St. William in Lawncrest graduates its final 8th-grade class

Valeria Alva (right) hugs classmate Zoe Dixon after they graduated from Saint Williams Catholic School in Northeast Philadelphia on Wednesday, June 13, 2012. The class of 2012 will be the last class to graduate from Saint William. YONG KIM / Staff Photographer
Valeria Alva (right) hugs classmate Zoe Dixon after they graduated from Saint Williams Catholic School in Northeast Philadelphia on Wednesday, June 13, 2012. The class of 2012 will be the last class to graduate from Saint William. YONG KIM / Staff Photographer (Daily News/Inquirer)
Posted: June 14, 2012

For the 31 eighth graders who graduated Wednesday night from St. William School in Lawncrest, just making it through the ceremony — including a modestly choreographed musical number — appeared to be their foremost concern.

But there was no mistaking that this was the last class that will ever graduate from St. William, a kindergarten-through-eighth-grade school among nine elementary schools in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia slated to close this year.

"It was emotional. It was tough for all of us," said the Rev. Stephen C. McCarthy, St. William's parochial vicar.

Dressed in green gowns, the graduating students entered the church down the center aisle and then parted, boys seated on the left and girls on the right.

McCarthy provided the homily and recalled the lyrics of a song, "Let the Waters Rise" by Mikeschair, played to the students the day it was announced in January that St. William would close:

"Don't know where to begin

It's like my world's caving in

And I try but I can't control my fear

Where do I go from here?

Sometimes it's so hard to pray

When you feel so far away

But I am willing to go

Where you want me to

God, I trust you"

McCarthy has been reassigned as school minister at SS. John Neumann and Maria Goretti High School in South Philadelphia.

In his homily, McCarthy half-joked to the students that "we are both leaving St. William to go to high school."

Dominic Gallelli, 14, who will attend Roman Catholic High School, said he was proud to be part of the Class of 2012.

"I feel honored because everyone is going to recognize us as the last class," he said.

"I'm just glad he got to finish," said his mother, Nicole Gallelli, 32. "He's been here since kindergarten."

Michael Bautista, 14, who had attended St. William for nine years, was pleased to be among the final St. William graduates.

However, his father, Roque Bautista, 43, was sad for his seventh-grade daughter, who has to find a new school.

"We would have loved to have her graduate from here as well," Bautista said.

St. William School, in the 6200 block of Rising Sun Avenue, opened in 1924. Enrollment peaked in the mid-1960s, with nearly 1,600 students. Enrollment this year was less than 300.

A website maintained by the archdiocese reported that St. William operated in 2009-10 with a deficit of $281,134. The school already lacked full-time faculty for music, physical education, honors math, technology, world language, and the library.

McCarthy said it was important to acknowledge that this was the final graduating class, but added: "I also didn't want to dwell too much on it. This day is about them."

Contact Robert Moran at 215-854-5983, bmoran@phillynews.com, or follow @RobertMoran215 on Twitter.

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