Consolidating Catholic Education: Annunciation and St. Nicholas

A Passyunk Square school will merge with its East Passyunk Crossing neighbor to form a regional parochial institution.

By Joseph Myers
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 9 | Posted Jan. 12, 2012

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Monday's dismissal at Annunciation BVM may have begun the countdown to the school's end. Meetings will determine if it and other local sites survive.

Photo by Greg Bezanis

This is the first in a three-part series covering the Blue Ribbon Commission Report on changes affecting local schools.

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.

Annunciation B.V.M., 1148 Wharton St., guides 225 students — an increase of 55 students since 2005 — but it has demonstrated a pattern of financial deficits. Its subsidy for ’09-’10 — the last year for which the report included figures — reached $32,332, though the parish surplus stood at $207,268.

“It is an overwhelming report,” Principal Regina Tanghe said after Monday’s dismissal.

The official word came after her charges had left for the weekend Friday, so Tanghe needed to address the matter with them, a task that like the commission’s decision to have her site merge with St. Nicholas of Tolentine School, 913 Pierce St., tugged on heartstrings.

Standing in the first-floor hallway of a building filled 45 percent to its capacity, she admitted voicing her emotions has proven difficult.

“Everything is still new,” she said, “and I am trying to digest it.”

The elementary closings, 19 of which will occur in Philadelphia, will affect 20,999 students, with an additional 2,800 secondary learners needing to move, Mary Rochford, superintendent of schools, said at Friday’s press conference at the archdiocese’s pastoral center. Ss. Neumann-Goretti High School, 1736 S. 10th St., can accommodate the elder displaced group, as the archdiocese’s open enrollment policy grants families numerous options.

While the future leaders will surely find another educational haven, their teachers, 1,700, according to the press event, may need to double their amount of prayers, as no distinction, not even seniority, can guarantee a position. Unionized, the secondary instructors will likely fare better. All employees at closing and merging schools will need to reapply, according to the report. Their own future seemed to matter little to Annunciation’s workers as they walked their learners to their guardians.

“This is a sad day,” Anthony N. Piscitelli said as prepared to pick up grandchildren Gabriella Manny and Giovanni Piscitelli, both 4. “I never wanted it to come.”


Then Philadelphia Archbishop Cardinal Justin Rigali established the 17-member advisory group in December ’10 to “assure sustainable Catholic education and faith formation of our young people,” Chairman John J. Quindlen said in his summary report. Calling on the opinions of parents administrators and teachers who completed a spring online survey, it looked to find the best means to aid about 68,000 enrolled pupils — a drop of 35,245 learners since ’01.

The group addressed each location’s finances, subsidy figures and enrollment trends, according to the document that was submitted Dec. 27. As tuition alone fails to continue operations, parish subsidies have ballooned to an average of $319,162 per school over the last decade. Demand for assistance increases when enrollment plummets, and 34 of the selected grade schools educate fewer than 200 students. With tuition rates averaging $3,000, the facilities have lost many families to private and tuition-free public charter schools.

With lay personnel occupying most faculty spots, parochial places have witnessed higher operating costs to cover benefits and salaries. The sum of these factors prompted the delegates to unleash their suggestions, which Archbishop Charles J. Chaput authorized.

Chatter among assembled parents and guardians outside Annunciation all contained the same theme of disbelief. Expecting most affected parties to focus exclusively on the sad aspect of parting with schools and welcoming regional replacements, the commission said it recommended its plan “to bolster enrollment and finances, while enhancing educational programs to ensure that the Archdiocese continues to deliver a high-quality Catholic education and faith formation for our area youth in the 21st century.” Its move will include forming a governance model to provide greater oversight and efficiency to the schools’ management, with the Parish Religious Education Programs to receive a boost in educating public school students who come to parishes to receive their sacraments and faith formation.

Strangely, it could turn out that Annunciation children who choose a public school over the regional one on St. Nicholas’ property may end up attending the latter anyway for spiritual preparation. That will not be true, however, for Gabriella, who will not attend kindergarten at the yet-to-be-renamed East Passyunk Crossing location.

“She will likely go to a charter school,” Piscitelli, of the 1100 block of Wilder Street, said.

