Golden Boy Bobby Rydell, born Robert Ridarelli, is a product of Southeast Catholic High School, as is entertainer Cozy Morley.
South Philadelphia’s first boys’ Archdiocesan high school served as one of the building blocks to the facility now known as Ss. John Neumann-Maria Goretti High School.
Southeast Catholic opened Sept. 1, 1934, as the only all-boys Archdiocesan high school in South Philadelphia and the fourth one in the city overall. Walt Belovitz, Neumann-Goretti executive director of alumni development, said the new school addressed Roman Catholic High School’s overflowing ranks, as well as South Philadelphia’s growing population. The first class graduated in 1936.
A four-story building previously occupied by St. Mary de Pazzi Parish School, Seventh and Christian streets, housed the classrooms. The facilities of the former Our Lady of Good Counsel Parish were added to the original Main Hall for the freshmen and sophomores. In 1951, the former Walsh Grade School, 13th and Jackson streets, was added to the expanding complex and was named St. Norbert Hall.
With the school in the heart of the Italian Market, attending Southeast Catholic provided some great childhood memories for now-82-year-old Paul Phillips, who called 27th and Federal and 30th and Dickinson streets, respectively, home.
"I remember how fun it was being in that neighborhood," Phillips said, referring to the Italian Market area. "Every morning people would file off the trolley."
His graduating class was the first to attend the school for all four years.
Phillips was there for the early years of Southeast Catholic’s athletic achievements, highlighted by the six Catholic League titles won by the basketball team. The first came in 1939, just five years after opening. The 1940, ’41, ’44, ’45 and ’54 basketball squads also stood out as the Catholic League’s best. Phillips’ best memories were of the 1941 team that defeated West Philadelphia, 27-24, at Convention Hall to win the school’s first City basketball title.
"I wasn’t good enough to make the team," Phillips said. "I went out for the team, but got cut early."
The ’45 and ’46 teams featured Larry Foust, who went on to play at La Salle University, as well as 12 seasons in the NBA.
The football team won its first Catholic League title in 1948, followed by Catholic League and City titles in ’54. The baseball program enjoyed its greatest success during the ’52 and ’53 seasons, winning Catholic League and City titles.
In addition to producing great athletes, Southeast Catholic provided education to some of South Philadelphia’s most famous people. Movie producer George Litto, Tony Verna, a former CBS television director who invented the concept of instant replay, and Harry Harp, the inventor of the flexible straw, all once walked the halls.
An ongoing problem was, as large as the campus became, it just wasn’t big enough to house all of the students. In 1953, Archbishop O’Hara found the need for new South Philadelphia facilities, with 26th and Moore streets selected as the spot. The preliminary drawings were completed in 1954 with construction beginning in December 1955. Bishop Neumann opened in 1956. Condominiums are now on the Southeast Catholic site.
In 1978, following the canonization of St. John Neumann, St. John replaced Bishop in the name. The school’s last class graduated in June 2004. The Archdiocese of Philadelphia combined Neumann with St. Maria Goretti, South Philadelphia’s only Catholic girls’ high school, in fall 2004 due to declining enrollments for both institutions.
Despite the changes, Phillips maintains his school spirit by attending alumni events in Wildwood and gets together with others from the class of ’41. Next spring, the group will celebrate with a 65-year reunion.
"We start with a Mass to remember those who have passed," Phillips said of the events.
He is also a regular at the South Philadelphia High-Neumann-Goretti Thanksgiving football games. The rivalry dates back to 1934, with the Saints leading the all-time series 49-19-3. The alumni set up a tent every year and reminisce about the good old days.
"I’ve never missed it except when I was in the service," Phillips said. "It’s a good day. We look forward to being there at 9:30 a.m. People come down from New York."
Schools they are a changin’
Southeast Catholic opens Sept. 1.
The first senior class graduates.
Southeast Catholic moves to 26th and Moore streets and becomes
Bishop Neumann becomes St. John Neumann.
St. John Neumann and St. Maria Goretti merge into Ss. John Neumann-Maria Goretti High School, 10th and Moore streets.