ST. PETERSBURG — Ross Bubolz is a father to nine children. For eight of them, he's been their school principal, too.
From their hometown in suburban Chicago to most recently the Cathedral School of St. Jude in St. Petersburg, almost all of the Bubolz children, ages 10 to 22 with three sets of twins, were used to seeing their dad in the administration office, until they left for high school.
That's about to change.
The Roman Catholic Diocese of St. Petersburg announced this week that Bubolz, 45, will become the new principal at St. Petersburg Catholic High, following the departure of the Salesians of St. John Bosco, the religious order that operated the school for 19 years. The Rev. Anthony Ustick, who worked with Bubolz as the parochial vicar at the Cathedral of St. Jude the Apostle parish, also will come on board as St. Petersburg Catholic's full-time chaplain.
"I wanted to make sure St. Pete Catholic is a really strong school in both academic and spiritual formation and one that really builds up our students and prepares them for the future," Bubolz said.
Bubolz will no longer just be a parent at St. Pete Catholic, where his 18-year-old daughter, Micah, is a graduating senior and two are rising juniors. Next year, he's bringing two incoming freshmen with him. If you're keeping score, that's four students who can call the principal "Dad" when classes resume in August.
Micah, who is headed to the University of Central Florida this fall, said her dad would be a good fit to lead her alma mater.
"I could see a lot of areas where they need a strong leadership role," she said. "The way he's turned around St. Jude's and the way he is at home, I think he's the perfect person to do it if someone's going to."
Chris Pastura, superintendent of schools for the diocese, said it was important for St. Pete Catholic families to have a leader who balances being an administrator and a parent.
"If you think of a great dad and a great leader of an organization, a lot of times there are qualities that those two (capacities) share," Pastura said. "Everything for him is interwoven into this ministry."
Bubolz began his educational career working at a secular private school outside Chicago. There, he and his wife, Nicole, had a crash-course in parenting, running a residential hall with 12 boys.
Then the Bubolzes started having children of their own.
Bubolz realized he wanted to share his faith openly at school, so he worked to become an administrator at a Catholic school. He spent eight years as a principal of parochial schools outside Chicago, switching schools once to be the principal where his children attended.
He said he's conscious of the pressures that come with being the principal's child.
"I'm very careful not to do things that would make them feel uncomfortable," Bulbolz said. "I try to make their lives as normal as any other student at the school."
Micah said she got used to having her dad around at school from second to eighth grade.
"It definitely kept me out of trouble," she said. "I've always been a little bit of a troublemaker, but knowing my dad was going to be there kind of put me on the right path."
Chicago's 2014 winter season, the coldest on record with 26 subzero days, compelled the Bubolz family to make a change. They remembered school trips down to Homosassa and Fort De Soto beach, so Bubolz and his wife took an anniversary trip to Clearwater and discovered the Cathedral School. He was appointed principal that summer.
The family settled in Seminole and recently moved into a four-bedroom home. Bubolz said he and his wife were always open to however many children they were blessed with, even if it meant driving older cars, saving less for retirement, living paycheck to paycheck.
"People always say, 'How do you do it?' And I say, 'You do it because you do it,' " Bubolz said. "People will busy themselves in whatever ways they want to."
It's all made possible by his wife, Bubolz said, who he says keeps the kids organized and on track. Nicole was a bookkeeper at St. Pete Catholic, but now will be working with two other diocesan schools.
Bubolz says his kids are excited for his new job, especially the incoming freshmen who joked that their eighth-grade prank was to take their principal with them to high school.
"If you're in the same school with them, it makes all the difference in the world because their activities are my activities," he said. "They don't miss being with me because I'm there."
Contact Colleen Wright at [email protected] or (727) 893-8643. Follow @Colleen_Wright.