Sister Rosemary Herron’s fiscal foresight keeps Mercy Vocational on track

    With Catholic schools shutting their doors across the city, Mercy Vocational High School is thriving. Much of the school’s success is due to the efforts of Sister Rosemary Herron.

    George Matysik, who nominated Sister Rosemary, is a former electrical student at Mercy. He is now the deputy director of policy and planning for Philabundance. Matysik said,

    Under the leadership of Sister Rosemary, what could have been another sad story of community schools closing, turned into a story of transformation and stability. Sister Rosemary has spurred investment into this hidden gem at the corner of 29th and Allegheny, providing a quality vocational education, where 88% of students are deemed at-risk.

    “I often found myself in her office for all the wrong reasons,” added Matysik, “and she stayed committed to me at a time when I needed that kind of encouragement.”

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    Other Mercy Vocational alumni were eager to second Matysik’s nomination. Recent grads Morgan Macguire  and Matt Clugston told us about Sister Rosemary’s positive influenc. “I love this school. It prepared me for the rest of my life”, said MacGuire. “I think everything she does is for the school and the students.” said Clugston. “She’s always there for us.”

    In 1997, Sister Rosemary became principal of Mercy, and in the 15 years she’s been there, she has worked tirelessly to bring Mercy into the 21st century. She helped implement a state-of-the-art technology program that includes a Netbook for each student. She also began a nursing assistant program inspired by her mother, who was a certified nursing assistant.

    Ten years ago she spearheaded an initiative to create a pro-active advisory board to insured that Mercy remained open and a viable source of vocational education. The school is not a part of the Archdiocese, and depends on funds from donors to operate. Mercy is the only co-educational, Catholic, career and technical education high school in the country.The school’s vocational programs include business education, carpentry, computer technology, cosmetology, culinary arts, electricity and nursing assistant training programs. The school provides students with opportunities to participate in internships and cooperative eductioan programs with local businesses like Bayada Nurses, Temple Health System and Wawa Corporation.”Our students can take your blood pressure, frame your house, wire your computer, and do your nails,” said Sister Rosemary, “we give them transferable skills for a trade – we make them marketable.”

    Most Mercy students don’t have the resources for a vocational school. Sister Rosemary’s work includes finding investors to help offset that cause, and many of the students receive financial aid. The advisory board that Sister Rosemary created has many duties, including networking with benefactors and partners, with the primary focus to keep the skills taught at the school current.

    “When most of these schools were started, they were like a local mom-and-pop shop,” said Sister Rosemary, “we can’t exist like that anymore — we have to market and use technology to spread the word about what we’re doing and why we matter.”

    Keeping Mercy operating and funded is a daily task.  “You have to have a passion for it – and that’s contagious,” said Sister Rosemary.

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