Doing good deeds

Vo­lun­teers with the Phil­adelphia Cath­ol­ic League Alumni Corps re­fur­bished a former con­vent at the St. Thomas Aqui­nas Par­ish in South Phil­adelphia. PHO­TOS BY CHRIS MONT­GOMERY

— The Phil­adelphia Cath­ol­ic League Alumni Corps is prov­ing to be a god­send, thanks to mem­bers who are on a mis­sion of com­munity ser­vice.


Gav­in Keir­ans was an act­ive stu­dent at Penn State Uni­versity, in­clud­ing serving two terms as pres­id­ent of the Uni­versity Park Un­der­gradu­ate As­so­ci­ation.

In his two win­ning elec­tions and his oth­er ex­tra­cur­ricular activ­it­ies, Keir­ans met plenty of young people who gradu­ated from Phil­adelphia-area Cath­ol­ic high schools.

A Somer­ton nat­ive and 2006 gradu­ate of St. Joseph’s Prep, he wanted to mo­bil­ize all those con­tacts to come to­geth­er for a series of ser­vice lead­er­ship op­por­tun­it­ies.

A year ago, he began to se­cure com­mit­ments.

“Every­body has star­ted their jobs, but we cre­ated a base to build off of people who want to get in­volved,” he said.

Keir­ans, a 2010 Penn State gradu­ate who works as a man­age­ment con­sult­ant, is the founder and pres­id­ent of the non-profit Phil­adelphia Cath­ol­ic League Alumni Corps. The or­gan­iz­a­tion is not dir­ectly af­fil­i­ated with the Arch­diocese of Phil­adelphia.

After an ini­tial meet­ing last Novem­ber, board mem­bers began eye­ing a pro­ject once they had enough people in place.

Tom Shakely, the group’s vice pres­id­ent and a 2005 gradu­ate of Arch­bish­op Wood, served in stu­dent gov­ern­ment while at Penn State. Today, he works as a com­mu­nic­a­tions con­sult­ant for Cath­ol­ic churches.

Shakely learned from Monsignor Hugh Shields, pas­tor at St. Thomas Aqui­nas Par­ish at 18th and Mor­ris streets in South Phil­adelphia, of a largely un­used, three-floor former con­vent and day-care cen­ter.

“It was a nat­ur­al fit,” Keir­ans said.

So, on Feb. 25, 80 young pro­fes­sion­als traveled to the par­ish to paint, pull wall­pa­per and gen­er­ally give the old con­vent a com­plete makeover.

St. Thomas Aqui­nas, like most par­ishes in the arch­diocese, needs a fin­an­cial boost. The school was to ab­sorb stu­dents from St. Gab­ri­el in Grays Ferry, but that school won an ap­peal of a blue rib­bon com­mis­sion’s re­com­mend­a­tion that it close.

The former con­vent can now be used for min­istry, as a com­munity cen­ter or as the home of a busi­ness that would pay rent. It’s a wel­come site in a di­verse neigh­bor­hood that in­cludes Latino, In­done­sian and Vi­et­namese pop­u­la­tions of the par­ish.

“It was a pretty awe­some ex­per­i­ence,” Keir­ans said. “Every­body gave up a Sat­urday. We’re happy with the first event and ex­cited about what could be. We have a huge pop­u­la­tion will­ing to help again in the fu­ture.”

The group con­sists of more than 100 people, in­clud­ing 30 who’ve joined since the Feb­ru­ary event.

About a quarter of the mem­ber­ship are alums of Arch­bish­op Ry­an, Fath­er Judge, St. Hubert, Naz­areth Academy and North Cath­ol­ic.

The po­ten­tial is great, mem­bers be­lieve. There’s a large Cath­ol­ic pop­u­la­tion in the Phil­adelphia area, which the group in­cludes the city, sub­urbs, South and Cent­ral New Jer­sey and Delaware.

Al­most all gradu­ates of Cath­ol­ic high schools move on to col­lege, and many re­main loy­al to their alma ma­ters. There’s also a siz­able num­ber of Cath­ol­ics at­tend­ing pub­lic high schools.

“We want to get out in the com­munity and make a dif­fer­ence,” said Mike Wal­lace, the group’s sec­ret­ary.

Wal­lace, a small-busi­ness con­sult­ant and Bustleton nat­ive, at­ten­ded Prep with Keir­ans and was a mem­ber of stu­dent gov­ern­ment at Penn State.

“So many people were eager to get in­volved at Penn State, and it makes sense to get in­volved back home,” he said. “We won’t turn any­one away.”

Keir­ans said word of mouth has made the group grow. The alumni corps will not be a “one and done” or­gan­iz­a­tion.

“Our goal is to have four events a year. Our long-term goal is to have re­gion­al chapters,” Keir­ans said. “If you have an in­terest in ser­vice, you can be a part of it. We’ll take any­body.”

The group plans to set up chapters con­sist­ing of alums from arch­diocese high schools in the city and sub­urbs, along with chapters for alums of private Cath­ol­ic boys and girls high schools.

This year, the group wants to com­plete three more pro­jects. The next is tent­at­ively set for mid-May, though a spe­cif­ic pro­ject has not been fi­nal­ized.

Next year, mem­bers would like to have events at least every oth­er month. In year three, they plan monthly events.

Mem­bers are proud and en­er­gized that a bunch of 20-somethings are mak­ing a dif­fer­ence.

“Every pro­ject we do shows apathy is a myth,” Shakely said.

“People we know are ab­so­lutely will­ing to help. It’s all about mo­bil­iz­ing them around good causes,” Wal­lace said.

The Phil­adelphia Cath­ol­ic League Alumni Corps already is 100-plus strong, and mem­bers are look­ing for­ward to grow­ing their ranks and per­form­ing more good deeds.

“We’re at the point where we have something that has the po­ten­tial to be a game-chan­ging move­ment for the city,” Shakely said. ••

For more in­form­a­tion, vis­it phil­lycath­ol­ or check out the Phil­adelphia Cath­ol­ic League Alumni Corps page on Face­book.

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