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. ••EndFragment