A big family shares a big legacy at St. John Bosco Fourteen out of 15 siblings went to the Warminster school and were active in a parish now celebrating its golden jubilee.

Posted: April 13, 2003

UPPER MORELAND — When Beth Waltrich returned to St. John Bosco School last summer, it wasn't for a reunion or to plan anniversary events for the parish's ongoing golden-jubilee celebration.

The Bosco graduate headed back to the campus of the parish elementary school on County Line Road in Warminster with some of her family, to ready her old seventh-grade classroom for the approaching school year - the same year that marks St. John's 50th anniversary.

Fourteen of the 15 Waltrich children had attended St. John's - including Beth - and they were active in the parish community.

The second-youngest Waltrich, Beth returned to Bosco for the 2002-03 school year - not as a student, but as a faculty member. Fresh out of Neumann College with her education degree, she was hired to teach the newly added prekindergarten class for 3-year-olds in the morning and be a teacher's aide in a first-grade class in the afternoon. The school has about 250 students, who come from Bucks and Montgomery Counties.

"There's a lively energy now," Beth Waltrich said. "More people are involved at the school than when I attended," she added, "and there seems to be a bigger commitment to the children's education."

That commitment - specifically, the strengthening of the school - is one of three goals established by administrators and parishioners for the jubilee celebration, the Rev. Zachary Navit said.

Improved communication and redefinition of the parish's more than 35 volunteer organizations were the other anniversary goals, said Navit, who serves as St. John's parochial vicar, or assistant pastor.

"It's been a real blessing for us that this anniversary year has happened, a way to reach out to new people," he said. The parish serves about 2,500 families.

During the last four years, the parish leadership positions - pastor, parochial vicar and school principal - have changed. The uncertainties associated with that change, however, have been tempered by the parishioners' extended role in the jubilee celebration, Navit said.

"It's been a big year," Beth Waltrich said. "Every month, there's something special planned."

"St. John Bosco was very much a part of our lives," matriarch Margaret Ann Waltrich said from her Upper Moreland home. In the mid-'70s, she pointed out, there were Waltrich children in seven out of the eight grades at St. John's.

With so many Waltrich children, she would sometimes attend parent-teacher conferences in grades where none of her children were enrolled.

"I'd wave and whisper to her that she doesn't have a child in this class," said Anne Wiesenhutter, a St. John's teacher who taught 11 of the 15 Waltriches.

When six of the Waltriches had chicken pox, Margaret Ann Waltrich telephoned Wiesenhutter. " 'I can't write six notes. Will you please go to school and tell them my kids have chicken pox,' " Wiesenhutter recalled.

There were always Waltriches at school - whether in classrooms or participating in extracurricular activities. The Upper Moreland clan played sports, held offices in the Catholic Youth Organization, worked at the rectory, served as altar boys, and even counted money in the collection plate on Sundays with their father.

"Everybody knew who you were when you came in to school," said Maryanne Waltrich, the "baby" of the family who followed 13 of her siblings through Bosco. These days, the Waltriches range in age from 21 to 40.

Maryanne, who plans to graduate from Manor College in May, said that she was "good" at St. John's.

"The boys had a reputation, but nobody really did anything bad," Maryanne said. One brother called a female classmate "Dog Breath."

The oldest Waltrich child, Paul Jr., was different from his brothers, kindergarten teacher Mary Anne Henry recalled. "He was very quiet, but the other boys could be busters." Henry, a Bosco graduate herself, has taught at the school for 33 years.

"Ms. Henry had a string of five [Waltrich] boys in row," Paul Jr. said. "She gave them a run for their money, or rather, they gave her a run for her money," he said, jokingly.

Getting to school each day proved a production. The children, according to Paul Jr., overcrowded the bus stop and filled the Bosco buses. Even the Waltrich lunches were unorthodox.

"I just couldn't imagine [Margaret Ann Waltrich] making 15 lunches every morning," Wiesenhutter said.

In fact, it was Paul Waltrich Sr. who tended to that chore. He made lunches for the week while watching Monday Night Football. Forty lunches - from peanut butter and jelly to bologna and cheese - were assembled on the long Waltrich kitchen table and then frozen.

"When the last Waltrich graduated from St. John's, I was sad," said Wiesenhutter, who has taught at Bosco for 29 years. "There had always been a Waltrich coming through."

"It's always sad to see one of your family move on," Wiesenhutter added. "We are a very close-knit community."

Fourteen of the fifteen Waltriches went on to Archbishop Wood High School and attended area colleges such as La Salle, Temple and Villanova.

"We lost touch with the school for some years, but now that I'm in it again, there's a connection," Beth Waltrich said from her colorfully decorated prekindergarten classroom at St. John Bosco.

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