As South Philadelphia's two big Catholic high schools prepare to merge, there's no shortage of regret- and blame- to go around.
Last summer committees composed of faculty and alumni from both Neumann and Goretti formed to hammer out plans for the new school. The most important issue was location.
McBride was on the facility committee, which was evenly divided between Neumann and Goretti loyalists.
"We felt Neumann was an obvious choice," says McBride, pointing to the school's building and campus, which takes up two city blocks and offers room for expansion. "We had the bigger, better facility, sports fields and ample parking."
"It makes absolutely no sense to pick a restricted site like Goretti as opposed to taking the opportunity to create a Catholic academy at Neumann, says Jim Eastwood of the Millay Club and president of a major development firm. Eastwood also sat on the facility committee for the merger.
"This was a short-sighted decision by the archdiocese," he says, "a great opportunity lost for the boys and girls of South Philadelphia."
Goretti High loyalists argued that their neighborhood was safer, and that the majority of the students in both schools were from the east side of Broad, including 85 percent of Neumann's student body.
Neumann countered that they could offer busing, and they proffered police reports that showed the crime stats for both schools' immediate neighborhoods were nearly identical.
In the end, the committee was deadlocked. Representatives of the Office of Catholic Education (OCE) cast the deciding votes in Goretti's favor. (As a deciding factor, the OCE later cited a survey sent to Goretti parents in which 232 respondents said they'd prefer to keep their children at Goretti.)
"There were many factors that weighed pro and con for each school," says archdiocese spokesperson Catherine Rossi.
Ultimately, one site had to be chosen over another.
"They had their minds made up from the beginning," says Bob Capone, vice-president of the Millay Club. "And no one was going to tell them different. This was a 10-year plan to get us closed. The archdiocese has not done one thing to help our school."
Neumann alumni responded to the decision by offering to help pay for the demolition of Goretti so the land could be more easily sold to a developer.
They met with city schools CEO Paul Vallas, and explored a possible partnership that would've kept Neumann open and maintained it as a Catholic-based institution.
The archdiocese wouldn't have it.
Vallas says he's still interested in the Neumann site and has discussed it with the OCE. "If we were able to lease it," he says, "we would open a top-performing magnet school, similar to Masterman or Central. South Philadelphia needs additional high school options."
(Vallas denies a recent rumor that he would use the site to relocate nearby Audenried High School.)
The archdiocese says it's gathering input from the community regarding the future use of the Neumann site.
The Neumann alumni were also able to get the support of City Council president Anna Verna and state Sen. Vince Fumo, whose district includes both the Neumann and Goretti sites.
Fumo, a former biology and current-events teacher at Neumann, offered to raise $500,000 to be used for improvements to the Neumann building if the archdiocese would change its mind.
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