Teacher retires after years of service to archdiocese

Re­tir­ing teach­er Joanne Ker­rigan speaks with her sev­enth grade class at St. Mar­tin of Tours, on her last day of a 53-year long ca­reer as a teach­er. She tells them that they are good kids. Mrs. Ker­rigan says she is re­tir­ing be­cause at this point in her life, it feels right, and she wants to step aside to let oth­er teach­ers who are start­ing out with their ca­reers and have young fam­il­ies to gain ex­per­i­ence, Wed­nes­day, June 13, 2012, Phil­adell­phia, Pa. (Maria Pouch­nikova)


Young Joanne Roy­al at­ten­ded Our Lady of the Ros­ary Ele­ment­ary School and West Cath­ol­ic High School in the mid-1940s through the late 1950s.

Be­fore gradu­at­ing high school, she re­mem­bers the Rev. John Joseph Gra­ham, as­sist­ant su­per­in­tend­ent of schools for the Arch­diocese of Phil­adelphia, vis­it­ing West Cath­ol­ic to en­cour­age the stu­dents to con­sider be­com­ing lay teach­ers.

Back then, Cath­ol­ic school fac­ulties largely con­sisted of nuns and priests.

“The par­ish was the cen­ter of your life when I grew up. I really got a good edu­ca­tion in gram­mar school and high school. I al­ways loved school and thought it would be nice to give back. I’m still here fifty-four years later,” Joanne (Roy­al) Ker­rigan said last week, more than five dec­ades after the vis­it by Gra­ham, who would go on to be­come a bish­op.

Ker­rigan her­self would go on to earn a de­gree in ele­ment­ary edu­ca­tion from Gwynedd-Mercy in 1970 and a mas­ter’s de­gree in guid­ance and coun­sel­ing from Vil­lan­ova in 1973.

The young teach­er learned on the job as well. At 18, she took a job teach­ing at St. Carthage in her nat­ive West Phil­adelphia. She stayed for eight years.

Next, she taught at Epi­phany of Our Lord in Ply­mouth Meet­ing, not too far from her home in Blue Bell. She was on staff there for 11 years.

A fam­ily friend, Monsignor Mi­chael Mar­ley, then pas­tor of St. Mar­tin of Tours in Ox­ford Circle, asked the vet­er­an teach­er to come to his school.

“He needed some­body to teach eighth grade, and I was a city girl,” she said. “I came in ’77 and I’m still here.”

Ker­rigan was speak­ing on June 13, a couple of days be­fore her re­tire­ment after 54 years in the classroom.

The de­cision to leave was made in April, and Ker­rigan, now 72, didn’t want any emo­tion­al sen­doffs. She’s not the only teach­er de­part­ing. In ad­di­tion, Sis­ter Steph­en Frances, the prin­cip­al, will move on to St. Veron­ica. And the Rev. Chris­toph­er Cooke will be­come pa­ro­chi­al ad­min­is­trat­or at St. Fran­cis of As­sisi in Nor­ris­town.

Ker­rigan, whose hus­band John died in 2005, didn’t cite a reas­on for re­tir­ing, though she noted all of the teach­ers who are los­ing their jobs be­cause of clos­ings, mer­gers and de­clin­ing en­roll­ment in Cath­ol­ic ele­ment­ary schools.

“I saw all those young­er teach­ers without a job. They have fam­il­ies. Here’s a job open­ing for some­body,” she said.

In all her years, stu­dents saw Miss Roy­al and Mrs. Ker­rigan in a dress suit with a pin, high heels and pearl ear­rings.

In her 35 years at St. Mar­tin’s, Ker­rigan taught eighth-graders for 20 years in Room 402, fifth-graders for 14 years in Room 105 and sev­enth-graders for one year in Room 305.

“I ab­so­lutely love St. Mar­tin of Tours,” she said. “The minute I walked in to ori­ent­a­tion, I knew I be­longed. You would nev­er stay any place for thirty-five years if you didn’t love it.”

Stu­dents al­ways seemed to warm up to her.

“She didn’t just teach the min­im­um. She taught us stuff we’ll re­mem­ber for the rest of our lives,” said sev­enth-grader Tay­lar En­low.

Ker­rigan did not re­tire as the longest-ten­ured teach­er at St. Mar­tin’s. That dis­tinc­tion be­longs to her good friend, Linda Ish­er­wood, who has taught there for 43 years.

In re­cent years, Ker­rigan has writ­ten less on the black­board and made more use of com­puters and smart boards.

“I’ve changed with the times,” she said. “But kids are kids. They don’t change that much.”

In her spare time, she’ll work in the garden, spruce up her house and spend a couple of weeks at the Jer­sey shore. She ac­cu­mu­lated plenty of ma­ter­i­als through the years.

“My base­ment is one big classroom,” she said.

Ker­rigan is leav­ing with good health and plenty of memor­ies.

“This was more than a job. I star­ted when I was eight­een. It’s been my whole life,” she said. “I did the job for fifty-four years. It was my job, I loved it, but it’s over and done with.”

Ker­rigan holds out the pos­sib­il­ity of a re­turn to the classroom.

“I can al­ways sub,” she said. ••


You can reach at twaring@bsmphilly.com.

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