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Superintendent of Boston Catholic schools leaving

Mary Grassa O'Neill (left) described her tenure as exhilarating and challenging.

Bill Brett/ Globe Staff

Mary Grassa O'Neill (left) described her tenure as exhilarating and challenging.

Mary Grassa O’Neill, the first lay superintendent of schools in the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston, will be stepping down next month after five years.

O’Neill, who is also education secretary for the archdiocese, said that she decided to leave her job after her five-year contract expired in June and that she will be looking for a position outside the district. Her annual salary package is $343,705, according to archdiocesan records.

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She described her tenure as exhilarating and challenging, and said she was proud of her work in helping students prepare for college and career.

“I loved every single moment of my time in the archdiocese,” she said.

Her work apparently had so impressed Cardinal Sean O’Malley that he had tried in vain to persuade her to stay, according to archdiocesan spokesman Terrence Donilon.

“I came here to work for five years for the cardinal,’’ said O’Neill. “And the time has flown by. I had to decide if I should stay or make a change.”

Her last day on the job is Aug. 15.

‘The Catholic schools in the Archdiocese of Boston are in a much better place today because of Dr. O’Neill’s dedication and commitment.’

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O’Neill said she is leaving the school system in a stronger place than when she took over in 2008.

She took charge after decades of sweeping demographic change, as schools were closing and consolidating to deal with a steady tide of urban parishioners moving out to the suburbs. In the 1960s, the archdiocesan schools taught more than 150,000 students. Now the enrollment is 41,000, said Donilon.

Archdiocesan officials said that central to her tenure was reorganization of the Catholic Schools Office, which focused on increasing early education enrollment, supplying tools and data to help the district thrive, and reducing isolation by expanding partnerships between the central office and schools.

Under her watch, early education enrollment increased by 17 percent, and Catholic school enrollment rose 2 percent in Boston.

O’Neill’s department teamed with local colleges and assisted in the formation of Catholic academies in Lawrence, Quincy, South Boston, Dorchester, and Mattapan. The Catholic Schools Office also implemented the cardinal’s strategic plan for Catholic education.

“Our schools have realized significant improvements in academics while continuing to strengthen their Catholic identity and faith formation,’’ O’Malley said in a statement. “The Catholic schools in the Archdiocese of Boston are in a much better place today because of Dr. O’Neill’s dedication and commitment.”

O’Neill’s four decades in Massachusetts education include serving as an English teacher at the former Grover Cleveland School in Dorchester and as principal of James P. Timilty Middle School in Roxbury. She spent 10 years as superintendent in the Milton public schools, where she is credited with improving academic achievement and developing.

O’Neill, 66, said she is seeking a new adventure in her next career move. “I don’t have any plans to ever retire,” she said.

Meghan Irons can be reached at mirons@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @meghanirons.
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