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Local diocesan schools face closings

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The Gospels, according to Catholic tradition, speak about Day of Final Judgment or Day of Reckoning.

For an entire archdiocese, Friday, Jan. 6, served as a Day of Reckoning of sorts for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia school district.

Archbishop Charles Chaput and the Blue Ribbon Commission, created by former Archbishop Justin Rigali in December 2010, announced a list of Archdiocesan school closures. The list included 45 elementary schools and four high schools.

“The plan makes some hard, but necessary decisions,” Chaput said in a letter to the Archdiocese. “The Blue Ribbon Commission has provided a blueprint, not only to stabilize Catholic education in our Archdiocese, but to reinvigorate it.”

The four high schools announced for recommendation for closure at the end of the current school term are Monsignor Bonner/Archbishop Prendergast – a brother-sister school – in Drexel Hill, West Catholic High School in West Philadelphia, Conwell Egan Catholic High School in Fairless Hills, and St. Hubert Catholic High School for Girls in Northeast Philadelphia.

The official announcement was made at a 4 p.m. press conference by Archbishop Chaput and the Blue Ribbon Commission’s Board of Directors, instrumental in the decision-making process. The students of all Catholic high schools learned their fate during the noon hour.

For the four closing high schools, emotions simply couldn’t be contained. Students, teachers and parents alike sobbed following the “heartbreaking” announcement.

The Commission’s chairman, John J. Quinlan, a graduate of West Catholic High School, opened the Blue Ribbon Commission report with the following: “Catholic schools make leaders.” Some students showed that the process of forming that leadership forms quicker than you think.

Shortly after the official announcement was made, St. Hubert students crowded the front steps of their school in a protest-like pep rally. That same student body rallied in front of the school on Monday, Jan. 9, before the first school day following the announcement.

“We felt like after a few hours we got all the sobbing out,” Kate Brighter, a junior at St. Hubert’s, said. “We just wanted to try to save the school and do whatever we could.”

Then, on Friday, Jan. 13, St. Hubert’s Alumni and Advisory Board officially announced a plan to appeal the recommendation for closure before the entire student body of 675 young women at another rally, the third of its kind in a week. Kathryn Lovell, a member of the Advisory Board and 1992 graduate, made the announcement to appeal, stating they needed to raise $1.2 million to even get a hearing.

“We have a truly daunting task facing us,” Lovell said. “But we also know the strength, courage and resiliency of the Bambie Spirit.”

The Archdiocese denied this report, but the Alumni Board still planned to raise enough money to erase a $624,590 deficit the school was facing.

The efforts of the St. Hubert Bambies are being recognized heavily, as images adorned with gold and brown posters with pleas to save the school were seen throughout the entire Delaware Valley and as far across the country as California.

“I’ve never seen a school with the school spirit that St. Hubert’s has,” John Durison, a senior at nearby Father Judge High School, said. “At a lot of other schools students probably wouldn’t care that much.”

At Monsignor Bonner and Archbishop Prendergast High Schools, similar acts took place, and most recently, on Thursday, Jan. 19, school president, Reverend James Olson, announced their appeal to the Archdiocese’s decision.

The campus of Monsignor Bonner and Archbishop Prendergast, which stretches over 33 acres, has even offered for students from West Catholic, another impending closure, to assist in the efforts of their schools.

These high schools are slated to close less than two years after the Archdiocese of Philadelphia announced and finalized the closing of Northeast Catholic High School and Cardinal Dougherty High School in 2010. These school closures would reduce the number of Catholic high schools in the archdiocese from 17 to 13.

Monsignor Bonner and Archbishop Prendergast were both in danger of closing after the 2010 school year as well, but after a strong appeal and funding process, remained open.

The appeals process is scheduled to take place over the course of the next month, concluding with the final list of school closures being published on Feb. 15. St. Hubert Catholic High School for Girls has their appeal hearing scheduled for Wednesday, Jan. 25. Monsignor Bonner and Archbishop Prendergast High Schools have their appeal hearing set for Monday, Jan. 23. Both schools won’t officially learn if their efforts were successful or not until Feb. 15.

St. Hubert’s students agree that their efforts – for whatever they’re worth – are a life-changing experience, regardless of the result. Still, they have “high apple pie in the sky hopes” that the school they call home remains open.

“It’s our second home and we’re all sisters,” Giana-Lynn Iatarola, a senior at St. Hubert’s, said. “We all belong there and so do many generations after us.”

The St. Hubert’s mascot, the Bambie, joins the rally of students in front of the school on Monday, Jan. 9.

Students rally on the front steps of St. Hubert Catholic High School for Girls on the morning of Jan. 9.

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