St. Bridget alum: If schools must merge, do it in East Falls

Lifelong East Falls resident Peggy Cassidy remembers a time when tuition at St. Bridget School didn’t cost a thing. Instead, students were responsible for paying an annual $9 book bill. That’s it.

As a 1971 graduate of the school, parent of two former students, and now grandparent of a second grader, Cassidy has seen the Midvale Avenue school evolve over the past four decades. She’s seen $9 book bills get replaced with four-figure tuition fees, as class sizes dropped from 40 students to 20.

Now, those class sizes are at risk of shrinking to zero if the Archdiocese of Philadelphia goes through with plans to close the school and send all its students to Holy Child School on Hermitage Street in Manayunk.

The St. Bridget/Holy Child consolidation plan was recently proposed in the Blue Ribbon Commision’s list of schools recommended to close or consolidate at the end of the 2011-12 school year.

The news took Cassidy by surprise.

“I was heartbroken,” Cassidy said. “Honestly, and truly, I was heartbroken; I just didn’t see it coming.”

Now she’s reacting with more than just tears.  She’s working to raise money and support for her idea that, if the two schools must merge, it should be at St. Bridget, which Cassidy considers a better school in a better location.

The East Falls Community Council agrees with her, and has sent the Philadelphia archdiocese a letter supporting a merged school on Midvale Avenue.

The report indicated that St. Bridget’s school is at 50 percent capacity while the parish faces a deficit of $175,000. Cassidy said Rev. Joseph Devlin of St. Bridget Parish shared the news with parishioners at Mass on Jan. 8.

“I was amazed by how much we were in debt; I wish I had known earlier,” she said. “Father Devlin said. ‘Well, I’m not going to have to scrounge up salaries anymore,’… It was like a sad relief.”

‘The great equalizer’

But there wasn’t much relief for Cassidy, who attended St. Bridget along with her five siblings. Aside from providing generations of memories, the school shaped her as a person, she said.

“We had everyone in there, black, white, it didn’t matter,” she said. “My father always said that he loved living in East Falls; you had the rich, you had the middle class and you had the poor, but they were all equal; it was like the great equalizer, and St. Bridget was part of that.”

Cassidy had hoped that her granddaughter, Madison Belz, could continue to be part of that environment, but instead, Madison may be headed back to Holy Child in Manayunk.

Belz attended Holy Child for pre-school and kindergarten but moved to St. Bridget when tuition spiked at Holy Child.

“I honestly think St. Bridget is a better school,” Cassidy said. She added that the congestion, narrow streets and steep hills surrounding Holy Child would be tough to navigate through during pick-ups and drop-off times. “St. Bridget has a parking lot and it’s on a main road.”

Cassidy says a petition is being circulated by the parish calling for the consolidated school to be put at St. Bridget. 

Calls to Principal Michael Patterson at Holy Child and Rev. Joseph Devlin at St. Bridget were not returned. The Archdiocese declined to comment on the story.  

Calling for donations 

Cassidy says the consolidation announcement has woken up a lot of people:

“They want to be Catholic when there’s a baptism, they want to be Catholic when they get married, they want to be Catholic if someone dies, but in between, when the church needs money, they say. ‘Oh, no, no,'” she said. “Now is the time to give back.”

Cassidy has set out on a mission to reach out to her former classmates and other St. Bridget alumni to ask for donations. She’s tracking down addresses of former students from the class of ’65 and above.

“We got our education, we’re settled in life and I think at least some of our success is due to the fact that we went to a Catholic school. We basically owe it to them.”

Her goal is to raise $100,000 to help pay off the school’s debt and “get the school back in shape.” She hopes the money would, at least, help alumni make the case for hosting both schools at the St. Bridget site, rather than closing the facility down.

“Even if we start out by saying, ‘Hey, we’re in trouble,'” she said. “I think we can take a good stab at it. Let’s see if we can pull out a miracle.”

St. Bridget alumni can reach Peggy Cassidy at peggy.cassidy@yahoo.com.

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