On Jeannie Ray-Timoney’s desk is a bouquet of paper flowers, made by a grandchild who wanted to be sure Grandma always had cheerful blooms in her day. Nearby is a photo of Pope Francis, and in front of her computer is an exercise ball she often uses in place of a chair.

These details are small reflections of an enduring dedication to family and children, a disciplined approach to physical health and sport, and foremost a deep devotion to her faith. Ray-Timoney’s commitment to each grounds her many years of service to Catholic education.

“Jeannie loves the faith and has understood how Catholic schools can care for the heart, soul and mind of kids,” said John Matcovich, president of Valley Catholic School in Beaverton. Matcovich has known Ray-Timoney — appointed superintendent of schools this spring — since she taught his children years ago at St. John Fisher School in Southwest Portland. He also worked alongside her in the Schools Department, where both were associate superintendents; Ray-Timoney was at the post for five years.

“She knows the nuts and bolts of instruction, but she’s not focused on cramming in information,” said Matcovich. “Jeannie has a holistic view of education.”

A product of Catholic schools, Ray-Timoney attended Our Lady of the Lake in Lake Oswego and St. Mary’s Academy in downtown Portland. For her undergraduate work, she studied physical education and theology at the Jesuit-run University of San Francisco.

While her five children were young, the former college athlete taught PE and with her sister ran a fitness company for preschool-aged children. When her kids were a bit older, she went back to school to study education. “It’s a field I’ve always wanted to be in,” said Ray-Timoney.

Fitness, however, remains integrated into her life. She runs daily and is training for the New York City Marathon.

“Running is a good time to think and to pray, and it alleviates stress,” she said. “If I go on a run in the morning, I know the rest of the day is going to be OK.”

After receiving a master’s degree, Ray-Timoney went on to earn a doctoral degree in Catholic educational leadership from USF. She taught for 10 years at St. John Fisher and was principal of St. Matthew School in Hillsboro for seven years.

Ray-Timoney has been a leader beyond the archdiocese, serving on the board of directors for the Western Catholic Educational Association, the accreditation agency for Catholic elementary and secondary schools in the western United States.

In the role of superintendent, Ray-Timoney oversees about 15,000 students at 40 elementary schools and 10 high schools.

“I always want to be paying attention to the Catholic lens and that we are innovative, 21st-century learning institutions,” said Ray-Timoney. She wants children to have their different developmental needs met and for classrooms to be filled with problem-solving and hands-on science, offering “new and exciting material for STEM learning.”

She’ll also be making sure the new strategic plan, released last year, is being lived out.

“We are in good shape in terms of being academically rigorous,” said Ray-Timoney. “Students score really well in academic fields.”

She said where her office needs to pay special attention is enrollment and long-term viability. “We are doing well, but enrollment is down from 2000, so we can’t think we don’t need to work on marketing and enrollment.” Having the strategic plan “gives us a road map for how to be academically excellent and mission-focused but also tells us we need to market who we are,” said Ray-Timoney.

Pastors, parishioners, schools and her office “all need to help us work to a point where in 10 years we have ensured we are financially solid in the future,” she said.

The new Catholic Schools Endowment Foundation of Oregon is working to help more middle- and low-income families afford tuition, and Ray-Timoney hopes families make use of the financial aid that’s available. No Catholic family should feel they can’t send their children to a Catholic school due to the cost, she said.

Archbishop Alexander Sample noted after Ray-Timoney’s appointment to superintendent that she has “an excellent understanding and appreciation for the evangelizing mission of Catholics schools and their importance to the vitality of the church.”

She believes the schools provide a powerful opportunity to solidify people’s faith and to bring others home to the Catholic Church. “If people are questioning their faith, the community can help them revisit their beliefs,” she said. “The sense of community and welcome they feel can draw them back.”

To help execute her vision of deeply Catholic and academically cutting-edge and creative schools, Ray-Timoney has two newly hired associate superintendents, Amy Jefferis and Kim Shields. “I am blessed by a great team,” she said.

Ray-Timoney intends to encourage communication between her department and the schools. “I hope people feel they can have a dialogue with our office,” she said. “Our role here is to support everybody. It’s kind of like in a family: Not everyone gets their way sometimes, but we want different school principals and presidents to have their voices heard and to work together so we’ll all be stronger.”

She sees herself as a facilitator but also plans to make the tough choices when needed —“always guided by the mission of why we’re here,” she said.

Ray-Timoney and her husband, Mark, are members of St. John Fisher Parish and sent their four daughters and one son to Catholic schools.

One of the many things Ray-Timoney treasures about Catholic education is that it allows children to talk freely about Jesus and their love of God.

At Catholic schools “you witness this joy; you see this tight-knit community,” she said. “I’ll often see teachers down on the floor with the kids doing a science experiment or reading a story. It’s so clear the children love their teachers — because the teachers have such a love for them.”

Matcovich sees Ray-Timoney animated by just that: “What stands out,” he said, “is her heart and the love she has for the kids in every classroom and across the whole archdiocese.”