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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"Looks like the party's over," says Neumann teacher Kelly.

Mr. D finishes signing a yearbook, and everybody slowly shuffles out of the gym.

Fred picks up his broom and starts sweeping away the remnants of the party.

Mike Newall (mnewall@philadelphiaweekly.com) writes frequently about the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.


"The Cafeteria Food Was the Worst"

Memories of St. John Neumann High School.

Joseph Vassalluzzo, Class of '65 Occupation: Vice chairman, Staples. Memories of Neumann: "The wonderful largeness of the school, parking lot, schoolyard and practice sports field across the street made St. John Neumann bigger than any other school in South Philadelphia, including Goretti. I loved the pep rallies, especially the one right before the Thanksgiving Day football game against Southern. In '65 our varsity basketball team defeated Lincoln in the city championship game at the Palestra. It was like David against Goliath. I'm forever appreciative of the great academic education spearheaded by the Norbertine fathers. The camaraderie, banter, ethnicity and cultural uniqueness of the students at Neumann survive generations. Oh, and the cafeteria food was the worst of all time. Thank God my mother made my lunch."

James W. Eastwood, Class of '63 Occupation: President, Granary Associates. Memories of Neumann: "My time at Neumann consisted of four years of the greatest memories of my life. I remember algebra with Father DeCrits and German class with Father Feider, two of the best teachers I ever had. I loved graduation--I was honored because of my acceptance into the Naval Academy. High school years are tough for boys, but I always felt like I was safe and surrounded by good people. The only time I ever felt camaraderie like that was in Vietnam. In both experiences I was surrounded by guys who I knew would do anything for me, and I never had to watch my back. Fifteen or 20 of my high school classmates are still my best friends, and despite our busy schedules we make time every month to get together. I think friendship like that is rare."

Joseph Jacovini, Class of '58 Occupation: Chairman, Dilworth Paxson LLP; chairman of the board of directors, Drexel University; vice chairman, Philadelphia Orchestra Board. Memories of Neumann: "I have nothing but the highest regard for the wonderful diversity of students and faculty at St. John Neumann and the education I received there, which allowed me to eventually graduate from Harvard Law. I remember learning the elements of writing from Father George O'Brien; Father Burke, who made sure we had top-of-the-line sports equipment; and Father Pollini, who came from a showbiz background and ran the best school dances around. Coming from a little parish, starting at St. John Neumann was like going to Damascus! But it opened up a whole new world to me that was part of growing up."

Robert Capone, Class of '58 Occupation: Executive director, Blue White Scholarship Foundation. Memories of Neumann: "I was a city kid from 30th and Tasker--what's now known as Grays Ferry--and I went into St. John Neumann not really knowing what to expect. What I got was a great academic training from people who cared, and I came out with an education that wasn't only as good as what I could have gotten from other high schools, but better. To this day I'm still very good friends with some two dozen of my classmates. Father Frigo, Father Burke and the other teachers at St. John Neumann were fantastic--and they certainly weren't afraid to move you along. I really believe in that type of education. I will especially never forget Thanksgiving Day in 1964, when I came back to Neumann to watch the basketball team beat South Philadelphia High, and afterward I took my wife into the beautiful chapel on the campus and proposed to her."

David Fiss, Class of '92 Occupation: M.D., Temple University Hospital. Memories of Neumann: "Our 1992 bowling team won the Catholic League Championship--and that's about as successful at sports as I got. Of all the teachers I had, I was always impressed by Mr. Belovitz's dedication, and chemistry class with Mr. Petrarca was what first sparked my interest in science and eventually medicine. After graduation I went on to college and eventually medical school. But despite everyone I met during those experiences, when I got married a year and a half ago, more than half of my wedding party consisted of my friends from high school."

Basil A. DiSipio, Class of '71 Occupation: President and managing shareholder of Lavin, Coleman, O'Neil, Ricci and Finarelli law firm. Memories of Neumann: "My fondest memories of Neumann revolve around the lifelong friendships I've enjoyed with fellow students, faculty and Norbertine fathers. Not a day goes by when I don't think about the impact coach Paul Bartolomeo had on my life. In addition to being a great coach, he instilled in me and countless others values that shape my day-to-day decisions. He was a true renaissance man who I'm able to even more fully appreciate many years after leaving high school."

--JILL PURDY

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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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