Success Stories

The Kelleher Legacy: Natalie, Michael, Tara, and Nancy

Written Spring 2019

A faith-based, quality education rooted in tradition with a solid reputation is what Nancy and Mike Kelleher sought for their three children as they began their respective academic journeys.  Both Nancy (an NDA Tyngsboro Alumna, 1981) and Mike attended Catholic schools growing up, so it seemed natural to want a similar academic background for their young family.  

Tara, an alumna from the Class of 2016 and current engineering student at UMass Amherst, began her first kindergarten class at NDA in the fall of 2003 and paved the way for both of her siblings (Natalie and Michael) to attend NDA as well.  Fast forward 16 years and the Kellehers are gearing up to celebrate two graduations this spring and to bid adieu to the school that has been so much a part of their lives.

On June 1st, Natalie will walk across the commencement stage in a white gown just as her mother and sister did before her. Five days later her brother, Micheal, will receive his 8th grade diploma in Our Lady’s Chapel. Both siblings will enter the NDA Alumnae/i Association, a revered society of graduates dating back to 1854.  

Before those June dates, however, both Lancers are busy with end-of-the-year activities. Natalie is a 12- season athlete and three season captain this year, playing soccer, basketball and softball.  The Lowell Sun All-Star is also a three time league all-star in basketball, a two time soccer league all-star and the recipient of several awards including team MVP in soccer and softball.  

Natalie cites time management and a strong work ethic as critical components to her academic and athletic success, but she says the NDA influence goes deeper than that. She has also gained a renewed appreciation for her religious faith.  Having opportunities through campus ministry projects or simply having the campus chapel nearby, allowed her to question and deepen her own spiritual formation. Natalie remembers one specific project completed through National Honor Society (NHS), called “Build a Bed,” where students worked together to assemble beds for children in need in the community. “It made me realize how significant a thing like a bed is in a child’s life,” remarks Natalie.  “Without rest, an everyday activity, such as attending school, becomes difficult. By becoming more aware of my own community, I came to appreciate everything in my own life.” 

On the athletic field, Michael has been impressive in his own right. He is a member of Beta Club, the cast Oliver! and three athletic teams (Soccer, Basketball, Baseball). He says that NDA has helped him to become a better advocate for himself in the classroom. “I have learned that you have to want good grades to get good grades,” remarks Michael who credits the school with challenging him and building his confidence. 

Michael has played soccer since grade 5 and helped the team achieve a championship win his 7th grade year, a feat he nearly repeated this year when the team returned to the championship game for a second year in a row. As a student-athlete he has learned the value of determination and leadership. “Michael decided to try out for basketball his 7th grade year, and was invited to stay on the team as a practice squad player,” according to Nate Froment, Lower/Middle School Physical Education Teacher and Coach. “He came to every practice that season and really worked on his game. During his 8th grade year he was on the team and had a huge game late in the season where he scored 19 points.” Michael was also instrumental in helping the baseball team win a championship his 7th grade year and is hoping is hoping his team will be repeat champions again this season. 

As Michael continues his education at a Catholic high school in Lowell next fall, Natalie is setting her sights on nursing school. Their departures will mark an end of an era for their parents' volunteer work at the Academy as well. According to Upper School Principal Pam Bernazani and Athletic Director Lisa Zappala, the contributions of the Kelleher family have been extraordinary. “Nancy and Mike have been involved in FoNDA, Friends of NDA, since 2013 when Tara was a freshman and for the past several years they have served as officers: Mike as the Treasurer and Nancy as Secretary,” says Bernazani.  “Throughout the years, they have been instrumental in raising funds for athletics and extracurricular activities and are quick to volunteer whenever needed.” 

Even their own children are quick to note their parents dedication to the school. Nancy says she is pleased to say that the independent, Catholic school education her children received at NDA has helped prepare and shape each of them for the next phase of their lives. “I am most proud of their commitment to volunteerism and the sense of community that the school has instilled in them,” says Nancy.  “Like the time when Tara, Natalie and Mike learned that a girls softball team in Lowell was without a coach, and volunteered to step up and coach the team together. Tara and Natalie just knew that helping the girls would be the right thing to do.”  

“The Kelleher family contributions will be forever remembered and appreciated by the Academy of Notre Dame,” says Lauren Marquis, Director of Institutional Advancement.  “The Academy has been blessed by their kindness and willingness to serve and we hope to stay in touch with all of them through our Alumni Association for many years to come. In fact, you never know but perhaps another generation of Kellehers will grace our beautiful front steps in the years to come!”

Amaya Murguia

Written Winter 2017

For high school seniors this point in the school year can be an anxious one as they wait to hear back from college admissions offices about the fate of the next four years of their lives. Amaya Murguia of Hollis, NH, though is breathing a well-deserved sigh of relief having received her good news in early December from the College of Engineering at Cornell University in Ithaca, NY.

“I think faculty and students at the Academy would agree that Cornell is lucky to get Amaya Murguia. She is a young woman of exceptional character, intellect, and leadership,” comments Helen Kay, Upper School Principal.

The Academy of Notre Dame senior who applied for early decision to Cornell in the fall said she was shocked when she logged in on December 8, 2016, and read her online decision that she had been accepted.

“After the shock wore off, I experienced feelings of elation and excitement, and called my relatives and closest friends.  It was also a huge weight off my shoulders, as I would not have to spend the next few weeks finalizing my applications to all the other schools I would have applied to had I not been accepted.  It was such a relief that I would not have to spend the entire winter in suspense.”

According to Pam Bernazani, Dean of Students at the Academy, Amaya was one of more than 5300 applicants who applied for early decision and only 25% of them were admitted through the process.  Overall, the University’s admit rate is under 13%.

