Philly nonprofit hopes to open a new all-girls high school to replace Hallahan

Hallahan closed in June due to declining enrollment and financial woes. The Center City Girls’ Academy could replace it as early as September.

The exterior of John W. Hallahan Catholic Girls’ High School

John W. Hallahan Catholic Girls’ High School in Center City. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

In response to the recent closure of John W. Hallahan Catholic Girls’ High School, a nascent nonprofit is working to open a new private school to replace the more than century-old institution in Center City.

Organizers behind the nonprofit, along with supporters and alumnae of Hallahan, hope to open the Center City Girls’ Academy in September at a yet-to-be-determined location. The school is seeking sponsorship from a religious organization, but will likely be nonsectarian and serve roughly 300 students.

“There certainly will be a presence of traditional Judeo-Christian values within the school and within the structure of the school, but there would be no formal theology taught and no formal religion classes,” said former Hallahan president Nan Gallagher, who will lead the school’s board for the first year of operation.

In addition to forming a board, the nonprofit has also created bylaws and filed articles of incorporation.

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It’s still in the process of securing a state license, a requirement that could delay the opening of the new school until at least 2022.

The nonprofit is also in the midst of raising approximately $2 million to lease a building for the academy, said Gallagher. She would not disclose what properties the group is considering or how much of the initial fundraising goal is still needed.

She said the group needs $5 to $10 million to open the school.

“I believe the money is forthcoming,” said Gallagher. “It’s a noble cause.”

The nonprofit is not looking at the old Hallahan building at 19th and Wood streets. The brick-and-stone property is currently owned by the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.

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Citing declining enrollment and financial woes, the archdiocese permanently closed Hallahan in June after trying — and failing — to find an alternative, said spokesperson Alaina Longo in a statement.

More than 72% of Hallahan’s current students have registered to attend other archdiocesan high schools this fall.

“We are committed to continuing our work until the needs of every family are met to the greatest extent possible,” said Longo.

Opened in 1911, Hallahan was the nation’s oldest all-girls diocesan high school.

The decision to shutter the historic school, forecast in November, devastated the Hallahan community. But keeping Hallahan would have “accelerated tuition increases to unaffordable levels,” and jeopardized the health of other high schools in the system, added Longo.

Bishop McDevitt, a co-ed Catholic high school in Wyncote, also closed in June as part of a system-wide process.

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