Attorney Ralph Elwart to head Notre Dame HS

New president of Notre Dame Prep, Ralph J. Elwart (right) and new vice president for institutional advancement and enrollment, Shay Boyle (left). | Photo courtesy of Teresa Connelly
New president of Notre Dame Prep, Ralph J. Elwart (right) and new vice president for institutional advancement and enrollment, Shay Boyle (left). | Photo courtesy of Teresa Connelly

After retiring as a corporate litigator eight years ago, Ralph Elwart had reached a point where he could finally invest in his true passion as a philanthropist in religious education.

Elwart spent nearly a decade volunteering on the boards of various Catholic education-driven initiatives before the Lake Forest resident was appointed as the new president at Notre Dame College Prep in Niles last week.

Deciding to reverse his retirement was an unplanned move for Elwart, who spent the last few years making what he described as a “very small paycheck” reviewing the performance of private Catholic schools while serving on the Sacred Heart Commission on Goals of the Sacred Heart Schools in the United States.

“As of a few months ago, this didn’t occur to me as a career option,” Elwart said. “But my resume was pointing in this direction — and what I’ve done along the way has prepared me for this kind of job.”

During his 34 years as a litigator for Allstate, Elwart dedicated a portion of his free time to serving on the board of trustees for Woodlands Academy of the Sacred Heart in Lake Forest, and as a member of the school board of St. Mary’s Church, also in Lake Forest.

“You spend a lot time working for a big corporation, and then when you retire you suddenly have the opportunity to do what you really want to do,” Elwart said. “My passion was the issue at hand.”

Elwart was appointed by the board of directors of Notre Dame College Prep Aug. 15, just in time to welcome 804 students to the new school year Monday.

The position was vacated by former president, the Rev. John Smyth, who resigned in April after seven years at the helm of the all-boys high school.

Smyth, 79, resigned before the end of the last school year, citing what he described as “differences” with Notre Dame’s executive board.

Smyth — who said he left the school on friendly terms — is held in high regard in the Catholic prep school’s tight-knit community for helping the school stay open after it lost a 50-year sponsorship in 2007 from the priests of the Congregation of Holy Cross at the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Ind.

Board Vice Chairman Peter Newell served as interim president of the school following Smyth’s resignation. Elwart said he respects Notre Dame’s solid history, which has survived amid recessions and other tough patches in the past six decades.

“This is the school’s 60th year of operation, so we have a good handle on what works and what doesn’t work around here,” Elwart said. “I’m not planning anything for the new school year that will shake people up or change how things are run.”

Elwart earned his law degree at John Marshall Law School, and his bachelor’s from the University of Miami. He served in the U.S. Army from 1968 to 1971 as a special agent in military intelligence.

Aside from gaining a new president, Notre Dame made another administrative change, appointing former head of enrollment Shay Boyle to the position of vice president for institutional advancement and enrollment.

In the new role, Boyle will be responsible for the fundraising and alumni relations departments.

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