Three area schools won their cases to remain open, with two to become regional locations.
Ava Washington will graduate from St. Gabriel School, 2917 Dickinson St., in June and had felt heartache over her likely fate as a member of the Grays Ferry site’s final commencement.
However, the student council president and her 200 schoolmates learned their facility will survive Feb. 16, as Archbishop Charles Chaput sided with a review committee’s decision to maintain the 104-year-old location as a parish school and to discard a plan to merge it with St. Thomas Aquinas School, 1719 Morris St.
The Archdiocese of Philadelphia also paired St. Richard School, 1826 Pollock St., with Holy Spirit School, 1845 Hartranft St., at the former’s location and united Our Lady of Mount Carmel School, 2329 S. Third St., and Sacred Heart of Jesus School, 1329 E. Moyamensing Ave., at Epiphany of Our Lord School, 1248 Jackson St., adjusting the Jan. 6 announcement to combine the five at the former Stella Maris site, 814 Bigler St.
“We just kept having hope,” Ava, a resident of the 1300 block of South Newkirk Street, said Friday as the St. Gabriel community held an outdoor celebration. “I am proud we will stay open because I want the kindergarteners to graduate from here, too.”
Completing a year of studying enrollment, finances and subsidies, the Archdiocese-appointed Blue Ribbon Commission recommended the closing or merging of 45 elementary and four high schools last month. Though public word came Friday, St. Gabriel’s Rev. John Zagarella learned a day earlier that his institution’s Jan. 19 appeal of the commission’s design to send their pupils 1.4 miles away to St. Thomas had met favor.
“We have been given a great gift,” he said shortly before the students streamed from the building with signs declaring their joy.
A history of losing schools, including St. John Neumann High School, 2600 Moore St., now Ss. Neumann-Goretti High School, 1736 S. 10th St., at which he taught and served as president, has left St. Gabriel as Grays Ferry’s lone parochial presence, and Zagarella and Principal Sister Noreen Friel used that and safety concerns to note the necessity of their turf’s existence.
Though St. Gabriel has received parish subsidies for years, it will remain open and become a mission school, which entails receiving support from the Archdiocese, enlisting pastors as members of the board that will run the locale; obtaining outside funds and creating endowments, Superintendent of Schools Mary Rochford said at Friday’s archdiocesan disclosure. St. Thomas also will receive that status.
Zagarella and his personnel made it their mission to revel Friday, as the children readied to see if their instructors’ dancing talent could match theirs.
“We want to thank you for helping us to live the dream,” Sister Santa Theresa said to Zagarella and Friel.
The community had prayed to St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus, dubbed “The Little Flower,” for intercession. As believers hold that the saint acknowledges requests by granting petitioners roses, Zagarella and Friel accepted bouquets before accepting a call to perform the Mummers’ strut.
The students dedicated Sister Sledge’s “We Are Family” to the St. Gabriel faculty and staff as impromptu break dancing kept the youngsters, like fifth-grader Tyler McNabb, thrilled.
“I cried so much when I heard we might merge,” the resident of the 2600 block of Catharine Street said. “Now I am excited.”
Zagarella, whose employees had worried about their site’s future for six weeks, felt similarly enlivened.
“We’re just so grateful to God,” he said.
Friday’s dismissal at Marconi’s St. Richard possessed a relaxed vibe, as Principal Marianne Garnham and her 262 charges breathed more easily knowing Chaput had spared them. The first-year head and Rev. William Kaufman offered their appeal Jan. 25, with hefty enrollment and views on sustainability leading their arguments.
“This has been a very delicate situation,” Garnham said.
The commission had proposed to send the youths 1.3 miles away to Stella Maris, which closed in June 2010. The review committee instead elected to have Holy Spirit’s 141-member student body travel 0.6 miles to its closest Catholic neighbor to form a regional school. At 86 percent capacity, St. Richard will be able to accommodate the newcomers, Garnham said, by creating classrooms out of unutilized space.
“As emotional as everything is, you need to avoid coming at it from an emotional stance,” Patricia Cody said after Friday’s dismissal of 293 pupils from Epiphany of Our Lord, 1248 Jackson St.
The name Gabriel derives from Hebrew and translates as “God is my strength.”
Friday marked the Feast of the Epiphany, the celebration through which Christians honor the visitation of the Magi to baby Jesus, an event through which the infant gained new companions. Nearly 24,000 students at 45 elementary and four high schools learned that day they soon will join the lauded child in adding friends, as the Blue Ribbon Commission, an Archdiocese of Philadelphia-appointed entity, released its report on parochial institutions’ future that announced closings and mergers of nine of South Philly’s 10 elementary sites.
Pennsport and Whitman residents will protest the closing of two neighborhood Catholic schools tonight.