Sister Maurice Okoroji was a dedicated New Community employee for more than a decade, serving as the Director of Harmony House Early Learning Center (HHELC) for 12 years and the Director of Community Hills Early Learning Center (CHELC) for two years. Her tenure with the organization came to an end on June 30 because she was called by her order to return to her home country of Nigeria to become the principal of a high school there.
While Sister Maurice was excited about taking on the challenges of a new role, she had grown close to her colleagues over the years and had mixed emotions about leaving New Community.
“We’re family. So leaving them just like that is a little emotional for me,” she said.
Sister Maurice came to the United States from Nigeria in 1995. She returned to Nigeria in 2000 for two years and then permanently relocated to the U.S. She earned her degree from Caldwell College and began working as a teacher at St. Rose of Lima School in Newark in 2004. When that school closed in 2009, she made the transition to Director of HHELC at New Community. When the Director of CHELC resigned in 2021, she transferred to that facility.
The superior general of her order reached out to her about taking a principal position at an all-girls boarding school in Imo State, Nigeria earlier this year. Sister Maurice visited the school and agreed to relocate but only after the school year had ended at CHELC so she could attend the graduation ceremony and formally say goodbye to the children and parents.
“I’m bound by moral obligation to do the right thing even though they were like come, come, let’s go. We need you,” she said.
Sister Maurice was inspired to work in the education field by her mother who was an educator and retired as a supervisor of schools. Her favorite part of her work is impacting lives.
“I enjoy being a role model to the young, to my colleagues, the teachers and the staff,” she said.
Sister Maurice encouraged her colleagues to continue their own education and professional development and she told them to look at errors as learning opportunities.
“If you don’t make mistakes, you will not grow,” she said.
New Community Director of Mission Frances Teabout, who oversees the organization’s early learning centers, recognizes the work Sister Maurice put into her roles at New Community.
“Sister Maurice was a dedicated director who was committed to the children and families served by Community Hills Early Learning Center and Harmony House Early Learning Center. She strived to create a supportive environment where all children could thrive,” Teabout said. “Sister Maurice will be greatly missed and fondly remembered.”
Sister Maurice will also miss New Community. She is grateful for the opportunities she has had with the organization, particularly because of its founder, the late Monsignor William J. Linder, who recommended her for her first teaching position at St. Rose of Lima.
“I’m really grateful to New Community, especially Monsignor Linder,” she said. “He actually believed in me, that I can do wonderful things.”
New Community colleagues surprised Sister Maurice on her last day at CHELC with a goodbye celebration where they spoke about what she meant to them and how they would miss her. The organization also presented her with a plaque commemorating her years of service.
While she was excited about the challenges to come and the opportunity to be close to her mother again, Sister Maurice was also sad to leave New Community.
“For me, this was more than a job,” she said.