Janet McHugh, who has taught at St. Cecilia Elementary School in Fox Chase for 20 years, said the staff was “blindsided” on Jan. 6 when an Archdiocese of Philadelphia blue ribbon commission recommended that the school partner with St. William.
St. William, a school in Lawndale with just 295 students, was long rumored to be among the schools recommended for closure.
But St. Cecilia, with 670 students, the third-highest enrollment in the Northeast, was expected to remain intact.
Instead, the commission recommended that the St. William students make the 2.5-mile trek up Rising Sun Avenue, then to Oxford Avenue before getting to St. Cecilia’s Rhawn Street location.
A 10-person panel, with five representatives from each parish, would then choose new school colors and a new name. Administrators, faculty and staff would have to reapply for their jobs.
“The teachers would welcome anyone into the school and love the children, but we want it to be called St. Cecilia,” McHugh said.
McHugh attended a rally in the parish parking lot on Saturday before the 5:30 p.m. Mass. Parents organized the event in anticipation of Monday afternoon’s appeal hearing.
Attending the hearing on behalf of St. Cecilia were the Rev. Charles E. Bonner, the pastor; principal Sister Jane Mary Carr, IHM; and vice principal Sister Patrizia O’Connor, IHM.
The appeals committee is made up of a select group of blue ribbon commission members and archdiocesan administrators.
St. William is not appealing, according to its pastor, the Rev. Joseph G. Watson.
In all, eight local elementary schools were affected by the announcement and have until Feb. 1 to appeal.
Students at Our Lady of Ransom, in Castor Gardens, will head next year to Resurrection of Our Lord, in Rhawnhurst. Our Lady of Ransom has already had its appeal hearing. Resurrection is not appealing, according to principal Joan Stulz.
St. Timothy School, in Lower Mayfair, will welcome students from Pope John Paul II in Bridesburg. Neither school is appealing.
Students from Our Lady of Consolation, in Tacony, will go to St. Matthew, in West Mayfair. Our Lady of Consolation is not expected to appeal. St. Matthew has already had its appeal hearing.
St. Martin of Tours, in Oxford Circle, will remain open as a so-called “mission” school, eligible for assistance from Catholic universities, religious orders, the archdiocese and Business Leaders Organized for Catholic Schools (BLOCS). It will not appeal.
The Rev. Charles J. Chaput, archbishop of Philadelphia, will make a final decision on all appeals by mid-February.
St. Cecilia Parish formed in 1911, and the school opened in 1925.
Kristie Donohue is a graduate of St. Cecilia and has a child in kindergarten. She also has three younger children she plans to send to the school.
Like veteran teacher McHugh, the blue ribbon commission’s recommendation surprised her.
“Nobody expected it. It was a big shock,” she said.
Jeff Landsmann has two children enrolled at the school. He rejects one of the rumored new names, Our Lady of Fox Chase.
“They should leave it St. Cecilia’s. What’s the big deal?” he said.
At the rally, supporters of the school wore shirts that read, “Save St. Cecilia’s School” on the front and, “The soul of education, the education of the soul” on the back.
They carried balloons and signed petitions and a poster at a table with a sign that read, “St. Cecilia Administration, Faculty & Staff, We Support You.”
Students carried signs that read, “Help Keep Our School Standing With One Name” and “Don’t Fire Our Teachers.”
“I don’t want our name to change,” said fifth-grader Bridgetta Lynch, adding that she wants to see her homeroom teacher, Miss Shannon Dale, stay at the school.
Fourth-grader Anthony Bombas held a sign that read, “Save Our Teachers, Our Principals, Our Uniforms, Our Colors. St. Cecilia School, Pray For Us.”
“It’s sad. Everybody is used to the way it is right now,” he said.
State Rep. Kevin Boyle (D-172nd dist.) attended the rally. Bonner, the pastor, also made a brief appearance.
According to www.faithinthefuture.com, a Web site established by the archdiocese after the commission released its report, St. Cecilia parish paid a $332,062 subsidy to the school in the 2009-10 academic year.
There are no full-time art or world language teachers on staff, and enrollment is well under the 1,000 capacity. Projected enrollment under the partnership would be 967.
However, parents handed out fact sheets from the Web site that show a parish surplus of $419,741. Baptisms of infants and children ages 1 to 6 are on the rise. And there is a waiting list for kindergarten.
Fourth-grader Sarah Frasco said the school has computer and science labs, an honors math course and a dedicated faculty.
“I really like our teachers,” she said.
Most students want to keep their green and gold colors and not change the school name, even to St. Cecilia/St. William Regional School.
“I don’t want there to be a different name, new teachers, new principals and new uniforms,” said fourth-grader Grace Comas.
Others expressed support for their teachers.
“I don’t want to see the name St. Cecilia go. Some people say it’s going to be called Our Lady of Fox Chase. And I don’t want to see my homeroom teacher, Miss (Mary) Totani, go after her first year,” said fifth-grader Joseph George.
Seventh-grader Dawn Sinclair wrote “SCS” on her forehead.
“I’ve been here since kindergarten, and I don’t want the name to change,” she said.
Her classmate, Catherine Michvech, added, “I want to be able to graduate with the name St. Cecilia.”
Eighth-grader Kelsie Brooks will graduate with the name St. Cecilia. She had a different take on the change.
“It gives us a chance to meet new people and expand our school. The whole merger would be opening windows,” she said.
Her classmate, Shane Coleman, has enjoyed his experience since spending a couple of years at Presentation BVM.
“It’s been really nice. I’ve been here six years. It’s family oriented, and the teachers make a difference. I don’t want to be the last graduating class,” he said. ••EndFragment