Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington
Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302
Al Falkner named president of Gonzaga Prep
by Bonita Lawhead, Inland Register staff
(From the April 8, 2004 edition of the Inland Register)
Al Falkner, principal of Gonzaga Prep, has been chosen as the school’s new president, beginning July 1. (IR photo from Gonzaga Prep)
Al Falkner has been principal of Gonzaga Preparatory School in Spokane for nine years. Starting July 1, he will become the school’s president, replacing John Traynor, who is retiring.
Falkner was selected after a nationwide search. He said he was honored to be chosen for the post. “It’s a great opportunity to lead an organization I’ve loved for 30 years,” Falkner said.
The president’s post is the latest in a long line of the many positions Falkner has held at Prep since he started work there in 1974, “my first job right out of college.”
Gonzaga Prep was an all-boys school then. It became co-ed in 1975. Falkner worked part-time, then full-time, teaching English for 21 years and coaching, primarily baseball. He was a counselor for three years and served as athletic director for seven years. Baseball was his favorite, though, and he coached that program for 17 years. “I’ve gotten to do lots of different things,” he said.
Prep’s new president is part of a natonwide trend of laity serving as presidents of Jesuit high schools. Traynor, who became president in 1995, was the first lay person in the United States to hold such a position.
Falkner sees a dual reason for more lay involvement.
First, there are fewer Jesuits and second, the laity are becoming more involved in the church as a whole. “Throughout the church lay people are taking leadership roles and responsibilities,” Falkner said.
As president, Falkner’s duties will change completely. He compared his new post to that of a superintendent in a public school, guiding the school’s overall direction. In Jesuit terms, he will be the “director of the work,” which means he will make sure the school is “Jesuit in nature and insure the spiritual and financial viability of the institution.” He will also be the spokesperson for the school.
As spokesperson Falkner will do more traveling and will be more visible in the community to “ express the vision of the school and to gather support. I will be communicating with the diocese, the parishes, alumni and the Spokane community, explaining the Gon-zaga Prep mission.”
Prep’s mission is clearly stated: “to support all families who desire for their children a Catholic education in the Jesuit tradition.” Falkner said that has become easier with the school’s Fair Share program, which charges tuition according to a family’s means.
As Prep’s president, Falkner will continue to promote the Fair Share program, to make sure its processes are “fair and clear and to evaluate its effectiveness.” He has no doubts about its effectiveness, calling the program “an enormous success. It gives all people access to education at the school.”
Further, he said that “as far as we know, we are the only private high school in the country who uses (Fair Share).” He said the school “works really hard to make sure people who want a Catholic education for their children can have it.”
The children of today are not that much different from those of 30 years ago when he started at Prep, Falkner said. “They still have to go to school, study and do homework.” What is different, he said, is that “there are more issues in society that are troubling, family issues, drugs and alcohol, sexuality, violence and harassment, which plague us more. We’ve given many inservices to teachers and students, to help them be aware.”
In spite of that, Falkner sees joy in today’s teens and hope for the future. “They’re great kids. They hunger for faith, family, knowledge and commitment. It still excites me to see the passion in them for what’s out there.”
The “passion for what’s out there” begins from within. To that end, Falkner has guided many retreats for Prep students. What the school gives them, he said, is a chance “for reflection in a society that does not value reflection. The kids enjoy retreats and are actively involved. It’s a chance for them to find God in all things and I hope I’ve inspired them to do that.”
Even though at one point in his own growing up years, Falkner thought he wanted to be a baseball player, he has “always loved school. I think most educators do.” Even more particularly, he loves Gonzaga Preparatory School. “It’s been 30 great years and I don’t regret any of them.”
Falkner’s roots are solidly in the Spokane and Catholic communities. He grew up in the Spokane Valley. He attended both St. Mary and St. Paschal schools and graduated from Central Valley High School.
He attended the University of Washington for two years and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in English from Whitworth College. His two master’s degrees and his administrative credentials all were earned at Whitworth.
He and his wife, Vickie, will celebrate their 28th wedding anniversary in June. They have been members of Assumption Parish for 20 years, and she teaches third grade at Assumption School. The couple’s three children all are Prep graduates.
Falkner was named principal of the school the same year John Traynor was selected as president. As the first lay president of a Jesuit high school, Traynor symbolized “the lay faculty and staff carrying on the Jesuit mission. John had a great background in Jesuit education and was wonderful at that,” said Falkner.
Traynor is undergoing treatment for a brain tumor discovered last year. “He has been a good friend, mentor and colleague, and has done an excellent job as president,” Falkner said.
Falkner will no longer be involved with the day-to-day interaction with students, teachers and parents which he will miss, he said. However, Falkner will continue to support the school’s stance that every student “is important. We’re about life, and promoting life from the unborn to the elderly. That’s the strength of our faith; it’s a faith of life.
“I’ve been blessed to work for the church.”