Valdosta Daily Times

February 17, 2013

New St. John principal has landed where he needs to be

Brittany D. McClure
The Valdosta Daily Times

VALDOSTA — New St. John Catholic School Principal Chris Wilson has held various jobs in education and has lived in many places, but he has never felt as at home as he does in Valdosta.

“This is the most at home in my career that I have ever felt,” said Wilson.

Wilson grew up in Atlanta and went to Berry College in Rome, Ga. While he studied in several other places, his most recent institutions of higher learning were at Georgia College in Milledgeville where he completed his master’s in education and the University of West Georgia where he received his specialist degree in education.

While in college in the early 1990s, Wilson felt he wanted to be a priest.

“I started reading books by Thomas Merton,” said Wilson.

In particular, Merton’s autobiography “Seven Story Mountain” — a title that alludes to Mount Purgatory and the seven levels of Hell in Dante’s “Divine Comedy” — inspired Wilson to pursue the priesthood. Merton himself was an Anglo-American Catholic who was a Trappist monk of the Abbey of Gethsemani, Ky., and was ordained to the priesthood in 1949.

Wilson discovered a love and deep connection with St. Francis of Assisi. St. Francis was an Italian Catholic friar and preacher from the 1100s. He founded the Franciscan Order and is considered one of the most venerated religious figures in history.

“I loved St. Francis and his love for people, the poor and nature,” said Wilson. “So, I decided to pursue the priesthood with the Franciscans.

Wilson spent approximately three to four years with the Franciscans in Chicago.

During Wilson’s formation or early years, he worked in the order’s school, St. John the Baptist, in Joilet, Ill.

“I always wanted to be a teacher. That was my calling,” said Wilson.

After Wilson’s time with the Franciscans, he found that he really wanted to get married and have kids. Subsequently, Wilson left the order, and in 1997, he married his wife, Kelli.

Kelli, who now works as a special education teacher at J.L. Lomax Elementary School, has two daughters with Wilson; Elizabeth, who is a sophomore at Valdosta High School, and Maryelyse, who is a third grader at St. John.

From Illinois, Wilson went to work for the Meriwether County school system in Georgia.

“I did a lot of things,” said Wilson.

In the 17 years that Wilson spent in Meriwether County, he acted as the technology director, the pre-K director and managed several federal programs for the system.

From there, Wilson went to work for the Georgia Department of Education.

“I was the program manager of teacher and leader effectiveness,” said Wilson.

Wilson was with the GaDOE for a year when he came across a help-wanted ad in the Southern Cross, the official newspaper of the Catholic Diocese. It was an ad for the St. John principal position. With a feeling of serendipity, Wilson applied for the job and got it.

“It all happened very quickly,” said Wilson. “Things just sort of fell into place.”

Wilson started with St. John in July and since has felt that he is exactly where he is supposed to be.

“It’s a very different world at St. John,” said Wilson.

Wilson is able to fulfill his calling from Christ, teaching and at the same time, he is able to remain wholly dedicated to his religion.

“You just never know where you will end up,” said Wilson. “If you follow your heart and you follow your passion, you will end up where you need to be.”