Sacred Heart principal retires after 39 years leading Fairfield school

Joe Nagle didn’t apply to be the Sacred Heart principal in 1982, but he still got the job.

Now he’s retiring after 39 years leading the Catholic school on Nilles Road in Fairfield.

“The principal (at St. Catharine of Siena in Cincinnati) where I was working told me that she thought I would be good at administration, and I hadn’t thought about that at all,” he said.

Before Nagle finished his administrative degree at Xavier University, his principal told him about the principal position at Sacred Heart. Though he said he wasn’t ready to be a principal, his boss disagreed.

“She said, ‘They’re looking for a principal.’ I said, “I’m not ready.’ She said, ‘It doesn’t matter’ ― this was on a Thursday ― ‘they’re having interviews on Tuesday and I already put your name on the list,’” Nagle said.

He was 31 years old when he was hired.

On Tuesday, Nagle, who has a passion for gardening, was recognized by the staff, teachers and students with a restored garden dedicated in his honor. It was also dedicated to Saint Fiacre, the patron saint of gardners, because he felt the honor was too much.

After the dedication, Mayor Steve Miller read a proclamation declaring May 18, 2021, “Joseph Nagle Day” in the city of Fairfield, and presented him with a key to the city.

“Over the years you’ve been here, you have touched the lives of so many children,” the mayor said at the dedication. “It’s amazing the contributions you had made to our community with the youth of our community.”

Nagle said the most rewarding part of his time at Sacred Heart is “helping teachers grow to be all they’re capable of being.”

“I’ve hired quite a few young teachers who are insecure about their careers in teaching. I just find it exciting to help develop them professionally, to send them places where they can learn, to connect them with each other,” he said.

Nagle started his teaching career in the early 1970s with the Dayton City Schools for a couple of years.

He eventually left the profession, wanting to do something else. He and his wife, along with another couple, flipped a coin over a map to decide where they’d relocate.

“We were in Dayton at the time, and it landed on Nashua, New Hampshire,” Nagle said. “So, in 1976, the four of us up and moved to Nasua, New Hampshire just to have an adventure.”

His adventure led him to work in restaurant management, but that was a short-lived career move. When his wife was pregnant, he requested to be transferred to southwest Ohio. They landed in Cincinnati.

A short time later, he desired to return to the classroom, and through a friend, learned in 1979 of a language arts teaching position at St. Catharine’s. Three years later, he’d be hired at Sacred Heart.

His advice to young teachers is from educator and author Stephen Covey, who wrote “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.”

“Begin with the end in mind when you’re teaching, keep in mind where you want to end up,” Nagle said. “Also his advice of sharpen your saw. Keep developed professionally, especially with the advent of technology. That’s really critical because that’s the future of our kids. Also, rely on each other. There’s great wisdom among colleagues.”