Annunciation has been a radiant aid for his family, with the 1967 graduate having sent his six children through its doors. He had sensed the school could become a casualty because of dwindling parishioner tallies yet still supposed the site would last. He had felt the St. Nicholas children would come to Annunciation if the Archdiocese acted upon spiraling costs and decreasing rosters and voiced fears the new site will be a victim of traffic congestion.

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Comments 1 - 9 of 9
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1. Anonymous said... on Jan 12, 2012 at 11:05AM

“While I am deeply saddened by all the closures and I know one thing is not to blame, one big thing is the opening of charter schools. It is nice that we have choices that were not there many years ago, you have to know that they have hurt the enrollment of the catholic schools. So Mr. Piscitelli, saying your grandchildren are going to charter school rather then a combined school is just saying that the consolidation will not work either, if families are so upset that they can't remain in their own schools and send their children to charter schools out of spite you are simply dooming the remaining schools and the process of a catholic education. I hope you rethink this and give the regional school a chance.”

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2. Anonymous said... on Jan 12, 2012 at 02:31PM

“annunciation will make terrific condo's some day!!!”

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3. Gene VanArsdale said... on Jan 12, 2012 at 02:58PM

“As part of a group trying to save Annunciation I will be interested in how the regional school will be managed. Not only as a school but also financially as each school ran with a deficit. The deficits will still be there. Also the St. Nick site only holds 500 and combine there are more children than 500 kids. How does this location grow or does it just stay the same.. Lots of question very little information.”

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4. Anonymous said... on Jan 12, 2012 at 04:24PM

“I've lived in the neighborhood 6 years and love annunciation. I read the blue ribbon panel's report yesterday and I'm pretty sure it indicated that annunciation had a deficit until 2009 and last year was entirely parish and tuition supported. And it has been growing it's enrollment steadily for several years. Having two children who went there and one who would have returned, I can say location was key for us and I think the young families moving to the neighborhood like us were drawn to the fact that it was a close community rooted school. It was great walking the kids to school. But with the move it will be too far for us to go to st. Nicks. I think the diocese is making a big mistake to close one of the only schools that was on a upswing.”

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5. Anonymous said... on Jan 13, 2012 at 06:09PM

“Too bad Joey Vento is gone, he may have been able to contribute some $$ to help with this mess.”

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6. Anonymous said... on Jan 16, 2012 at 11:47AM

“This merging and closures were suppose to be executed by Cardinal Justin Regali, but he didn't do his job and asked the Pope to allow him to retire before(2010) the sex abuse issues in the archdiocese went crazy and the school mergers/closures he had to do....HE FAILED!! Now, we have Archbishop Chaput to do Regali's dirty work, so now, Chaput looks like the bad guy!!!! PLEASE keep this in mind people before you want Chaput's head on a platter!!!!!!!!!!! Either way this is very sad :-(”

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7. Gene VanArsdale said... on Jan 17, 2012 at 01:49PM

“Friends and Neighbors:

Please join us this Sunday @ 10:30am in front of Annunciation School (10th & Wharton) as we have a "Walk to Save Annunciation".

Thank you.

Gene VanArsdale”

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8. Alumnus said... on Jan 29, 2012 at 10:52PM

“Wow! As an expat who lives in Silicon Valley now, I'm shocked. As I've traveled around over the years, my memories of that School (and the Church) has been my only real link to South Philly. All my family moved back to Italy years ago. I had always wanted to come back and raise a family there, especially since the neighborhood is and has been on the up and up for the past 10 years (and will continue so as Cities and green capable cities like Philly are attracting all the yuppies and gays who are well off). I went during the worst of the decline during the 80's and so felt I would get some love on the back end of life- worth the initial sacrifice if my family could enjoy it too.

The Archdioceses must anticipate future declines for both schools if they are moving Annunciation to Nick's. If my early memories serve me correctly, St. Nick's is just part of a city block.Even the Church is pretty small and looks like it is built from row homes. Annunciation is BIG and BEAUTIFUL.”

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9. jernara said... on Sep 22, 2012 at 06:23PM

“awww miss everyone i know everyone on dat picture ms.wineta natelia joe”


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