St. Hubert High School is staying open, and the girls couldn’t be happier.
“Nothing will ever beat this feeling,” said sophomore Ashley Walsh. “I feel so relieved. It feels like the Phillies just won the World Series. Now, we’re all not going to get separated. It would have been hard to graduate without my friends.”
When the Archdiocese of Philadelphia blue ribbon commission recommended on Jan. 6 that St. Hubert High School close because of declining enrollment and a budget deficit, there were tears and anger. It seemed like St. Hubert was in its 71st and final year.
In the six weeks that followed, there was a massive fund-raising effort. The school appealed the recommendation and braced for the expected Feb. 17 do-or-die announcement.
However, the archdiocese delayed the announcement for a week, explaining that Archbishop Charles J. Chaput needed more time after some potential donors stepped forward to save St. Hubert, West Catholic, Conwell-Egan and Monsignor Bonner/Archbishop Prendergast.
Chaput did grant 18 of 24 appeals at the elementary school level, giving even more hope to the high schools. And the $1.3 million-plus raised by St. Hubert didn’t hurt.
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The St. Hubert students gathered in the auditorium last Friday to watch a 3 p.m. news conference at which Chaput would make his final decision.
By then, the girls were pretty sure the school would be staying open. They saw the headline, “Four Catholic High Schools to Stay Open,” on the Fox 29 Web site that was on the overhead screen, and an anchorwoman announced the good news on the air before Chaput spoke.
Still, the girls sung the school song and held hands as the St. Hubert president, Sister Mary E. Smith, led everyone in the Hail Mary and a final plea of, “St. Hubert, pray for us.”
The Bambie mascot did the prayerful Tim Tebow pose before Chaput stepped to the microphone.
The archbishop didn’t beat around the bush, explaining that Catholic schools offer a great education but face financial challenges. As soon as he mentioned all four schools were staying open — including West Catholic, which didn’t even bother to appeal — there was pandemonium in the auditorium.
“It’s incredible,” said junior Julianne Johnson. “We were on that original list. Our future was in limbo. But we got what we worked for. Now I get to wear my brown and gold at graduation.”
Everybody poured out of the auditorium onto the front steps and sidewalk of the school. State Rep. Tony Payton was among the celebrants. Motorists riding by honked their horns in support. Some parents enjoyed a champagne celebration across the street in Russo Park.
ldquo;We’re staying Cha-put,” exclaimed sophomore Morgan Caltabiano, using a play on the archbishop’s surname.
Nobody listened to the rest of the news conference to learn exactly why the schools were saved because, at that point, nobody cared.
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The archdiocese has created the Faith in the Future Foundation to immediately assist all of its 17 high schools and ultimately its elementary schools. The chairman will be former CIGNA chairman Edward Hanway, who served on the blue ribbon commission.
The foundation has secured $12 million in cash and pledges, with a goal of $15 million by May 1, $30 million by June 2013 and a $70 million endowment for all schools by June 2017.
“We’d just like to thank the students, the alums and all those who made this possible. God bless you,” said Sister Mary Smith.
Principal Regina Craig credited the students with helping to sway the decision.
“The girls learned a valuable lesson. They learned the power of their voice,” she said.
The girls were joined by the powerful voices of the alumnae association, advisory board and community members who bought merchandise, hoagies, pound cakes and Philadelphia Soul tickets and attended a bingo fund-raiser and benefits and celebrity bartending events at local taverns.
“We believe in miracles. Thank God,” said Kathryn Ott Lovell, a 1992 St. Hubert graduate and a member of the advisory board.
The faculty and staff were overjoyed to know that they’d be remaining at the school at Torresdale and Cottman avenues.
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Athletic director Mike Prendergast was happy that the school with the fourth-highest number of girls in the archdiocese would stay open.
“Somebody listened,” he said.
Theology teacher Ed Cox is glad the underclassmen will not have to find other schools.
“I’m happy for all the kids,” he said.
The seniors were as happy as the underclassmen.
“Mr. Cox, we did it,” said senior Gina Montgomery.
Montgomery believes the school is an anchor of the neighborhood.
“I’m beyond-words excited,” she said. “I’m excited that the juniors will get to graduate. It’s an amazing school.”
Sophomore Alanna Rosado bought a hot-off-the-presses T-shirt that read, “St. Hubert’s, We Win. The tradition continues … Forever!!!”
“I’m ecstatic,” she said. “On Jan. 6, I was heartbroken, but I knew from the start that we wouldn’t go down without a fight.”
• • •
Maryanne Rickus, St. Hubert Class of 1981, is glad that, in two years, she’ll get to walk with her daughter, Jenn, down the aisle at the baccalaureate Mass. She had the honor of doing the same with her oldest daughter Jaclyn, Class of 2006.
Rickus thanked Northeast neighborhoods for fighting for the school.
“The $1.3 million that was raised came from middle-class, working families,” she said.
Jenn Rickus did not look at any other high schools during the seven weeks between the two major announcements.
“I didn’t shadow. I didn’t want to go anywhere else,” she said. “I’m thrilled. All the stress is over.”
Sophomore Elizabeth Jones would have gone to Archbishop Ryan had her school closed, but now she’ll be able to spend her final two years at St. Hubert. She’s looking forward to remaining on the Bambies’ soccer and basketball teams. Longtime soccer coach Mickey McGroarty joined the celebration.
“Finally, I woke up from the nightmare,” said a relieved Jones.
Sophomore Hannah Weyler said word started to spread during eighth period that St. Hubert would live.
“I didn’t think we had a chance,” she said of the original announcement. “I’m thankful for the people who helped us through it.”
For St. Hubert to have a long and prosperous future, it will be up to girls such as Brenna Stocklin. The St. Matthew eighth-grader walked into St. Hubert on Friday afternoon to obtain an application form for the 2012-13 academic year.
Brenna’s sister Caitlyn is a St. Hubert sophomore. Her mom, Beth, is a 1986 graduate. Numerous other relatives are current students and alums.
“It’s a home for everyone,” she said. “It will be great to experience such a great school.” ••EndFragment