Saying a tearful farewell to 3 Catholic schools

Three loc­al schools - St. Wil­li­am, Our Lady of Ran­dom and Our Lady of Con­sol­a­tion - closed for good last week.

Fifth grade teach­er Kathy Mc­Donough hugs a former stu­dent on the day that St. Wil­li­am School closes per­men­antly due to low en­roll­ment rates, Fri­day, June 15, 2012, Phil­adelphia, Pa. (Maria Pouch­nikova)

The hun­dreds of stu­dents and dozens of staff mem­bers at St. Wil­li­am, Our Lady of Ransom and Our Lady of Con­sol­a­tion ele­ment­ary schools left their build­ings for the fi­nal time on Thursday and Fri­day, as the Arch­diocese of Phil­adelphia closed them for good be­cause of low en­roll­ment.

But what about the text­books, desks, boards, tables, chairs, draw­ers, fil­ing cab­in­ets, book­shelves, crates, carts, cre­den­zas, over­head pro­ject­ors, classrooms ma­ter­i­als and med­ic­al and aca­dem­ic re­cords?

“The equip­ment fol­lows the stu­dents. That’s the law of the land,” said Grace McGuirl, the re­tir­ing prin­cip­al of Our Lady of Ransom.

The school clos­ings im­pacted three neigh­bor­hoods.

People driv­ing on Roosevelt Boulevard around Knorr Street in Castor Gar­dens will see an empty Our Lady of Ransom.

Mo­tor­ists on Rising Sun Av­en­ue near Rob­bins Street in Lawndale will find a va­cant St. Wil­li­am.

Drivers head­ing to I-95 on Prin­ceton Av­en­ue in Ta­cony have seen the last Our Lady of Con­sol­a­tion child walk down the steps, though the flash­ing yel­low 15 mph school speed lim­it sign con­tin­ued to blink Fri­day af­ter­noon.

Most of the Our Lady of Ransom stu­dents will head to Re­sur­rec­tion Re­gion­al Cath­ol­ic School in Rhawn­hurst. The ma­jor­ity of St. Wil­li­am stu­dents will travel to St. Cecil­ia in Fox Chase, though a few dozen will en­roll at Present­a­tion BVM in Chel­ten­ham. Our Lady of Con­sol­a­tion stu­dents were dir­ec­ted to go to St. Mat­thew in West May­fair.

McGuirl, who will sit on the Re­sur­rec­tion ad­vis­ory board, will re­main at Our Lady of Ransom, along with the school sec­ret­ary, un­til June 29 to de­term­ine what goes and what stays.

The teach­ers and stu­dents have already done most of the pack­ing up and tak­ing down of dec­or­a­tions.

“We do these things at the end of the school year any­way,” said McGuirl, who was prin­cip­al of Frank­ford’s Ma­ter Dol­orosa when it closed in 2003.

Our Lady of Ransom was see­ing a slight in­crease in its en­roll­ment and was mak­ing some sig­ni­fic­ant in­vest­ments in the school. It ap­pealed the de­cision of a blue rib­bon com­mis­sion to a com­mit­tee.

The ap­peal was denied, but the par­ish and school ex­per­i­enced some clos­ure when Arch­bish­op Charles Chaput sent a let­ter, ex­plain­ing that the arch­diocese was in­ter­ested in long-range sus­tain­ab­il­ity.

Our Lady of Ransom is ex­pec­ted to lease its school for sev­er­al months to New Found­a­tions Charter High School, which is renov­at­ing its fu­ture home near Rhawn Street and Tor­res­dale Av­en­ue in Holmes­burg. New Found­a­tions has already de­livered its text­books for stor­age to its new home.

The Our Lady of Ransom school build­ing will also be used on Sundays for its Par­ish Re­li­gious Edu­ca­tion Pro­gram (PREP), formerly known as Con­fra­tern­ity of Chris­ti­an Doc­trine (CCD).

McGuirl thanked the stu­dents, staff and Home and School As­so­ci­ation for con­trib­ut­ing to the Our Lady of Ransom style and pride and cred­ited the fac­ulty with plan­ning a clos­ing Mass and awards ce­re­mony that was a cel­eb­ra­tion of 56 years and fea­tured an ap­pear­ance by a former pas­tor, the Rev. Bill McGeown.

The prin­cip­al said there’s a cer­tain pos­it­ive spir­it to the forth­com­ing mer­ger.

“It’s the spir­it of Our Lady of Ransom her­self,” she said.

Over at St. Wil­li­am, which opened in 1924, the teach­ers had five months to pack up, as the par­ish did not ap­peal.

“Little by little, I was tak­ing things away, but the bulk of it was the last couple of weeks,” said fifth-grade teach­er Kathy Mc­Donough. “I have twenty years worth of sup­plies. We cleaned out desks and closets the last couple of weeks in earn­est.”

Sev­en lay fac­ulty mem­bers will con­tin­ue to teach — five at St. Cecil­ia, one at Ply­mouth Meet­ing Friends and one at Good Shep­herd Re­gion­al in Collings­wood, N.J.

Mov­ing day to St. Cecil­ia was Sat­urday.

Chairs, desks and oth­er ma­ter­i­als were as­sembled in hall­ways and marked with dir­ec­tions such as, “Mrs. Moser new grade 2” and “Mrs. Brown new grade 5.”

“The tech­no­logy and a lot of desks, chairs and fur­niture are fol­low­ing the stu­dents to St. Cecil­ia,” said prin­cip­al Sis­ter Cath­er­ine Clarke.

Mc­Donough, who will not teach next year, wrote, “Free to Good Home or Trash” on some of the stuff she didn’t need.

Oth­er desks and chairs re­mained piled on top of each oth­er in classrooms for fu­ture use, either for St. Wil­li­am PREP or a new school. The Rev. Joe Wat­son, the pas­tor, said Ta­cony Academy Charter School has in­quired about leas­ing the school build­ings.

Sis­ter Cath­er­ine, who still main­tains that the par­ish should have asked to join the grow­ing num­ber of mis­sion schools, will be­come as­sist­ant to the prin­cip­al at St. Rose of Lima in West Phil­adelphia. Vice prin­cip­al Sis­ter Jane Mc­Fad­den will also be head­ing to West Philly, in the same ca­pa­city at St. Fran­cis de Sales.

Sis­ter Cath­er­ine and school sec­ret­ary Janet Walsh will stay around un­til the end of the month to take care of odds and ends, in­clud­ing the prin­cip­al’s of­fice.

“I have stuff spread all over the place,” Sis­ter Cath­er­ine said. “Next week and the week after, everything will get straightened up.” ••

Re­port­er Tom War­ing can be reached at 215-354-3034 or twar­

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