Writing was on the board
After years of rumor and gossip, it’s finally happening — the merger of South Philly’s only two Catholic high schools.
Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua’s signature this week was just a formality. The scraggly writing had been on the chalkboard for more than a few months now.
So the underclass gals and guys of Goretti and Neumann can enjoy their last academic year as single-sex schools and learn to embrace the real coed world.
Or is it the real cut-spending world?
I’m tired of the smiling sound bites from archdiocesan and school officials who are telling everyone this is a good thing. I’m sick of well-meaning colleagues who say, "But a high school should be coed. That’s the real world."
I’m told St. Maria Goretti High School was not running at a deficit, though St. John Neumann High School admittedly was. Have the students of Goretti become true sacrificial Lambs, as per their moniker, then? Is the archdiocese solving one problem by hastening another?
I don’t have an answer for how to increase enrollment in either school, namely as parochial school tuition continues to increase and Catholic school teachers continue to be woefully underpaid (even after the new contract), so I’m not here to preach. But I can pose the questions, however late it is for the answers.
I’ll get ready for Lambs and Pirates to converge into Saints, and for the fiery red and orange to become a muted gold. I’ll get used to saying "Ss. John Neumann and Maria Goretti Catholic High School." (And whatever happened to ladies first? Shouldn’t Goretti be first on her own namesake building, where the consolidated school will be located?)
In the meantime, please stop telling me I need to be happy about the inevitable merger of my alma mater and its brother school 16 blocks away. Both schools have been fighting to preserve themselves in an ever-shrinking Catholic school market, and they have made valiant attempts — new programs, academic initiatives, strong alumnae/alumni support, grand yearly fundraisers like Taste of South Philly and the Valentine’s Ball and the Mike Goffredo Benefit. I feel defeated for them, and for all that hard work gone for naught.
I bemoan the mixed identity that our schools must assume by next September, and I can only hope the integrity of both institutions will not be sacrificed.
Finally, a happy place
Sometimes I’m accused of being too darn negative.
So, to reconcile my decidedly poor attitude with readers, I’ll relay a bright spot in what lately has become a ghastly tangle of global and community news.
Thus, in the "We Should Do This More Often" category, I bring you a slice of last Sunday — a treat of a time in a local church that cost a mere $10 donation for a good cause.
The Munier Mandolin & Guitar Orchestra is one of those true South Philly gems that doesn’t get nearly enough credit for its marvelous talents and audience appeal. This particular audience was assembled in St. Edmond Church, the parish of my childhood and a gorgeous establishment — I had forgotten just how gorgeous — at 21st and Snyder.
Wind and water whipped up a frenzy outside, but all ears were attuned to the heavenly sounds within — a happy collaboration of the string instruments of the mandolin family tinkling out the sounds of old Europe and South America, of the nostalgia and culture for which South Philly is recognized.
Conductor Cris Ianni, assistant conductor Joseph Todaro, soprano Rachael Garcia, mandolin soloist Tamara Asta and some 20 uniquely qualified string accompaniments provided the party at the altar — melodies from three worlds that everyone acknowledged and appreciated, including Italian, Irish and Brazilian arias and folk songs. I felt sorry for anyone not occupying a vacant pew.
So I was the youngest person in the audience (or perhaps I’m flattering myself). I knew the lyrics to O’Marinariello without having to look at the program, and pretended to know the melodic dips and turns of classics like Let Me Call You Sweetheart.
But the feeling that surrounded me in that golden church for two hours is best summed up by the songwriter whose words we belted out through tears:
‘Heart of My Heart,’ I love that melody
‘Heart of My Heart’ brings back those memories
When we were kids on the corner of the street
We were tough and ready guys
But oh, how we could harmonize
to ‘Heart of My Heart.’
Oh, friends were dearer then,
Too bad we had to part.
I know a tear would glisten
If only I could listen
to that gang that sang ‘Heart of My Heart.’
Do your heart a favor and sing along with the Munier Mandolin gang next time they’re around.