Father Judge High School did not have to go on an extensive search for a new principal.
Last month, as the school year ended, the Archdiocese of Philadelphia appointed Judge principal Kathleen Herpich to the same position at Conwell-Egan, which is located in Fairless Hills.
The Oblates of St. Francis de Sales administer Father Judge, and the order had an obvious candidate.
The Rev. James E. Dalton, a 1962 Judge graduate, had spent a decade as principal at North Catholic and was just finishing up a seven-year stint as president of Salesianum School in Wilmington, Del.
The Rev. James J. Greenfield, provincial of the Oblates of St. Francis de Sales, recommended Dalton to Cardinal Justin Rigali, archbishop of Philadelphia.
Dalton didn’t have to submit the traditional cover letter and resume with references or even sit down for an interview.
“I was a known quantity,” he said of his long service.
Rigali approved the recommendation on July 6, and Dalton started his new job immediately.
“I just jumped at the opportunity,” he said. “It’s like coming back home.”
Dalton, who turned 67 last month, is a native of Port Richmond. He attended Nativity BVM Grammar School through sixth grade before his family moved to Bensalem.
After two years at St. Charles Borromeo School, he enrolled at Judge. It was quite an adjustment for the boys from St. Charles, which at the time was in a country setting.
On their way to and from school, the suburban kids would take the Philadelphia Transportation Co. Route 66 bus in the city before walking or hitchhiking the rest of the way.
“That was an acceptable thing back then,” Dalton said of hitching a ride. “You can’t do that these days.”
Academically, Dalton ranked 42nd in a graduating class of 555 and enjoyed meeting kids from other parishes. In his last year, Judge had about 3,300 students, a figure that declined a few years later with the opening of Archbishop Ryan.
Dalton went on to earn a degree in mathematics from Allentown College (now De Sales University). He was ordained a priest in 1972.
Over the years, he enrolled in numerous continuing education courses and received master’s degrees in theology, math and instructional technology.
In the 1970s, he was assistant principal and math department chairman at Salesianum.
THE MAN FROM NORTH
From 1982-92, he was principal at North Catholic, Judge’s longtime sports rival. Changing neighborhood demographics caused a steep decline in North’s enrollment, and the school closed in June 2010.
“I’m sorry to see that age pass us by,” he said. “The Oblates have been very successful in educating young men in the city.”
Dalton returned to Salesianum in 1998, serving as dean of studies and director of technology before assuming the presidency in 2004.
The Rev. Joseph Campellone, president of Father Judge, is excited about the new hire. Soon after learning of Herpich’s departure, he found out that Dalton was available.
“It was like the Phillies getting Roy Halladay,” he said. “I’m still pinching myself.”
Others in the educational community were envious, according to Campellone.
“They asked, ‘How did you get Dalton?’ ”
Campellone said chairman Bill St. Clair and the rest of the board of advisers are happy with the choice. He described Dalton as a workaholic who has the trust, humility, spirituality and forward thinking to be a successful principal.
The school president was particularly impressed that, under Dalton, Salesianum landed on the Acton Institute’s Catholic High School Honor Roll as one of the top 50 secondary schools in the country.
Campellone would like to see Father Judge on the list.
“No pressure, Jim,” he joked.
The Archdiocese of Philadelphia’s Office of Catholic Education has a Blue Ribbon Commission looking into the future of Catholic schools, with a report due as early as September.
JUDGE STAYS STRONG
Father Judge is a healthy school, with about 1,140 students expected next year, and is in no danger of closing. It’s the largest all-boys Catholic school in Pennsylvania, and the school president thanks the alumni and his fund-raising team for providing scholarship money.
Campellone also shot down a persistent rumor.
“We’re not going private,” he said. “We just want the amenities of a private school.”
Dalton will inherit a school with plenty of amenities, including the William F. Mitchell Activity Center.
In addition, Judge has formed a partnership with the city that will lead to an overhaul of Ramp Playground. The school’s soccer, lacrosse, rugby and JV and freshman football teams will play games on the new turf, and the varsity football team will practice there.
The new principal likes the technology at the school, pointing specifically to new interactive white smart boards and a science and math wing that includes a partnership with Drexel University.
The Father Brisson Center for Academic Excellence is one of the school’s jewels. It helps educate students who need a little help catching up to their classmates.
“Judge is an excellent school, but it has to be excellent for all,” Dalton said.
Dalton, whose graduating class will celebrate 50 years in 2012, hasn’t been back to Judge in an official capacity since he was a student, other than to attend alumni meetings as a board member.
CHANGES BIG AND SMALL
Plenty has changed. The track has been completed, and chalkboards are largely a thing of the past. There were only two lay teachers in his day. Today, there are only about a half-dozen Oblates on the faculty.
There will be some familiar faces in the hallways and classrooms, as several former North Catholic teachers moved to Judge after last year’s school closing.
Dalton is looking forward to meeting with teachers, department chairs and administrators and attending the Judge/St. Hubert Rock at the Dock reunion on Aug. 13 at La Costa in Sea Isle City, N.J.
A former Philadelphia Catholic League board of governors chairman during his latter years at North Catholic, he’ll cheer on the Judge sports teams. Among the prominent non-sports clubs are the robotics program and the Model U.N. team.
“That’s an important part of being a school principal,” he said of mingling with alumni and encouraging extracurricular activities. “It’s not just morning and afternoon education.”
In looking at the circumstances that led to his return to Judge, Dalton quotes St. Francis de Sales, who said, “Let’s not waste time in willing and wishing for things, but let God arrange them.”
Dalton developed the Salesian spirit as a student at Judge and Allentown, and it remained at North Catholic, Salesianum and all of his professional stops.
“It’s good to be home,” he said. “I get a chance to continue that spirit.” ••
Reporter Tom Waring can be reached at 215-354-3034 or firstname.lastname@example.org