Balancing her bible with a bullhorn, Christina Spino read an excerpt from Luke 10:27 to the faithful.
“Love the Lord your God,” the passage reads, “with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind.”
Pausing, Spino looked up and addressed the dozens gathered before her.
“This,” she said, “is how we love St Bridget’s – with all of our heart, soul, strength, and mind.”
Continuing the appeal
On Thursday evening, parents, alumni, and neighbors of St. Bridget School in East Falls lined Midvale Avenue to protest the closing of their school and call attention to their cause.
Led by Spino – a St. Bridget alumna and member of the St. Bridget School Media Committee – those present vowed to continue their appeal of the merger of St. Bridget with Holy Child Regional School in Manayunk.
In addition, they demanded substantive answers from the Archdiocese of Philadelphia regarding its decision to select Holy Family as the site of the merger, as opposed to St. Bridget.
As reported by Newsworks, the Archdiocese announced on Jan. 6 that it would be merging the two schools.
Shortly thereafter, St. Bridget parents and alumni convened to construct a formal appeal, which was presented in a meeting with the Archdiocese on Jan. 19.
The Archdiocese announced on Feb. 17 that it would not accommodate St. Bridget’s request for an East Falls-based merger.
While most parents agree that a merger was inevitable, the absence of rationale for the archdiocese’s decision has vested parties upset.
“The decisions to close and merge the schools with the tactics used (by the diocese) are unjust,” said Spino, and asked for a meeting with Archbishop Charles Chaput “for further mediation and clarification.”
Highlighting the contrasts
Serving as a backdrop for the rally was a letter written by John and Megan Grady – St. Bridget School parents, and of no relation to this reporter – addressed to Mary Richford, Superintendent of Schools for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.
The letter highlighted contrasts between Holy Child and St. Bridget School.
According to the document, Hold Child experienced a 50-percent decline in enrollment since 2005, as opposed to St. Bridget’s 16 percent increase in the same period of time.
Supporting documents report an initial enrollment of 435 students at Holy Child in 2005 – as of 2011, 217 students are enrolled.
197 students were enrolled in 2011 at St. Bridget, up from 170 in 2005. 56 of these students are from Roxborough and Manayunk.
Both schools have capacities of 400 to 500 students.
The authors noted that St. Bridget School features a self-contained campus with two contiguous school buildings, and two drop-off points, one of which is on a major arterial route – Midvale Ave.
Holy Child, by contrast, has two school buildings located one block from each other on opposite sides of the street, and is situated on a two-way, one-lane neighborhood thoroughfare – Hermitage St.
In addition, there is no gymnasium at Holy Child, forcing children to leave the school’s campus and attend gym classes at Hillside Recreation Center, a city-operated facility on Fountain St. in Manayunk.
The comparative vitality of the Catholic community in surrounding neighborhoods was addressed as well.
In the last ten years, according to the document, Manayunk parishes experienced a 10-percent decline in marriages, a 21-decline in registered population, and a 41-percent decline in registered households, bolstered only by an 18-increase in baptisms.
In a similar time frame, St. Bridget Parish has seen a 31-percent increase in marriages, a 12-percent increase in registered population, and a 12-percent increase in registered households.
Baptisms at the East Falls parish are up 110-percent.
Principal Michael Patterson of Holy Child was not immediately available to comment on these statistics.
A location dispute
In light of these observations, the Gradys’ letter was pointed in its conclusion.
“We all have to … accept the fact that the Manayunk location, neighborhood, and facilities have failed to attract or retain the families necessary to be successful,” the letter said.
Agreeing that mergers are necessary for reasons of scale, efficiency, and sustainability, they suggested at the January appeal meeting with archdiocesan representatives that the proposed merger be located in East Falls.
On Feb. 16, St. Bridget’s Pastor Rev. Joseph Devlin, who was not at Thursday’s rally, informed parents leading the appeal that their efforts were for naught.
All others were notified by an automated voice messaging system shortly thereafter.
The only reason provided for the rejection by the diocese, according to the Grady’s letter, was that “significant effort and resources (were) committed to the merger of the five Manayunk parish schools in a regional school and the Archdiocese wanted to continue to support that decision.”
‘We have to put children first’
East Falls resident and St. Bridget Media Committee Member Sean Stevens rebutted the Archdiocese’s preference for regional schooling.
“We already have a regional school in this area – at St. Bridget,” he said, noting that the school draws students from 21 different zip codes.
What concerned him most, however, was the fate of the school’s students, whose schooling is tied to internal archdiocesan decisions.
“We don’t need politics in education … we have to put the children first,” he said.
Megan Grady, co-author of the aforementioned letter and President of the St. Bridget Home and School Association, addressed the reactions of the school’s students to the closure.
“They’re disappointed and sad,” she related.
But, noting that children take behavioral cues from their parents, she added that she is making a concerted effort to remain positive about the situation, which, in the event of a merger – be it in Manayunk or East Falls – will also help to minimize contentiousness between parents of the two schools.
While a final outcome remains to be determined, it is likely that a closure of St. Bridget School will have impacts well beyond its campus.
“Without St. Bridget,” said Mark Spino, Christina’s father, “there is no East Falls.”