Missing the Northeast: A parish on every corner

I recently read a story on NEast Philly about Sister Alice Hess, I.H.M., a teacher I had at Archbishop Ryan High School eight or so years ago, and it got me to thinking about my appreciation for the Catholic school system in the city — specifically the ones in the Northeast, with which I am most familiar.

Yes, many of the Catholic schools, especially high schools, in the Northeast have merged or closed over the past few years. However, if I had to do it again, I would have gone to the same schools I attended as a kid.

Catholic School Education

I’ve always had a great appreciation not just for the knowledge I gained throughout my education, but also how those subjects were taught to me.

Now, I always feel a little jealous that people who went to public schools had the opportunity to take classes that weren’t offered at my schools or various other Catholic schools – mostly, I assume, to accommodate the mandatory religion classes – such as home economics or various theater classes.

However, at the same time, I always appreciated my religion classes and the discipline and focus applied by my teachers that encouraged me to take my studies seriously and gain as much knowledge as possible. It also didn’t hurt that I, more often than not, received decent grades in those classes.

On top of that, I always felt that my grade school and subsequent high school education adequately prepared me for my college years, including the willingness to learn and time-management skills needed to excel.

Of course, all of this is personal and subjective. I am certain that Northeast Philadelphians who went through the public school system can say much of the same for their own educations.

Catholic Schools in the Northeast

The reason why I think this is a valid topic for our readership is because, when you venture out of the Philadelphia area, Catholic schools are far more spread out, greatly minimizing opportunities for that specific type of education.

When I went to college, I assumed that, like the Northeast, there was a Catholic parish around just about every corner. However, that’s not the case, especially in the North Jersey towns in which I’ve lived, worked or spent a decent amount of time.

One of the things I loved about the breadth of Catholic schooling opportunities in the Northeast is that it helped mix up the school rosters a bit, especially in transitioning from grade school to high school.

Although, admittedly, most of my grade school classmates went to Archbishop Ryan, students had the option of going to other nearby archdiocesan schools, such as Father Judge, Roman Catholic and St. Hubert’s. Of course, there were other private Catholic high schools in the area, as well. On a similar level, it was great because I got to meet and spend four years with kids from grade schools in the Northeast and all around.

However, most of these towns in North Jersey have one Catholic grade school and one Catholic high school. Therefore, although the students in those schools will be attending different buildings when they transition from eighth to ninth grade, they will basically be spending the next four years with the same exact people, which I would argue makes going off to college a bigger culture shock.

So, if you attend or attended a Catholic school in the Northeast, I say this to you: try not to look negatively on your time in those halls; your education is definitely unique.

Missing the Northeast is a column written by Stephen Wilson, a former Northeast resident who moved to New Jersey for work. You can read his column on the last Monday of every month.


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