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Catholic school president speaks to Chamber

DULUTH - The president of Notre Dame Academy said she encountered many struggles when she decided to open the independent Catholic school, but her deep faith and belief and trust in people helped her build a $6 million business.

Debra Orr, a self-described "cradle Catholic" and a former classroom teacher, spoke Friday morning at the Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce's Executive Women's Leadership Series about her journey and the lessons she has learned in opening the school.

Orr said she was taught "in suffering, we find grace."

"The negative times in life have a purpose," she said. "I strongly believe that my struggles gave me the confidence to build a school."

Orr said she wanted to build a Catholic school because there was only one in Gwinnett County. Up north, there's a Catholic school on every corner, she said.

The Archdiocese of Atlanta granted Orr permission to build the school within its boundaries, but Notre Dame does not receive any financial support from the group. The school relies solely on money raised from tuition and donations.

Orr said opening the school has been hard work, but she has surrounded herself with people who know what she doesn't. It's because of those people that Orr said the school settled down in a business park on River Green Parkway. The building's owner gave the school nine months of free rent in the first year and six months in the second year, allowing Notre Dame to put the cost of operating the building on the back end while growing its enrollment, she said.

"Surround yourself with people who are stronger than you, who know more than you do," Orr said. "And listen to their advice and trust them."

As the school grows, Orr said the school will need more facilities. For example, physical education is taught every day, but the school does not have a gymnasium.

"God willing, it will come," Orr said.