Fishtown’s St. Laurentius Church filled with residents for a weeknight service last Thursday.
And everyone wore a smile.
Earlier that day, parishioners learned the outcome of an appeal that administrators of the St. Laurentius Elementary School had filed with the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.
The 120-year-old school had been spared closure in June.
ldquo;I always felt comfortable with our facts,” said an elated AJ Thomson, a lawyer and father of a first-grader at the school. “But I wasn’t sure that this would be something the archdiocese would give us … but we have a vibrant neighborhood and we are going to grow.”
In January, in an effort to slash costs and trim schools with low enrollment, the archdiocese announced plans to shutter or merge five high schools and 45 elementary schools — including St. Laurentius — in its five-county region.
St. Laurentius was among schools that filed formal appeals with the archdiocese, hopeful of reversing those decisions.
Last week, the archdiocese approved appeals for 18 of the 24 elementary schools that submitted them. Decisions on appeals for high schools have been postponed until later this week, according to an archdiocesan announcement last week.
ldquo;I recognize how anxious all of those affected by this decision are to hear the final outcome,” said a statement from Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput. “I want to see this resolved too, but this decision is too important to be made without considering absolutely every fact and all serious, substantive proposals even if they don’t fit the time frame originally set. We owe it to our teachers, administrators, students and school families.”
As St. Laurentius Church filled with parishioners last Thursday, children — wearing sweaters with “St. Laurentius Lions” on the front — celebrated the day with cheers.
In fact, Chuck Valentine, a resident who volunteered his time to help put together the appeal, was applauded for his efforts.
ldquo;This was a big process, I’m glad we got through it,” said Valentine.
During remarks before the crowd, Valentine applauded the archdiocese’s decision to hear appeals and, in turn, to permit St. Laurentius to continue providing neighborhood youngsters with a Catholic education.
ldquo;We are delighted with the decision,” said Sister Rita Aponik, principal of St. Laurentius. “Everybody felt a great weight rolled off of our backs. We are happy to be here tonight.”
Rich Levins, a member of the board of the Penn Treaty Special Services District, a local group funded by SugarHouse Casino to provide monetary support for community efforts, said that St. Laurentius School will soon receive a $25,000 grant for new windows throughout the building.
“I give credit to the archdiocese for looking at the school again,” Levins said of the appeals process.
Elaine McKnight, an eighth-grade teacher at the school, was confident about the school’s future.
ldquo;We think it’s important for parents to be able to send their kids to a neighborhood school,” she said. “Every success makes us work for more … we want the kids in this community to succeed.”
St Laurentius wasn’t the only parish celebrating last week. Port Richmond’s St. George School and its principal, Dan Markowski, also learned on Thursday that the school had won its appeal.
ldquo;We were completely confident in the information we presented,” he said. “It feels like a weight has been lifted off our shoulders.”
Markowski described the appeal process as a group effort. When the school learned it was on the list for closure, Markowski said, “it lit a fire under a lot of people.”
ldquo;It wasn’t just us, this was a group effort,” he said. “We are just thankful that the archdiocese saw our reasons to stay open.” ••
Managing editor Hayden Mitman can be reached at 215-354-3124 or firstname.lastname@example.org