For 37 years, Doug Callahan helped form the minds of young people around the central Missouri area. As scout executive for the Great Rivers Council of Boy Scouts of America for 20 years, he taught life, survival and leadership skills.
Now, he turns to a new chapter. Callahan, 59, became the new president of Father Tolton Catholic High School on Tuesday. In the new role, he will be able to use the skills he learned from Boy Scouts executive leadership to expand the school’s reach and fundraising.
In a way, it’s familiar territory for Callahan: He has been a vocal proponent of the school’s creation.
“When I first moved to Columbia 20 years ago, I came here with the Boy Scouts and obviously noticed that Columbia didn’t have a Catholic high school,” he recalled.
He talked to others in the community to see if there was a demand for a Catholic school, added his voice to the number of people asking for the school and helped volunteer during fundraisers to raise money for the school. In 2011, the school opened its doors to the first class of students. Among the first students to graduate from the school was Callahan’s daughter, Megan.
“My son was already too old and missed the window,” Callahan said. “So, I really wanted a Catholic high school for my daughter because I graduated from one, and my wife graduated from Bishop DuBourg High School in St. Louis.”
When his daughter graduated in 2014, there were 17 students in her class. Today, the school has an average class size of around 60.
Callahan plans to help the school continue to grow in the community. He added that he wants to get more volunteers involved. The more volunteers, he said, “the more things we can do.”
Jay Burchfield, president of Father Tolton’s advisory council, is hoping Callahan can keep the growth trend going.
“We’ve been building the school, the community, the culture, everything — he’ll continue the great work that started eight years ago,” Burchfield said. “Doug will be able to keep broadening our reach in the community: public awareness, both within the Catholic community and the community at large.”
Callahan’s “wealth of knowledge” about Boone County and the local Catholic community was a big factor in his selection, said Kenya Fuemmeler, interim superintendent for Catholic Schools for the Diocese of Jefferson City. His history as “a vibrant member of the Columbia Catholic community was really important to us in the hiring process,” she said.
Those who have worked with Callahan say he has demonstrated his skills as a leader who consistently strives to make organizations better.
Richard Mendenhall, president of the Boy Scouts of America’s Great Rivers Council, remembered a time when Callahan asked scouts and leaders what they thought of their experience at camp. Even when some comments were critical, Mendenhall said, Callahan “took it in stride.”
“I saw...when they were criticizing something, they weren’t ugly or anything of that nature,” said Mendenhall. “And I know he [Callahan] put it in his head on how we needed to improve.”
Even though he’s moving into a leadership post at a school he helped create, leaving his last job was emotional for Callahan.
“He literally had tears in his eyes when he was telling me that he was going to leave the scouts and take this position at Father Tolton,” Mendenhall said. But he added that the new job engages many of Callahan’s passions. “Doug has been very much involved in the church and is very religious, and is very committed to everything that he gets himself involved in.”
Callahan said he did not plan on leaving Boy Scouts of America until age 65, but when Tolton’s interim president Deacon Dan Joyce left, “I had a lot of people start asking me, recruiting me and praying for me,” he said.
“The pressure kept mounting, and I’ve loved Father Tolton from the beginning, so I started praying about it,” he added. “And the bishop called,” he said, referring to Shawn McKnight, who heads the Diocese of Jefferson City. “It was pretty much a done deal.”
Supervising editors are Kathy Kiely and Hannah Hoffmeister.