Mary McIntosh with her four dogs. She is the new president of School Choice Wisconsin. (Submitted photo)
Private school voucher advocacy group School Choice Wisconsin recently selected Mary McIntosh as its new president. In April, she assumed leadership of the organization following 13 years of Catholic school leadership, most recently as St. Thomas More High School president. McIntosh replaces longtime School Choice Wisconsin leader Jim Bender, who continues his relationship with the organization as its government affairs consultant.
McIntosh started her career in the life insurance industry, including many years with Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Company. Looking for more meaning in her life, McIntosh went to work as COO for a group of entrepreneurial cardiologists in opening and running a CT heart screening clinic, which was eventually sold to Covenant Healthcare. In her first meeting at Covenant, she felt as though she was finally home when they opened with a prayer.
“I thought this was amazing. I hadn’t worked with any company that began their meetings with prayer,” McIntosh said. “Later, during a cookout I had for the employees of one of the clinics, I met Sr. Helen Siwicki, SSND, who asked me what I was doing. After I told her, she said, ‘You carry a tremendous power in your heart, but it is not yours.’ I looked at her, and she told me that it belonged to Jesus.”
A couple of weeks later, McIntosh visited Sr. Helen at the School Sisters of Notre Dame convent in Elm Grove, where they began a long friendship. One day, the two visited Notre Dame School, which was a middle school for girls at the time. They went to Mass together.
“It hit me. I fell in love with their mission. I began volunteering there and doing some fundraising, and the long and the short of it is there was an opening for the position of president,” she said. “I had become an associate of the School Sisters of Notre Dame, and I interviewed with them and took the position. I had experience with running a small business, but my background was not in academics. The school had a great principal named Sr. Jean Ellman, SSND — she helped me with my intro to education. I was able to work closely with wonderful donors in the Milwaukee area and grew the school from 120 girls to over 360 boys and girls on two campuses, K-8. That was a wonderful experience.”
After seven years at Notre Dame, McIntosh was invited to apply for the president position at St. Thomas More High School. She recalled waiting in the lobby for her interview when she looked at the inscription below a picture of St. Thomas More, “The King’s Good Servant, But God’s First.”
“It just jumped out at me,” she said. “It was a calling. It said so much, and I ended working there for six years. It was a great opportunity to also work with some of the boys and girls who graduated from Notre Dame. I was able to follow them through high school. We came a long way — we had great leadership, capital campaigns, improved academics, and we did a lot of work in the school that hadn’t been done in over 20 years.”
Before the pandemic hit, McIntosh was reevaluating her life and contemplating retirement; she figured the 2020-21 school year would be her last.
“I thought and prayed, and figured the time was right to look for a successor and had every intention of retiring,” she said. “Then the School Choice Wisconsin position opened up, and I knew how life-changing this program is for kids. In this position, I can do things I wasn’t able to do before. I have seen this program change the community and keep many wonderful urban Catholic schools open. I have seen the impact of the voucher program, and when I was presented the opportunity for this position, I could not turn it down.”
In her new role as president, McIntosh will lead the efforts to ensure parents have educational options, regardless of income or zip code. She is excited to advocate for the rights of parents to make educational choices through legislative efforts.
“What we hope to do with the choice program is to build statewide support and increase the income limits that qualify for participating, remove enrollment caps and protect the program from any restrictive barriers or unnecessary regulation,” she said. “We also want to expand and simplify parent choice in Wisconsin through policy development initiatives. I am focused on rebuilding infrastructure — my leadership team. We have a lot of work to do in terms of marketing and communication strategies.”
While she is happy in her new role, McIntosh said she would miss her years at St. Thomas More, and the staff, board of directors, leadership team and the students.
“I enjoyed working with the team to create an incredible school. I miss the halls and hearing 530 kids — it is a little quiet over here in my new office,” she said. “I also miss Wednesday morning Masses with Fr. Christopher. But this is an opportunity to impact more families in Milwaukee, as well as all over the state.”