A well-rounded student with broad interests that range from math and science to human rights and dance, Amaya says she was drawn to Cornell because of its academic diversity. “I decided to apply to Cornell because I wanted to study engineering, but I did not want to study at a technology school, where most people major in science or engineering.  I wanted to be in a more diverse environment, where I could be exposed to the social sciences and the liberal arts as well as math and science.  Cornell has a great College of Engineering, but also has multiple other schools and colleges where I could take classes and even possibly minor in other fields.”

With her sights set on biomedical engineering and eventually graduate school, Amaya says she hopes to work for a company that creates biomedical devices that improve public health. “My dream is to be able to use my love for science and math to create something that will make a positive change in the lives of others,” says Amaya.

According to Amaya the path to Cornell was paved by her experiences at the Academy as far back as 7th grade with the Math Reach program that opened the door to Algebra II and Honors Physical Science as a freshman where her interest in science and problem solving was sparked.  But it was in her Honors Biology class where her higher educational goals really began to take shape. “The teachers at the Academy helped me excel in my classes and inspired me to pursue these areas of study. I also credit the Academy with instilling in me a sense of self-confidence.  I was able to take on multiple leadership positions throughout my high school career and joined clubs that I might not have joined at a larger school.”

As Amaya finishes out her high school career, she is excited by what lies ahead for her at Cornell and is thankful for all the opportunities that the Academy has provided to get her to this point.

Eileen Leach

Written in Fall 2015

Eileen Leach is a sophomore from Groton, MA. She lives with her parents and younger sister who attends 8th grade at Groton Country Day School where Eileen also attended before starting at the Academy her freshman year (2014-15). 

She first became aware of the Academy through her parents who wanted to find another private school for Eileen's high school years. Her mother, Geraldine, is from Ireland and she attended an all-girls Catholic school herself. She says what Eileen is getting at the Academy is a continuation of what she had at her elementary school and what she has at home. "We were looking for a school that would instill Christian beliefs in an academically challenging and nurturing environment that provided opportunities for community service. We found it all here at the Academy." 

Eileen graduated from the Country Day School in Groton, where she had been a student for 10 years. Shy by nature, she became increasingly confident both academically and socially with each passing year during elementary school.  Although she had many friends at Country Day, she was particularly close to one friend whom she had known since pre-K. They were a perfect match – and a great comfort to each other in and out of school. As the new school year approached, Eileen had a lot on her mind. She was leaving the familiarity of Country Day School behind, and worst of all, her best friend of 10 years was attending another school. The first few days and weeks of school were difficult. She had trouble settling into the new routine. She missed her best friend, and saw no prospects of developing a similar friendship among her new classmates. Her parents told her to give it time, and eventually she would make new friends. 

Her social break-through came when her parents encouraged her to get involved in an athletic activity. Eileen had not participated in any organized athletics while at Country Day School, and although running was new to her, she chose cross country because she thought it would suit her best. She found running very difficult at first. She could not run as fast as the other girls, which was discouraging and added to her self-doubts. But the other girls would have none of it. When she first started on the team, her teammates went out of their way to include her and encourage her even when she was often the last to finish. Many of  them shared stories of their own shyness and difficulty making friends when they were a freshman and this created a bond between teammates that Eileen cherishes. She runs all year now, participating in cross country in the fall, indoor track in the winter, and outdoor track and field in the spring. Although she hasn't become the star runner, she has improved greatly since her freshman year. She attributes her improvement as a runner and her growing social confidence to the friendships she has forged with her teammates.

"I had trouble believing school would get better when I first started as a freshman, but now I’m really happy. I want to do well academically and to keep running. I feel like I really fit in at NDA, and my cross country teammates had a lot to do with that. I joined the 1804 Society and help out at Open Houses. Now, I encourage others to come here." 

"I can't even tell you how pivotal the cross country coach and team were for Eileen," says Geraldine. “Coach Vail was so encouraging and never gave up on her. The girls were her support structure, especially the older girls who were her mentors and got her involved. Her father and I have seen huge changes in her in the past year. Her self confidence has grown and she's happy, very happy."

In addition to her cross country experience, Geraldine says support came from the teachers as well. "The faculty here is so supportive. They recognized that she was struggling socially, and very quickly got to know her as a person both academically and personally. The academics are so strong. There is no doubt that she is getting a great preparation for college, but I think too that the Academy puts a great emphasis on going out into the world too."

"My advice to girls who have trouble making friends is to get involved and to recognize that even though you may not realize it, other girls probably are feeling just as awkward and shy as you. And they need to know that things will get better."

Eileen says that being at an all girl‘s high school is not as big a deal as some people think. "I know a lot of girls don't like the no boys thing, but honestly, it doesn’t even enter my mind." Her mother agrees saying, "The all-girls environment has been wonderful. Eileen is enjoying the companionship, without the pressure and distractions of a co-ed school."

Eileen still considers herself shy, but she recognizes that she is not as shy as she once was and that her confidence continues to grow. Recently at an Open House, Principal Helen Kay put Eileen on the spot in front of a small group and asked her to share how NDA has affected her. "I was able to rise to the occasion and answer the question that I wouldn't have been able to do a year ago. I feel more confident and I talk to more people now both in and out of class. I'm also trying new things."

Eileen feels that the Academy is molding her into a better version of herself and helping her to reach her potential. Her experience at the Academy has been so positive that her younger sister, Nora, has decided to come here too starting as a freshman next year. Nora will shadow Eileen at an upcoming Shadow Day. Eileen says that it was a Shadow Day experience that sealed the deal for her, "That's when I realized this is the place for me."

The Academy of Notre Dame holds Shadow Days for prospective Upper School students on Tuesdays now through mid-December. To schedule a Shadow Day, visit, email, or call 978-649-7611, Ext. 351.