St. Cecilia Elementary rallies to save school

(left) Meghan McHugh watches daugh­ter Piper McHugh, 2, hold a sign at a protest against mer­ging St. Cecil­ia with St. Wil­li­am school, Sat­urday, Janu­ary 21, 2012, Phi­aldelphia, Pa. Meghan says that Piper is a St. Cecil­ia pro­spect stu­dent. (Maria Pouch­nikova)


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 to­in­the­fu­, 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. ••


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