To the Editor: Being the First Graduating Class Happens Only Once

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“This coming reunion is a truly historic occasion!”

By Gloria Cipollini Endres

Saint Maria Goretti High School — Class of ‘58

Back in April, I submitted a piece to the South Philly Review announcing the coming 60th reunion of my 1958 graduating class from Saint Maria Goretti High School.

I wanted to reach as many alumnae as possible to inform them to save the date. According to the invitation from The Millay Club, this Friday, September 28th is the last day to make a reservation for the noon luncheon at Popi’s Italian Restaurant on Wednesday, October 17. Reservations are by invitation only, so those alumnae who have not returned their letters must act quickly.

As I tried to convey in that spring column, this coming reunion is a truly historic occasion!

It is the diamond anniversary of a class that was the first to graduate from a newly constructed high school at 10th and Moore Streets. Those of us who lived in the neighborhood at that time actually watched the buildings go up.

I say “buildings” because they also built two convents next to the high school to house the majority faculty of sisters from two communities. I have mentioned on many occasions that we had only handpicked sisters as teachers, except for the lay gym teacher.

In those days, Catholic high schools were all single sex. For example, my twin brother Dan went to Bishop Neumann High School for Boys ((formerly Southeast Catholic) until the bishop was canonized, and it became Saint John Neumann. He missed being in their first class, but I had the honor of walking down the Convention Hall aisle at the very first graduation of girls from Saint Maria Goretti High School.

Since entering as sophomores with a freshman class behind us, we all have our favorite memories of our activities then. Some taller students formed the first basketball team when the mascot was a Lamb.

The Lamb stood for the virgin martyr Maria Goretti who was just a young girl of 12 when she resisted her teen-aged assailant to the point of death by stabbing. She lived long enough to forgive him and beg him to repent. He did repent finally and, after spending years in prison, entered a monastery to complete a lifetime of penance for what he did. Unbelievably, both he and her mother were present together at Maria’s canonization in 1950. The Archdiocese chose her to be our patroness because of her heroic example.

Others like me joined the glee club. I loved singing and being part of the annual musicals. Other girls elected to study an instrument and formed an orchestra which played at the first graduation.

There were other original student organizations like: debating, languages, drama, newspaper, literary magazine, yearbook and student government. There were even hall monitors who kept us on the right path. Imagine the empowering experience of starting everything from scratch. We were always in the process of inventing new practices and traditions that would remain years after we left. We had no male competition of course.

That does not mean that we did not socialize with the boys. Many of us went weekly to the dances at Bishop Neumann. We invited them to our own first Sophomore Hop, then our first Junior and Senior Proms. Of course we had to endure the warnings of the good sisters about modesty and self control. They suggested, for example, that, when riding in a car with a boy, we keep a phone book between us. And it is true and not just a legend that they warned us not to wear patent leather shoes to the dance because of their ability to “reflect up.”

This was before all the women’s movements that supposedly freed women to be themselves. And yet, our class got that message without any of the bra burning or other hoopla. We knew we had the power to change the world.

Didn’t we already invent a great high school?