Don Miller, longtime educator and former diocesan superintendent, dies at 75

North Texas Catholic
(Dec 31, 2019) Local

Don Miller, former superintendent of Catholic Schools in the Diocese of Fort Worth (left) is shown receiving the Diocesan Leadership Award from Bishop Michael Olson in 2015. (NTC/Juan Guajardo)

FORT WORTH — At the end of the every Eighth Grade Mass, Catholic Schools Superintendent Don Miller imparted this reminder to the gathering of prospective graduates.

“Who you are now, is God’s gift to you. What you become, is your gift to God.”

The Catholic educator first heard those words in 1958 at his own eighth grade graduation from Our Lady of Lourdes School in Bettendorf, Iowa. The advice came from a parish priest who paid the $100 tuition that made attending nearby Assumption Catholic High School possible.

Miller later said the pastor’s act of kindness changed his life.

“Since I was 14 years old, all I ever wanted to be was a Catholic school teacher,” he told the North Texas Catholic in a 2015 interview. “Nothing had more impact on my life, and the life of my family, than Catholic schools.”

Miller, a champion of Catholic education, died December 26 at the Arlington home he shared with wife, Pat Miller. He was 75.

A Mass of Christian Burial is set for 10 a.m. Saturday, January 4 at St. Vincent de Paul Catholic Church in Arlington with visitation starting at 9 a.m. in the church. Another liturgy will take place in Dubuque, Iowa followed by burial in the city’s Mount Calvary Cemetery.

A native of Davenport, Iowa, Miller earned his Bachelor of Arts degree at St. Ambrose University then continued his education at the University of Iowa where he received a Master of Arts degree in educational administration. During a career in Catholic education that spanned 48 years, he worked as a teacher, coach, principal, and chief executive officer for schools in Iowa before becoming Superintendent of Schools for the Diocese of Fort Worth in July 2004.

Trudy Miller was a member of the interview committee that recommended Dubuque’s regional Catholic school superintendent for the job.

“Catholic education was his passion and he lived his vocation,” said the former principal of Our Lady of Victory School. “He was very supportive to principals and willing to share his knowledge.”

Miller admired the late superintendent’s vast experience in education and efforts to make the classroom a place of values and religion as well as academics.

”The focus was always on developing your school to be an environment where the student could grow in their love for the Catholic faith,” she added.

For his overall dedication to the ministry of Catholic schools and work to stabilize enrollment rates along with school finances, Don Miller was presented with the 2015 Diocesan Leadership Award from Fort Worth Bishop Michael Olson. In 2013, he received the prestigious Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice medal from Pope Benedict XVI for distinguished service to the Church.

Catholic schools aren’t Catholic because a crucifix is hanging on the wall, the late superintendent told the North Texas Catholic before retiring in 2014.

“We’re Catholic because of the way we act and the way we talk to and teach kids,” Miller said. “I tell people all the time, there are no secular subjects in a Catholic school. Everything is infused with the dimensions of faith.”

The father of nine children, who lost his first wife, Elaine, to cancer in 1999, the superintendent was “father-like” when giving advice, according to Christina Mendez.

“You might not see eye-to-eye with Don about some of the things you were doing in your school but he genuinely cared about each of us and our school,” said the former principal at All Saints and St. Peter Schools who is now assistant superintendent in the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C. “He was respectful of the decisions we made.”

Miller was also “ahead of the curve” when it came to strategies that would make Catholic schools successful in the future.

“He talked about cost-based, need-based tuition. It’s something they’re just beginning to talk about in D.C. and I learned about that 10 years ago from Don,” Mendez pointed out.

Gifted with acute foresight, Miller started a program for diocesan educators that targeted the migrant crisis.

“He started the border awareness trips before that issue ever blew up,” she continued.

During their stay in El Paso, principals and teachers from the diocese met with asylum seekers, border patrol officers, and visited a high school where some students crossed the border every day from Mexico to attend class.

“It gave you every viewpoint of the issue and wasn’t about telling you what to think,” Mendez emphasized. “It was about the burgeoning Hispanic population and how we get those kids into our schools. Don was very much a social justice advocate.”

Miller is survived by his wife of 18 years, Pat, nine children, and 23 grandchildren.

In lieu of flowers, donations to Catholic Charities Fort Worth and the Diocese of Fort Worth Tuition Assistance Fund are encouraged.

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