The distinguished alumnus and educator returned from retirement to lead Saint John’s School and to discover a space dedicated to her enduring legacy.
When Maria Melendez, Ph.D., first walked into the classroom at Nazareth Academy as a 12-year-old eighth grader, she could never have foreseen the monumental journey ahead. Now, after an illustrious career that has been as much about instilling a love of learning in others as it has been about her academic pursuits, Saint John’s School in San Juan, Puerto Rico, has named its library in her honor.
Dr. Melendez has dedicated her life to education. “I ‘retired’ from the school in 2016, and in June 2023, I was asked to return to SJS as an interim head of school until they completed a search for a permanent head. It was my third time at the school.”
She was the principal of Saint John’s School throughout the decade of the 80s. She also worked in education in the state of Connecticut, retiring from the Greenwich Public Schools after 25 years.
With her foundation built during those transformative years at Nazareth Academy it provided her with a “microcosm of the world,” as she puts it, with many other classmates hailing from countries beyond the United States. The academy, run by the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth, became a part of her DNA — so much so that even her parents kid that she is “part Nazareth and part their own.”
“It was through the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth that I learned the essence of discipline, developed a love for learning, and gained a rich spiritual life,” said Dr. Melendez. “I had the honor of meeting many mentors among the Sisters, women who inspired me profoundly. I am proud to be a Nazareth girl.”
Dr. Melendez has been part of the Associate relationship with the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth for 15 years. “I wanted to become an Associate to strengthen my lifelong relationship with the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth. The Associate relationship provides opportunities for spiritual growth alongside Associates and Sisters, and that nurtures my soul.”
She was once the Principal of Our Lady of Nazareth in Massachusetts, a high school that belonged to the SCNs, and also worked briefly for the Office of Sponsored Ministries.
In a symbolic turn, Dr. Melendez returned from retirement in June 2022 to lead Saint John’s School. This was her third stint at the institution — a non-profit, college preparatory, nonsectarian, coeducational day school located in the residential area of Condado of San Juan. The school serves over 800 students, from pre-school to grade 12, with instruction mainly in English.
One of the highlights of her return was the privilege of handing her granddaughter her diploma during that year’s graduation ceremony.
Without her prior knowledge, the school’s administration decided in a surprise gesture to honor Dr. Melendez by renaming the library, which was renovated in 2015, the “Maria Melendez Library.”
The idea had been in the works for months, discussed in hushed tones among the administrative staff at Saint John’s School. They were planning a tribute to Dr. Maria Melendez. The consensus was clear: her tireless dedication to education and community deserved permanent recognition.
She said, “The honor bestowed on me during the Commencement Exercises was the greatest honor in my professional life as an educator for 50 years. My gratitude to SJS is immense.”
The news was met with joy, not just by Dr. Melendez but also by the community she had a deep connection with. She delighted in calling some of the Sisters at Nazareth to share the good news, crediting them for shaping her formative years and thereby influencing her success in education.
“At Saint John’s School, we focus on discovering individual talents and elevating learning for all,” Dr. Melendez wrote in a recent letter to the school community. “The energy that makes our school extraordinary originates from the trusting relationships our faculty builds with our students. Instruction is truly differentiated, and students feel empowered to conceptualize and lead new initiatives.”
Many Nazareth Academy alumni, particularly those from Puerto Rico, continue to meet quarterly to reminisce about their formative years at the academy.
The library stands as a tribute not just to Dr. Melendez but also to the enduring influence of Nazareth Academy and the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth in molding young minds to be thought leaders.
For her part, Dr. Melendez continues to live the values she internalized as a young girl stepping into a classroom in a different part of the world. Her legacy, now etched in the walls of the Maria Melendez Library, will serve as an enduring source of inspiration for generations to come.