John Birney ’76 | 2020 Spirit of Blessed Edmund Society

Posted: May 5, 2020


John Birney was born in Royal Oak, Michigan, on June 4, 1958. His parents John & Shirley, lived in Birmingham and were devoted Catholics who belonged to Our Lady Queen of Martyrs Church. John attended OLQM elementary school for eight years before beginning his high school career at Brother Rice in 1972. His days in the “hallowed halls” of Rice were exceptionally formative. John developed tremendous respect for educators, particularly the Christian Brothers, which led him to join the Congregation of Christian Brothers after graduation in 1976. He moved to Chicago, where the Christian Brothers trained their young postulants at Lewis University. After studying for three years, John graduated and was assigned to teach summer school at Leo High School on the south side of Chicago in June of 1979. That fall, Brother John was sent to Brother Rice High School in Chicago to begin his teaching career as a full-time history and theology instructor.


After five years in the Brothers and two years teaching, John decided not to renew his annual vows, returned to his family home in Birmingham, and continue his career as a high school teacher and coach. In 1982, Principal Br. Grimaldi hired John to return to his alma mater as a teacher. John married Kathy in June of 1983. Two years later, he received a Masters’ Degree from the University of Michigan in History.

In recognition of his passion for teaching, John received the faculty teaching award, Facere et Docere (To Do and To Teach), during the Commencement Ceremonies for Brother Rice at Ford Auditorium in 1985 and 1986. Principal Br. Gremley later appointed John to become the school’s first Director of Admissions in 1987, a position that John held while teaching part-time and coaching.


In 1990, a year after his first son was born, John decided to leave Brother Rice and enter into private business as a consultant. His second son, another future Warrior, was born in 1991. Four years later, when his business was prosperous and stable, John returned to Brother Rice as a part-time instructor, teaching two Senior Advanced Placement History classes. After the second year, John’s business required more attention, and he returned full-time to consulting while volunteering to serve as President of the Brother Rice Alumni Association.


The school announced in 2002 for the first time that it was accepting applications from laypeople to become the next Principal. Based on the urging of several graduates, John decided to apply for the position that winter and after five months finished second in the process. Despite the decision of the committee, John’s love of education was reignited, and he decided to leave his business, started a graduate program in educational administration, and returned to the classroom. Later that year, Head of School Ed Kowalchik hired John to provide consulting support on the implementation of educational technology at the school. In the spring of 2004, the Board of Directors and the Christian Brothers appointed John Birney to become Principal starting July 1, 2004. For the next two years, John served as Principal before being appointed the first President of Brother Rice and served in that capacity for ten years until retiring in June 2016. His proudest accomplishment during this time was presiding at the graduation of his sons John (2007) and Patrick (2009).


It is unprecedented that an individual has assumed as many roles at Brother Rice as John Birney has… student, alumnus, teacher, parent, Principal, and President. Being a great follower of Christ is a signature of his leadership and John Birney has served as a role model for students, faculty, and staff at Brother Rice. His loyalty and love for Brother Rice have endured the test of time. Regardless of the role he has played in the life of the school, John Birney has always epitomized The Spirit of Blessed Edmund.


A final thought from John, “I have been associated with Brother Rice for nearly 50 years. I have been blessed to know and work with so many wonderful people who share a passion and dedication for the noble endeavor of Catholic education. I have long admired the extraordinary individuals who have been recognized for their unique contributions to my alma mater by their induction into The Spirit of Blessed Edmund Society (formerly Brother Rice Hall of Fame). To be included as a member of this special fraternity is an incredible honor, one that I will cherish for the rest of my life.”

To make a gift in honor of John Birney, please use the link below.

Brother Rice High School Bloomfield Hills MI
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