Superintendent leaves a legacy of educational excellence

Jun 20, 2024
Henry Fortier’s vision for Catholic schools centered on forming all children in mind, body, and spirit in the teachings and traditions of our Catholic faith. He loved visiting the students, such this class at Holy Name of Jesus Catholic School (COURTESY).

ORLANDO | Thirteen years ago, Henry Fortier received a call.

It was November 2010, and the person on the other line was Sister of St. Joseph Elizabeth Worley. She was then-chancellor of the Diocese of Orlando. In December 2010 Bishop John Noonan would be installed as the diocese’s next spiritual leader, and he asked Sister Worley to research prospective candidates to become the next superintendent of Catholic schools, which would begin July 2011.

That ’s when Sister Worley called Fortier and invited him to apply for the position. The problem was, Fortier had a job that he loved in New York City with the Archdiocese of New York. Still, he knew he had received the call for a reason.

“Since I was a teenager, I’ve always felt that God, at pivotal times, has called me to things,” Fortier said.

Although he had received two similar invitations to apply for superintendent positions in the Diocese of Palm Beach and the Archdiocese of Miami, he said he felt the greatest call to Orlando. “When I arrived here, I noticed we had a very challenging morale issue because of academic initiatives that weren’t working,” Fortier recalled, adding that he knew that his training as a seminarian for the Archdiocese of Hartford, Connecticut, and formation as a Franciscan friar earlier in his life would help him navigate the rough waters.

“I am a Franciscan at heart, and the Franciscan charism is that of hospitality, of welcoming. I think my Franciscan background lent itself really well to the scenario that was needed here,” he continued. “God knew what He was doing when he called me to come here, because there was a real need for building community, for lifting people up.”

Through the years Bishop Noonan has witnessed Fortier blossom in his role, which is now Secretary for Education/Superintendent of Catholic Schools.

“Mr. Fortier came to the Diocese of Orlando with a charge to enkindle a deeper faith within the heart of the students who attended our Catholic schools, but also within the heart of the community of faith from the youngest to the oldest,” Bishop Noonan said. “(He) helped those whom he encountered to acknowledge God’s call and strive to live in His perfection, offering the excellence of His love to one another. (He) guided faculty and staff to build a strong, positive, faith-filled culture focused on the uniqueness of every child created in God’s image.”

In the end, Fortier said he considers his work in building community, especially in a diocese as diverse as Orlando. Helping others foster and use their gifts are among his greatest accomplishments. Still, the job was not without its challenges, such as COVID, and the resistance he faced during the rollout of the diocese’s cultural and diversity initiative.

But again he turned to God during these difficult times.

Superintendent of Catholic Schools Henry Fortier addresses students from St. John Vianney Catholic School during the celebration of their Hispanic Heritage Mass, telling them that they are special and all are made in the image of God. (LINDA CALDWELL)

“I drew my strength from what I believe is the right thing in God’s eyes. I know that is a challenging answer because people can see it from their lens and use the same comment,” Fortier said. “But based on the Church teachings, and based on the direction of Bishop Noonan and his desire on how he wanted things to happen, it was God who was my strength and anchor. I focused on what was the right thing to do for the children. That alone helped me navigate many storms.”

Looking back throughout the past 13 years as the diocese’s longest serving superintendent, Fortier said he has changed and is now a more patient man and has an even greater appreciation for God’s diverse family.

“I have witnessed the beauty of how God works, how His hand uses the broken to heal, because I still sit back in awe of just how things have unfolded throughout these 13 years, and the things that have been accomplished, in all the things that have been done, and I just don’t think I’m that smart,” Fortier said. “At the end of the day, it has to be God, it has to be the Holy Spirit. What I’ve learned is that God is so powerful, and like the early apostles, God takes a hot mess and makes miraculous things happen. Because as a broken, flawed human being, I’m amazed at how things have unfolded, and I’m just grateful.”

Looking back, Fortier said he is blessed to see how God’s hand has unfolded in preparing Dr. Erika Wikstrom for her new role. The former educator and principal of two diocesan high schools — Trinity in Ocala and Bishop Moore in Orlando — serve as the new superintendent.

While Fortier will miss the daily encounters with the people he now calls family, he is at peace with his decision.

“I am leaving sad because of the people I love,” he said, “and I will miss the relationships I have with them in this unique position,” he said. “It is bittersweet. There is a sadness because relationships evolve and change, and I love what I do. I love serving the people. But at the same time, there’s a sense of peace in knowing that this is good, this is of God, and it will continue to be amazing because of who’s coming next.”

By Glenda Meekins of the Florida Catholic staff, June 20, 2024