After more than eight years, the Rev. Thomas Merkel has announced that he will step down as president of Omaha Creighton Prep at the end of June to move on with the next phase of his training as a Jesuit priest.
Merkel has served as president of the all-boys Catholic high school since 2003. He sent a letter to parents Friday informing them of his plans.
He said the provincial of the Wisconsin Province, a seven-state area that includes Nebraska and Iowa, had called him to begin the next phase of his training, the tertianship, in January 2013. The tertianship is a period of strict discipline before the taking of final vows.
"While it is difficult to imagine leaving such a wonderful place, I am confident that this is the right time for me and for Prep," he wrote.
Merkel last week was honored by the Archdiocese of Omaha as one of its administrators of the year. He was recognized for spearheading a $37 million capital campaign for facility upgrades, teacher innovation and student needs.
The facility upgrades — some $20 million in construction projects — reaffirmed Prep's presence in central Omaha. They included a new gym, a baseball plaza, an artificial turf playing field, a new school entryway, renovated classrooms and a new auditorium and classroom center.
"We took a 50-year-old building and made it new," Merkel said in an interview.
During Merkel's tenure, students' composite average ACT scores have reached their highest level ever. Each year, students participate in service projects estimated to return a half-million dollars in benefits to the local community.
In his letter, Merkel said he was grateful for the recognition. He said it "speaks well" of Prep's students, their families and the school community. He noted that the school would not be where it is today without his predecessors and the larger community, which also includes faculty and staff, board members, alumni and others.
"I will depart at a time of sound enrollment, the strongest academic profile, sound financial management, new and entirely renovated facilities, deepened community partnerships and with a compelling set of plans in place to reach for new levels of excellence," he wrote.
Merkel said Creighton Prep's governing board will handle the search for his successor, using a process it created in 2001. He will be available for a time to help with the transition.
"I have every confidence the board will do a great job in selecting the next person to lead Creighton Prep," Merkel said. "Prep is in a position where it will only continue to get better."
Merkel served as superintendent at Red Cloud Indian School in Pine Ridge, S.D., from 1997 to 2003. He taught at Red Cloud High School from 1990 to 1993 and at Boys Town High School during the summers of 1992 and 1993.
Merkel grew up in Brookfield, Wis., a Milwaukee suburb. He first encountered members of the Jesuit order while a student at Creighton University. He entered the order in 1985, took his first vows in 1987 and was ordained in 1997.
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