Life after legacy

North­east Cath­ol­ic High was the leg­acy. How’s life been for its ex­iles? It gets mixed grades.

Two years and two months in­to his ten­ure at North­east Cath­ol­ic High School for boys, Mi­chael Brad­ley learned that he would nev­er gradu­ate from his be­loved alma ma­ter.

The Arch­diocese of Phil­adelphia had de­cided to close the ven­er­able school on Tor­res­dale Av­en­ue between Frank­ford and Kens­ing­ton, along with an­oth­er area pa­ro­chi­al high school, Car­din­al Dougherty.

For Brad­ley, a Ju­ni­ata Park res­id­ent, an already dif­fi­cult time for his fam­ily got a lot worse.

“My mom had just had a stroke and I was called out of school,” Brad­ley said. “I heard about [the clos­ings] on the news. I ran down to the [protest] rally at school and the first thing I thought was, ‘They can’t do this. It’s not pos­sible.’ We spent three years there and it’s heart­break­ing we couldn’t spend a fourth.”

Brad­ley, like hun­dreds of his school­mates, landed on his feet. He trans­ferred to Fath­er Judge, a school that iron­ic­ally enough was foun­ded in 1954 to re­lieve over­crowding at North­east Cath­ol­ic, or “North” as it was com­monly known.

Oth­er North un­der­class­men op­ted in­stead for Arch­bish­op Ry­an, Ro­man Cath­ol­ic, oth­er pa­ro­chi­al schools or even pub­lic schools.

Many of their Dougherty coun­ter­parts, both boys and girls, moved on to Ry­an or Bish­op McDe­vitt in Wyn­cote, Mont­gomery County.

It was with mixed emo­tions that the former North and Dougherty stu­dents cul­min­ated their tu­mul­tu­ous times in high school with re­cent bac­ca­laur­eate and com­mence­ment ce­re­mon­ies.

“It’s a lot easi­er on the young­er [trans­fer stu­dents],” said Mi­chael Puchal­ski, a former North stu­dent from May­fair who fin­ished his seni­or year at Ry­an.

“For us, we were look­ing for­ward to gradu­at­ing from North. And there’s North alumni every­where.”

As a ju­ni­or in 2009-10, Puchal­ski was among a class of 125 boys. That school year, North had 149 sopho­mores and 120 fresh­men. In its hey­day of the 1950s and ’60s, the school hos­ted classes of five or six times that en­roll­ment.

Like they did at North, the Ob­lates of St. Fran­cis de Sales over­see op­er­a­tions at Judge with a large lay fac­ulty and staff.

John Rooney, an­oth­er re­cent Ry­an grad from Ox­ford Circle, feels that North’s clos­ing robbed him and his class­mates of the re­wards and status they earned through three pri­or years of hard work.

“You’d get to wear your car­digan for your seni­or year and you think you’re go­ing to gradu­ate from what was go­ing to be your alma ma­ter. To have that pulled out from un­der you was hard,” Rooney said.

At Ry­an, the former North and Dougherty stu­dents walked in­to a school with more than 1,500 boys and girls en­rolled.

“When I first came here to Ry­an, I was very nervous,” said Liliya Asadullina, a Bustleton res­id­ent whose ju­ni­or class at Dougherty had just 202 stu­dents.

Asadullina is blind.

“Nobody had ex­per­i­enced a blind stu­dent be­fore,” she said. “People made fun of me. But after I made a speech, they un­der­stood who I was, things got bet­ter and I made friends here.”

Oth­er stu­dents made the best of their dif­fi­cult cir­cum­stances, too.

Mark Men­kevich of Ox­ford Circle, and formerly of North, be­came a dio­ces­an schol­ar at Ry­an and at­ten­ded col­lege classes for half of each school day. Then when it came time for choos­ing a col­lege, the Ry­an fac­ulty and staff provided valu­able sup­port.

“They really helped me out with col­lege. I got in­to Penn,” Men­kevich said. “They told [col­leges] that I was num­ber one in my class at North.”

Men­kevich gradu­ated sixth in his seni­or class at Ry­an.

“My mom forced me [to at­tend Judge],” said May­fair’s James Rodrig­uez, formerly a North stu­dent. “She wanted me to fin­ish at a Cath­ol­ic school and wanted me to be safe. I didn’t want to come here, but I’ve changed my mind.”

Play­ing rugby helped Rodrig­uez es­tab­lish him­self in his new sur­round­ings.

“Judge and North kids don’t usu­ally do things to­geth­er. [The Judge kids] had already been play­ing here since they were fresh­men and it was hard to get in­to that,” Rodrig­uez said. “But they were real cool guys.”

Scott Math­ews of Kens­ing­ton and An­drew Mil­czarek of May­fair chose to trans­fer from North to Judge, which was their former school’s fiercest rival, be­cause Judge was will­ing to ac­cept their fin­an­cial aid pack­ages.

“I had a full schol­ar­ship to North and they wouldn’t ac­cept it any­where else,” said Mil­czarek, who was ranked fifth in his class at North and gradu­ated ninth from Judge.

Mil­czarek’s fath­er, grand­fath­er and great-grand­fath­er all gradu­ated from North. But his opin­ions of Judge and its people changed for the bet­ter with a new per­spect­ive. 

“Be­fore I was on the out­side look­ing in,” Mil­czarek said. “But when I got here, it was dif­fer­ent than I thought.”

Math­ews, who still has one more year to go at Judge, made per­haps the most sur­pris­ing trans­ition. The former North Cath­ol­ic Fal­con mas­cot, it took him only a few weeks be­fore he donned the sky-blue Judge Cru­sader cos­tume.

“I’m try­ing to get a full ride to col­lege [as a mas­cot], so I said, ‘Yeah, I’ll do it.’ But it was hard,” he said. “I didn’t know any of their chants com­ing in and it was hard to get the crowds go­ing. It took me about a month, maybe, to fig­ure out how to work the crowd.”

Des­pite their suc­cess at their new schools, the trans­fer stu­dents would trade it in a heart­beat if giv­en the chance.

“I would’ve loved to stay at North,” Mil­czarek said. “I don’t see how you close down eighty years of a leg­acy.”

“It was prob­ably one of the hard­est things I had to do per­son­ally,” Puchal­ski said. “You got really at­tached to the things you did, the tra­di­tions. If    eople ask where I gradu­ated from, I’m go­ing to    ay Ry­an, but there’s go­ing to be a big story be­hind it.” ••

Re­port­er Wil­li­am Kenny can be reached at 215-354-3031 or

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