Sister Debbie Timmis, CSJ, said the strategic plan at Mater Christi calls for students, parents, teachers and parish to work together. (Franchesca Caputo photo)
Sister Debbie Timmis, CSJ, said the strategic plan at Mater Christi calls for students, parents, teachers and parish to work together. (Franchesca Caputo photo)

Sister Debbie Timmis’ career as a teacher and educator has been her vocation as a Sister of St. Joseph of Carondelet.

Namely, Sister Debbie spent over 15 years at St. Mary’s School in Ballston Spa, five years at Blessed Sacrament School in Albany, as well as time at St. Madeleine Sophie School in Schenectady, as both a teacher and technology specialist.

Last year, she worked as assistant principal at Mater Christi School in Albany, while teaching three technology classes there. On July 1, she was appointed new principal of Mater Christi, taking over for Theresa Ewell, who retired after 30 years. 

With a background of technology and communication, Sister Debbie has a master’s degree in educational technology from Teachers College at Columbia University, helped set up the computer lab at the College of Saint Rose and worked as director of technology for the Diocese.

There are three things that drew Sister Debbie to the Sisters of Saint Joseph: “One is their commitment to the people who are in need, we call them the dear neighbor. Second, their sense of community. And third, the laughter and joy. Everybody has a good sense of humor. That’s really attractive, to say ‘Oh, these are happy people, I could see myself with.’ ” 

Aside from feeling at home with the Sisters of St. Joseph, Sister Debbie aligns closely with their causes. The Sisters recently attended Chapter 2019, a meeting that happens every six years which she describes as “like Congress for Nuns,” where the group decides what causes they want to focus on and how they want to govern themselves. 

This year, they’ve decided to focus on systematic topics, things that Sister Debbie says need “deep down change.” Among those topics include racism, white privilege, global warming, and “our rhetoric” or the way we treat one another. Another cause she is passionate about is immigration reform: “I’m very concerned about that, especially children in the detention centers. I can’t even think about it without crying.”

As far as goals go for leading Mater Christi, Sister Debbie seeks improvement in community, academics and spirituality. 

One of the biggest goals that came out of the school’s strategic plan, she said, was to deepen the sense of community. So much so, the school recently included “a Catholic community” into its mission statement, calling for not only the students, but the parents, teachers and parish to work together. 

Sister Debbie admits while the school has always been known for outstanding academics, she wants to continue that academic rigor, while also taking the first steps into project-based learning and creating a STREAM lab (a student-centered approach in the areas of Science, Technology, Religion, Engineering, Art, and Mathematics), to encourage students to be engaged while learning. 

Lastly, she strives to center spirituality in upcoming service projects students will be working on, such as having the Humane Society bring in a therapy dog and discuss how to adopt and care for a pet. 

“We’re working on connecting the service projects — to make those service projects learning projects, so they’re not just giving money to something, but they really feel connected to something.” Sister Debbie said. 

She cites her family, especially her parents, as her biggest source of influence. Although she described them as “very active Catholics” and her father served as a permanent deacon, Catholicism was something both her parents grew into, as she didn’t go to Church when she was younger. 

“They taught me a lot about respecting differences, appreciating diversity, caring about people, trying to make change in the world,” Sister Debbie said.

Always learning, Sister Debbie currently is attending an Educational Leadership Program at the College of Saint Rose, which includes courses on school finance, curriculum, critical issues and school internships. 

She says she’s not only getting theoretical knowledge, but knowledge she can apply right away to her school, adding the diversity within the program has been exceptional. 

“We have a Jewish rabbi, we have a lady from Saudi Arabia in their education department wearing a burqa, and we have a lot of public school teachers,”  she said, “I’m learning a lot from it; it’s helping me a lot as a new principal.”