Parents await Archdiocese school decision

Posted: June 19, 2012

It was an uncertain Father's Day for many dads and moms of St. Bridget's parish in East Falls as they awaited news on the fate of a regional Catholic elementary school that never was — and might never be.

The Archdiocese of Philadelphia is expected to announce Monday whether it will create a new regional elementary school in Manayunk that would include the youngsters of St. Bridget's parish school, which closed its doors forever Friday.

"We won't know until tomorrow," Marita Trimber, 31, said as she pulled into the parking lot before Sunday's 11 a.m. Mass. With her was her 10-year-old daughter, Amber, an altar server who will enter the fifth grade this fall — but doesn't know where.

"I loved it here," Amber said. "Especially the teachers."

If it becomes a reality, the new school, to be named St. Blaise Regional Catholic School, would be a merger of St. Bridget's school and Holy Child Regional Catholic School in Manayunk.

St. Blaise would be situated in what is now Holy Child school, on Hermitage Street, itself a merger of five parish schools in 2009.

"This would have been a much better choice," Christine Bischoff said as she headed into the 9 a.m. Mass at St. Bridget's with her husband and three boys, ages 7, 5, and 2.

"I went to school in that building," said her husband, Chris Bischoff, as he pointed up the steep hillside above the parking lot to the tan-and-orange brick school. They have already enrolled the older boys in a parish school in Chestnut Hill, he said, because it is closer to their home than Manayunk "and the tuition is less."

The archdiocese's department of Catholic schools has said it needs an enrollment of no less than 250 in order to create St. Blaise, but the proposed school's website was reporting last week it had only 155 children signed up.

"Any lower [than 250] and we will not be able to affort teachers' salaries and run the school with the programs promised," the website warned. "Sponsoring parishes do not have the money" it said, to underwrite the new school.

Friday was the enrollment deadline.

"The next step is up to the archdiocese," said John Grady, a leader of the effort to make St. Bridget's the site of the new regional school, as he left the 11 o'clock Mass.

Grady said he did not wish to pit the hillside neighborhoods of East Falls and Manayunk against each other, but speculated that the archdiocese had chosen to locate St. Blaise in Manayunk as a "consolation prize" because it is closing four of Manayunk's five parishes.

"That's understandable emotionally," Grady said, "but this decision not supposed to be about emotion. It's supposed to be about what's best for Catholic education."

In a five-page letter sent February to Mary Rochford, superintendent of schools for the five-county archdiocese, Grady argued that St. Bridget's was a better choice as a regional school for several reasons.

Among the reasons he cited were that St. Bridget's has better drop-off locations, a gym and auditorium, and room for expansion, whereas Holy Child lacks a gym and is situated on a narrow, steep street.

He also said St. Bridget's has seen a marked increase in marriages and baptisms, whereas the Manayunk parishes have seen declines in those areas as well as parish enrollments.

"I'm devastated," said Cheryl Miles, whose twin sons, Joshua and Noah, just finished second grade at St. Bridget's. "To have a school this wonderful close so suddenly is just heartbreaking — for parents, children, and staff."

"We're moving to Bucks" County because St. Bridget's school is closed, Zal Zangari said as he and his wife, Angela, left the church. Their home adjoins the parish campus, he said, and they chose the house because they had always expected to send their children to St. Bridget's school.

"There's politics involved," he said of the archdiocese's choice of the Holy Child site for a regional school.

Terry Torpey, who was escorting her two young grandsons to Mass, echoed that view. "I think the archdiocese should walk around here and see all the families with children. In Manayunk, it's all yuppies that have moved in looking for night life."

Contact staff writer David O'Reilly at 610-313-8111 or doreilly@phillynews.com.

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