STAMFORD --When Tony Pavia pulled into the parking lot at Trinity Catholic High School Thursday afternoon, he parked his Prius two spots from where he parked his 1972 Chevy Vega during his senior year of high school.

Pavia visited his alma mater Thursday to meet with faculty and staff and announce that he accepted the job as Trinity's principal for the 2011-2012 school year.

"I told the faculty it's not just any job for me, this is like coming full circle in life," Pavia said as he sat in Room 302 of the high school later in the afternoon. It's the same room in which he took the SAT decades ago.

Pavia wore a green jacket and gold New Canaan High School tie tack Thursday to blend in at Trinity, where the colors are green and gold. After nine years as principal of New Canaan High, he announced in November that he would retire.

"When I announced my retirement in New Canaan, it was a retirement. I didn't know what I would do next," said Pavia, who lives in Stamford. "After that announcement, I was contacted by Dr. (Margaret) Dames and Bishop Lori at the (Bridgeport) Diocese. I never pictured this, I never planned on it, but once I talked to them, it seemed to be an exciting opportunity."

Pavia said he was not a perfect student when he graduated in 1972 from Trinity, then known as Stamford Catholic High School.

"I think the polite term for me would be rascal," he said with a laugh.

"But it was never lost on me that the people here helped me get through that time, and I became the teacher and administrator I am because of people who helped me here," he said. "Very seldom in life do you get the chance to pay back a debt like this, but this is an opportunity to do just that."

He will take the helm July 1, 2011, succeeding John Cook, who has served as interim principal since Trinity Principal Robert D'Aquila died in July 2010.

"I think this will be wonderful for our current and future students, to continue the good work of Bob D'Aquila -- it will be a continuation of that," said Trinity CFO Joe Quinn.

"This school has gone through a lot, and it's been a very difficult time for everybody," Pavia said. "I'm excited, rather than being fearful, about the shoes I'm filling, and I'm hopeful that it will be an opportunity to help everyone move forward. In the worst situations, you often find the best opportunities."

Pavia said he would like to make a long-term commitment to Trinity Catholic.

"It takes a while to understand a culture and know the kids. This is not something that can be done in a year or two," he said.

During his 34-year career as an educator, Pavia also spent six years as principal of Stamford High School, four years as an administrator at Darien High School, and 15 years as a teacher.

Pavia sent a letter to New Canaan families Thursday afternoon to let them know he accepted the job.

"I don't want them to feel like I'm just leaving them," he said. "I was very close with the student body there, and in the letter to them, I tried to make the point that this isn't a normal job for me. It's an opportunity to give back to a wonderful place that's had a tough year."

Pavia's older brothers Joseph and Stamford Mayor Michael Pavia also graduated from the school.

He also noted that "I met my wife here."

It's a family place, said to Ernie Bourcier, who has been teaching French and Spanish at Trinity for 43 years, and served as dean of discipline when Pavia was a student.

"Hearing a former student come in and say he wants to give back to his school, it was just such a great feeling," Bourcier said. "I can't wait to hear the reaction of his classmates."