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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But it wouldn't.

"I think it's a mistake to consolidate at the Goretti site," says Fumo today. "The panel was kind of rigged, from what I heard. The archdiocese got the decision they wanted as opposed to the decision they would have gotten if they gave the people all the information."

Councilman at-large Jim Kenney thinks the archdiocese may have miscalculated.

"The archdiocese would have made a nice dollar using the Goretti site for housing opportunities," Kenney says. "If a development firm had knocked down the building and built brand new townhouses or condos, they could have gone for $300,000 or $400,000 each."

"Neumann is a much tougher site to develop," says Fumo. "You don't want a property of its size lying vacant. It has much more of a chance of eventually becoming an eyesore. Goretti, on the other hand, would be an instant success for development because of its location at 10th and Moore."

Teachers from both schools say they're ready to put the past 14 months behind them.

"In the end, we are all teachers," says Paul Coyne, a longtime Neumann teacher. "And that's what we'll do. We'll wind up in a classroom, and we'll teach."

"We're committed to having Catholic education in South Philly," says Charles Haub, another veteran Neumann teacher. "With or without the support of the central administration, we'll make this work."

William Feeley, chairman of Neumann's English department, is equally confident.

"This isn't something dying," he says. "This is just two things that financially couldn't survive on their own anymore and are growing together. There'll be growing pains. But eventually it'll be strong."


It's the morning of the senior yearbook social. There are a host of outdoor activities planned. But a gray sky opens up, and the party moves into the gymnasium. The seniors make due by holding tug-of-war contests instead.

Two teams of eight stand ready, rope in hand, in the middle of the gym. The rest of the senior class sits in the bleachers, cheering them on. The whistle blows. One team pulls early; the other crashes to the floor. The bleachers erupt.

Neumann principal Miles stands off to the side, watching and laughing. He won't be making the move to Goretti next year. The archdiocese didn't think it appropriate to have both a Neumann president and principal take charge at the new school, so Miles is awaiting his new assignment.

In his 17 years in the Catholic school system, he's worked at five different high schools. The "Neumann family thing"? He knows the "Neumann family thing" sounds like a cliche, but it's true, and he'll miss being part of it.

He says he's not worried about the kids. They'll have the easiest time with the consolidation. Going to school with girls will ease their homesickness.

The Neumann seniors line up to get their yearbooks, sodas and hoagies. They spread out across the gym floor and the bleachers.

Joan Kelly, a history teacher and organizer of the annual talent show, says the kids don't seem their "effervescent usual selves today."

Mike Zarella, a heavyset lineman on the football team with a closely shaved head, is indeed letting his emotions get the better of him. By alphabetical chance, Zarella will be the last student ever to graduate from St. John Neumann High School.

"On paper, I'm the last one to go," he says, somewhat flustered, taking a break from signing yearbooks. "I don't know whether to be sad or happy. I'm more honored than anything, I guess. All the tradition--it puts a feeling in my stomach."

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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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