Ginny Colwell retires after 29 years

School principal Ginny Colwell is retiring after 29 years at the Lycée Catholique Saint-Paul VI in Chantilly, including 16 years as director.

Paul VI students know Colwell as an administrator who sits through class, the kind face in the room, or simply someone in charge, but Colwell is much more than that. As principal of the school, Colwell acts as CEO, managing finances, budgets, strategic planning, athletics, and more. Whatever her role, she is loved and respected by teachers, students, staff and parents. She is often described as a benevolent soul and someone who speaks with eloquence and beauty. She is also the mother of the PVI family. “PVI is both a company and a family,” said Colwell.

Colwell was born and raised in Bellefonte, Pennsylvania. His father worked nearby, a member of the USAF ROTC at Penn State University. She then moved to Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana, which was her mother’s hometown. “I’ve always considered Louisiana my home,” Colwell said. For 29 years, Paul VI has also been his home.

According to Colwell, she was not the most learned and well-behaved student growing up. “I did not take education seriously and did not, in the words of St. Francis de Sales, ‘bloom where I was planted’, until I was in college”, she said. She went to Catholic high school and attended Loretto Heights College in Denver, where she majored in high school education with a minor in English. She then attended two other Catholic schools: Trinity University in San Antonio for a Master of Arts in English and Marymount University in Arlington for a Master of Education.

After college, Colwell used her schooling to become a teacher, inspired by one of her own professors.

“I had a wonderful English teacher my senior year in high school, Donald Horton, and he inspired me with his knowledge, his compassion, and the way he made learning meaningful and fun,” said she declared.

Because her husband, Bill, was in the military, Colwell moved to many different places before settling in Virginia. She lived in Germany; Sacramento, California; England; Colorado Springs, Colorado; and Northern Virginia. “I loved wherever we lived…it wasn’t just the place, it was where we were together as a family,” she said.

In 1989 Bill was transferred to Northern Virginia and Colwell had a few long-term substitute teaching jobs in Fairfax County. In 1993, she applied to Paul VI as an English teacher and was hired by the Oblate Father Robert Mulligan, then director.

“I always felt like family about this place from the first day I walked in,” Colwell said. “When I was teaching, I had great support staff with my department chair.”

Not only did her teaching experiences help her to become a school leader and to understand Paul VI, but it also helped her to have good relationships with teachers. “I think my relationship with teachers is good because I was one of them,” she said. “When I entered the administration, I knew what was asked of everyone.”

As an English teacher, her favorite piece of literature to read and teach was Arthur Miller’s “The Crucible,” a story about a town having witch trials that test the strength of its morality. Colwell likens this theme to the strength of the Catholic faith, asking, “Is it okay to say you don’t believe in God to live?” How much are you willing to pay for your beliefs? That’s what I’ve always loved about ‘The Crucible’, because what are you going to pay to do the right thing? She herself implemented this teaching by having a strong Catholic faith and proudly doing the right thing at all costs.

Colwell has worked hard for the Paul VI community, including during the COVID-19 pandemic. In fact, she even helped the school move from the Fairfax campus to the new Chantilly campus amid the pandemic. “I couldn’t have done it without the teachers; they really stepped up,” she said.

Colwell’s love of the school community is remarkable. Whether it’s staying to watch sporting events, making time to talk to students, or going the extra mile to make the school the best it can be, his love and dedication has led the school to success in as “business and family”.

With all the time, love and success she has brought to the PVI family, she can now spend time with her family.

“It’s just my time now; I just wanna be a Chick,” Colwell said with a smile. She speaks with great affection of her “great lovers”, as she calls them. “Jane, Rose and Beau live in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and Ben lives in Los Angeles. These are my hearts,” she said.

Colwell has long been the heart of Paul VI. She placed in the hands of the school a strong legacy, a model of great faith and a lasting impact. The community will forever honor and be grateful to her for all she has done, while continuing to “grow in grace and wisdom”.

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