Brian T. Olszewski, The Catholic Virginian
When Ray Honeycutt wrote to Bishop Barry C. Knestout late last year to inform him he was retiring from his position as superintendent of schools for the Diocese of Richmond effective June 30, he used the word “resigning” in the first sentence. Several sentences later he used the word “retiring.”
“I hesitate using the word ‘retirement’ because I have not been very successful in the past to make that happen in that I have retired several times from several locations only to turn right around and jump back in full-time into something else, all in education in some sort of fashion,” he said. “But it is retirement.”
Honeycutt, 66, has been in the superintendent’s office since 2015 when he became an associate superintendent. The following year he became interim superintendent and in 2017 superintendent.
His entry into Catholic education came in 2009. An ad for the principalship for the school at St. Bridget — the school his wife, Katherine, and her brothers attended, the parish to which the coupled belong and where they were married in 1972 — appeared intermittently in The Catholic Virginian beginning that January. Kathleen encouraged him to apply. He stalled, but promised if the ad was still running when they returned from a family vacation in May, he would apply. It was, he did, and his career in Catholic education, which he described as “a whole different experience for me,” was underway.
Prior to the St. Bridget principalship, Honeycutt spent 35 years teaching, counseling and administrating in Henrico County elementary and middle schools. He was also an adjunct faculty member in VCU’s School of Education and a supervisor for student teachers from JMU.
“I went into administration with a counseling mind, and that has helped me to be happy in administration,” he said. “Whenever I struggle, I always come back to the basic philosophy of what’s in the best interest of children, and if I can answer that question, then I feel like I’ve made the best decision possible. So that’s how I got into administration.”
Even with all that experience, leading a Catholic school “was culture shock from a work standpoint and from a manager’s standpoint,” Honeycutt said.
“I jokingly would tell the first parent-teacher meeting that opened back-to-school night that within two weeks I had found the major difference in public and Catholic education. In public education if something breaks, you pick up the phone and there’s a whole department to come and fix it,” he said. “In Catholic education, I had to go and ask, ‘Well, who do we call?’ And they said, ‘You call a plumber. You call an electrician.’ And I said, ‘I don’t know any electricians. I don’t know any plumbers.’”
Despite learning “you do it all,” Honeycutt found being a Catholic school principal “uplifting” as he combined his faith with his counseling and administrative skills.
“The easiest part was becoming acclimated to the culture of a Catholic school and what we were about — our mission and vision. Truly, it was one that was more than just words; it was one that you could live and feel in your heart and see in the eyes of the kids and the teachers and the parents.”
Honeycutt said there was “a wholeness of being in a Catholic school.”
“Even as principal, when I would discipline in a Catholic school, we relied on the full package — prayer, one’s belief system, the fact that we’re all sinners and we make mistakes, and how do we best learn from the mistake, offering to a child to pray to God in your office while you’re trying to work through this, to encourage a teacher to stop when a class is not on track and say, ‘Let’s take a minute and refocus in prayer,’” he said.
After six years at St. Bridget School, Honeycutt was going to retire.
But he didn’t.
Then-superintendent, Francine “Frankie” Conway, invited him to apply for the diocese’s associate superintendent with curriculum position. He was hired, but within 11 months Conway and Annette Parsons, chief administrator of the Office of Catholic Education, announced their retirements.
“So I stayed on and here we are today talking about it,” he said.
Honeycutt’s faith has been a source of strength for him throughout his career.
“Absolutely. It was — even in the most difficult situations, whether it was public or Catholic school, ‘God, you’re going to have to shine that light a little bit brighter. I don’t see the path. Help me here,’” he said. “Sometimes I will laugh to myself and say, ‘If the light had been any brighter, you would have been blinded by it. You just failed to see. You just wanted to not look.’”
For Honeycutt, faith is personal.
“It’s what I do, it’s what I am. I don’t need to talk too much about it. I just need to know that I have someone that I can talk to about it,” he said. “That’s the gift of the faith and that’s the gift that I see as giving to our kids.”
Honeycutt sees teaching in a Catholic school as a ministry, and Catholic education as a Church ministry.
“I’m very passionate about that, and sometimes I get in trouble because sometimes Catholic schools can be seen as, ‘You have your parish and then you have a Catholic school.’ Well, I don’t see us as, ‘Oh, we have a Catholic school,’” he said. “I see us as a ministry of the parish. We have a strong conduit from home to the pews, and again, I’m very passionate about that, that there is something for a child to gain individually in our schools, but there’s also something for the Church to gain by having children in our schools. And I hang on that every day.”