Marriage of Convenience

As South Philadelphia's two big Catholic high schools prepare to merge, there's no shortage of regret- and blame- to go around.

By Mike Newall
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 5 | Posted Jun. 2, 2004

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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.

No dice.

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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Comments 1 - 5 of 5
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1. Frank Ferraro said... on Feb 20, 2013 at 08:56PM

“I will never forget Fr. Charles Urban at Southeast and Neumann. He was my greatest scientific infulence. Also, Fr. Feider I Master German enough to study at Heildelberg when I was in Germany. Most of Charlie Urban influenced my Career. Princeton Plasma Physics Labs. NASA near Earth Satellites, Consultant to the US Navy on the Aegis System. I am now retired WOW!! What a career. Southeast and Neumann the greatest Eduacation.”

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2. Frank Ferraro said... on Feb 20, 2013 at 09:03PM


OH! sorry I forgot to add Class of "56" Occupation Electronic Engineer.

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3. Duane E. Tressler, (Baltimore, Md.), said... on Feb 6, 2014 at 02:25AM

“A similar tragic situation ninety miles to the southwest in "The Monumental City" of Baltimore where Cardinal Gibbons High School in the southwestern part of the city was closed in a great controversy, similar to South Philadelphia except there was no merger with anyone. Gibbons was a more recent school, founded 1966 on the site of the old St. Mary's Industrial School, founded in the 1860's where the famous Babe Ruth attendedand lived as a child in the early 1900's and learned his game on a back field with Brother Mathias being his mentor. The field is still there with a suitable plaque about his first home run, although the modernistic Gothic stone buildings of Gibbons were smaller that replaced the old brick Victorian/French Second Empire massive pile that the old St. Mary's structure was. Ruth signed a contract in 1914 with the local Baltimore Orioles which then played in the minor league status of the old International League, later was sold to the Boston Red Sox, then Yankees.”

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4. Duane E. Tressler, (Baltimore, Md.), said... on Feb 6, 2014 at 02:38AM

“The boys at Gibbons had all this as part of their heritage and a newer girls Catholic school down the suburban road a few blocks named Archbishop Keough High School, in a modern 1960's era expansive building which earlier had absorbed the merger of another old inner city girls secondary school, Seton High School, (founded 1865 and in a beautiful brick building in north Baltimore's Charles Village, a Victorian neighborhood), now known as Seton-Keough High School. One historic city girls school is left: the Institute of Notre Dame which is run by the SSND. The saga of the giving Gibbons students went on several months. Those are two of the Catholic high schools that Baltimore lost along with a smaller female Academy of the Visitation in the 1980s. A large number of the elementary and middle schools of the Archdiocese of Baltimore have also been closed or merged along with a number of urban parishes although probably not on as bad or extensive a level that we have read about in other ci”

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5. Duane E. Tressler, (Baltimore, Md.), said... on Feb 6, 2014 at 02:44AM

“The boys at Cardinal Gibbons HS had all this as part of their heritage and a newer girls school down the suburban road a few blocks named Archbishop Keough High School, in a modern 1960's era expansive building which earlier had absorbed the merger of another old inner city girls secondary school, Seton High School, (founded 1865 and in a beautiful brick building in north Baltimore's Charles Village, a Victorian neighborhood), now known as Seton-Keough High School. One historic city girls school is left: the Institute of Notre Dame which is run by the SSND. The saga of the giving Gibbons students went on several months. Those are two of the Catholic high schools that Baltimore lost along with a smaller female Academy of the Visitation in the 1980s. A large number of the elementary and middle schools of the Archdiocese of Baltimore have also been closed or merged along with a number of urban parishes although probably not as bad or extensive a level that we have seen in other cities”

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