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After about five months of searching, the board of directors of Cardinal Newman High School has chosen a new school president.

Laura M. Held, an administrator for the San Francisco Archdiocese's Department of Catholic Schools, will fill the yearlong void left by Mike Truesdell, who resigned in May to take a job in Ohio after serving nine years as Cardinal Newman's first president.

Held, who is currently assistant superintendent of faith formation and religious instruction for the Archdiocese, will start her new job at Cardinal Newman beginning May 1. John Collins, superintendent of Catholic schools for the Santa Rosa Diocese, said Held is more than qualified for the position.

"She's hugely experienced and was thoroughly vetted by the board," Collins said. "She has a lot to offer ... Newman did their homework when it came to beating the bushes for candidates. And we're not just talking about locally but nationally."

With Held's hiring, a woman will lead the historically all-boys school. Founded in 1964, Cardinal Newman admitted girls for the first time following the spring 2011 closure of the all-girls Ursuline High School.

In a March 14 letter to the school board and Collins, Bishop Robert Vasa announced that he had approved the selection of Held after meeting with her for two hours. Vasa said that he discussed a "broad range of topics and questions and found her to be more than acceptable."

Vasa said Tuesday that these topics included the possibility of bringing back sometime in the future the controversial requirement that local Catholic school teachers sign a morality clause as part of their employment contracts. Last year, Vasa pulled back on the requirement after significant unrest among teachers, parents and some students.

The clause or addendum to teachers' contracts would have required educators employed by the diocese to affirm that contraception, gay marriage and euthanasia are "modern errors" and "matters that gravely offend human dignity."

Vasa said Tuesday that he discussed the issue with Held "in the context" of a situation at the Archdiocese of Cincinnati, which is requiring teachers to sign a morals clause as part of their contract. He said contract language is necessary to avoid legal challenges that arise from disgruntled teachers who are dismissed because of conduct that is contrary to Catholic doctrine.

Vasa said Held told him that the morality clause was something they could "look at" and work on "together."

Held could not be reached Tuesday at her office at the San Francisco Archdiocese.

She has spent the past 35 years working in education, as a teacher, assistant principal, principal and president at several Catholic elementary and secondary schools in the Bay Area. In 2011, Held was appointed as the first president of the all-girls Mercy High School in Burlingame, where she had been principal for eight years.

At Mercy, Held spearheaded a three-year campaign that increased admissions and fund-raising goals, according to the Cardinal Newman board. Held holds a master's degree in education administration from Cal State East Bay and a bachelor's degree in psychology from Holy Names University.

Held also holds credentials in administrative services and a California Life Credential in elementary teaching.

Collins said Cardinal Newman's board of directors spearheaded the national search for a president. The school will have gone an entire school year without a president, he said.

Collins said board Chairman Teejay Lowe, a 1993 Cardinal Newman graduate, has been filling in at the school in the absence of a school president.

"In this interim period where there has been no president, Teejay Lowe has been admirable in filling. You could say he was the de-facto president in so many ways."

Lowe, who is CEO of G&G Supermarket in Santa Rosa and Petaluma, credited staff and faculty at Cardinal Newman for a "seamless transition" during the past year.

Lowe headed the presidential search executive committee, an ad-hoc subcommittee of the school board. He said Held's qualifications and experience were exactly what the school was looking for.

"For Cardinal Newman, we were looking for a candidate that embodied the abilities to manage three major areas for us: Catholic identity, academic excellence and affordability," Lowe said.

Cardinal Newman Principal Graham Rutherford said he was excited about working with Held, who he's known since 2009. At the beginning of the selection process, Held was one of the "strongest candidates" and in the end the "best candidate," Rutherford said.

Candidates came from all over the country, including Peoria, Ill., and Toledo, Ohio.

Rutherford said Held brings a significant amount of experience in education, from grade school to high school levels. He said she'll "be a great connector with the grade schools."

"She also brings a strong faith experience to share," Rutherford said. "In many ways, she represents what we want our students to be."

Held has local ties, Rutherford said. She has a sister who used to be a teacher at Cardinal Newman in the 1990s and now works at Montgomery High School.

You can reach Staff Writer Martin Espinoza at 521-5213 or martin.espinoza @pressdemocrat.com.