On the House: Mercy Vocational builds strong ties

Posted: April 29, 2013

A few weeks ago, an e-mail landed in my inbox from Mercy Vocational High School on Hunting Park Avenue, announcing that its president, Rosemary Herron, was observing her 50th year as a member of the Sisters of Mercy.

Sister Rosemary is to be honored at a dinner Oct. 4 at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts on Broad Street.

The news struck a chord with me, because I count myself an alumnus of Mercy Vocational.

It's a bit of stretch, I know, since I spent only three days there as a student exactly 10 years ago, but the memory of my time at Mercy is special.

I happened to be at the computer in my basement office when I got the e-mail about Sister Rosemary, who was principal when I went to Mercy. In woodworking class my first day there, I built a wooden toolbox about one-quarter of the size of a real one. It was too nice for tools, so I use it in my office, to hold bills waiting to be paid.

For those who don't know about Mercy Vocational, since 1950 (the year I was born) it has been training young men and women to compete effectively in the labor market - not only carpenters, electricians, and plumbers, but nursing assistants, chefs, cosmetologists, and those with highly prized office computer skills.

Part of the day is spent in classes that provide academic credit for a high school diploma.

Mercy is one of the few private, coeducational, Catholic vocational schools remaining in the United States.

More than 80 percent of its 400 or so students come from home environments considered at-risk, while 52 percent are from families at or below the poverty line. Still, 99 percent of Mercy's students graduate. The school's daily attendance rate is 97 percent.

Of the 85 members of the Class of 2012, 58 percent went on to postsecondary education, including trade schools and training programs. Twenty percent directly entered full-time employment, 20 percent are working and continuing their education, and 1 percent entered the military.

Graduates also were awarded $1.8 million in scholarships and merit awards to attend career and technical schools, community colleges, and four-year institutions of higher learning.

The three days I spent at Mercy in 2003 helped formalize some of the book-learning and self-teaching of my previous 23 or so years as a do-it-yourselfer.

I've made more use of what I learned about woodworking and carpentry than what I took away from the electrical courses - preferring to let pros do the wiring at my house.

Paying an electrician is a peace-of-mind thing.

I remember meeting Sister Rosemary on my first day, and being escorted to her office when I walked in the front door.

That brought back memories of clapping erasers without getting chalk on my blue pants and looking busy in detention when I had nothing to do.

She just wanted to meet her oldest student, who now offers best wishes on her golden jubilee.

On the House: Town by Town

In the Sunday Business section, Alan J. Heavens takes a look at real estate and life throughout the region. This week's focus: West Deptford.

Contact Alan J. Heavens at 215-854-2472, aheavens@phillynews.com or @alheavens at Twitter.