Many Philadelphia Catholic school students are back in class this week. The first day back to school wasn’t always a certainty.
One Day One at St. Hubert’s High School for Girls — which narrowly avoided being closed last year by the Archdiocese of Philadelphia — teacher Terese Lewis faced rows of desks full of smiling students. They quietly nodded along while she talked and cut open a box full of binders.
“This is creative writing class, so for creative writing we are providing you with the journals. They were donated, as I said before, by a funeral home. Nothing says cheerful writing like Petner’s Funeral Home!” she said. “And also I’m giving you your loose-leaf binders.”
After decades on the job, Lewis is a pro at easing the nerves of new students.
“I could probably do it in my sleep! I mean, after 37 years, it’s easy,” she said.
“I know it sounds corny but there really is no place like Hubert’s,” she said of her relief that the school remained open.
“I knew financially I would be fine — I would have had a job, for which I was grateful — that wouldn’t have been true of everybody, but I just love it here,” Lewis said. “So I would have been really miserable and I’m keenly aware … I am very grateful that the school stayed open.”
For high school newbies such as freshman Brigid McMullen, it was a big day.
“I was so nervous and I was so excited that I could barely sleep last night — that’s how excited I was,” McMullen said. “I was so happy to come here! My aunt went here and then my mom went here also. I just hope I have the best four years of my life here.”
After the bell rang, students poured into the hallway — many scanning their schedules while they walked.
Beyond lip service
While some of the challenges facing students are the same as in years past, some things are different this school year.
For one, Frank Farrell is here.
“For the last 19 years, I served as chair of the liberal arts division at Manor College in Jenkintown,” says Farrell. “I am a graduate of the Philadelphia Catholic school system — Monsignor Bonner High School.”
Now St. Hubert’s president, Farrell said the school’s past struggles to stay open motivated him.
“I was challenged by some very good friends of mine to say, ‘How much does Catholic education mean to you and what are you willing to do about it?’
“It’s one thing to give lip service to Catholic education and how committed we are to it, but what are you really willing to do to move Catholic education toward the future?” he said.
St. Hubert’s principal said her advice to the freshmen was don’t let a minute of high school go by without appreciating it.