strong start. She noticed him being very active at recent high school information nights. “You don’t always see that in a president—getting out there and talking to students,” she says.

In terms of guidance, Kardish is making sure Villa administration and students are talking to the right people in colleges. He is also helping seniors prepare for the college-application process by sitting with them at lunch to conduct mock interviews. His own education has been especially helpful in this regard. A graduate of Harvard University, Kardish has maintained ties with the Ivy League school as a recruiter for the northeast region. He also received his graduate degree from The Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania.

“We’re meeting with kids as early as freshman year and including families in those dialogues,” Kardish says, adding that the school has increased guidance staff by 50 percent. “We’re not trying to stress kids out, but want to make it fun and productive, so they leave here very confident.”

Kardish’s exuberance has been apparent, which students such as Flynn appreciate. She often notices him welcoming students at Villa’s front doors at the start of the school day.

“He’s always so happy,” she says. “He’s always asking, ‘How are you?’ or saying, ‘Happy Wednesday.’ … He wants feedback on what’s working really well, things we’d like to see in the future and things we don’t like so much.”

Kardish considers it an awesome responsibility to lead Villa Joseph Marie. He is intent on establishing the best possible physical plant, while strengthening its financial support, needed to help the school provide the best possible education to each student who passes through its doors.

“This is a great environment for a young woman to figure out who she’s supposed to be,” he says. “They will be lifelong learners, live out their faith and be global citizens. And I get to use my experience and abilities to provide the business to allow these 400 young women to grow into someone that we’re all very proud of. … I love it.”

Villa Joseph Marie High School
1180 Holland Road
Holland, PA 18966

Photograph by Allure West Studios