St. Bridget community explores new strategies to save the neighborhood school

In the latest installment of their ongoing efforts to keep a neighborhood Catholic school open, St. Bridget School parents, alumni and other concerned parties met last night in East Falls to explore both legal and legislative options for their school.

Renewing their hope for a reversal in the position of the Philadelphia Archdiocese, leaders of the St. Bridget initiative looked upon the recent resignation of a key Archdiocese school leader as a potential signal for accommodation.

On Monday, the Archdiocese announced that Superintendent of Schools Mary Rochford has tendered her resignation, effective June 30. In the statement, it was announced that Rochford will be stepping down to tend to the needs of ailing family members. 

Mary Rochford has served in the Office of Catholic Education since 1999 and as Superintendent of Schools since 2008. The Office of Catholic Education will begin a search for a new Superintendent of Schools, according to the statement.

Sean Stevens, a St. Bridget parent and member of the St. Bridget Media Committee, expressed sympathy for Rochford, but added that new partnerships and possibilities could arise out of her departure.

“Maybe that opens up a door – or possibility – for [those of] us in this room,” he said, “so that we can take a new track.”

Exploring new strategies 

Among the new courses to be charted is a formal appeal via canonical law, said Stevens.

While Stevens emphasized that a formal appeal has not been filed with echelons higher in the church, he indicated that efforts currently underway at both the international and archdiocesan level suggest new strategies.

The Inquirer recently reported that parents of two South Philadelphia catholic elementary schools slated for closure – Sacred Heart of Jesus and Our Lady of Mount Carmel – have retained attorney Peter Borre and have filed an appeal with the Vatican’s Congregation for Catholic Education, with the hope of receiving an injunction.

Borre, according to the Inquirer, is a canonical-law adviser who was instrumental in a Vatican ruling this month that overturned a bishop’s order to close 13 parishes in Cleveland. He was reported to be in Rome on Sunday to begin arguments for the South Philadelphia schools case.

Stevens said that he has been in touch with Borre via phone and email, but said that similar tactics for St. Bridget School are still in the future, and any formal appeal to the Vatican is still in the exploratory process.

“We’re a long way from that,” said Stevens.

School choice 

Following initiatives set forth by Archbishop Charles Chaput, St. Bridget parents are also looking at “school choice” – i.e. opportunity scholarships, known colloquially as vouchers – to save their school.

As reported by Newsworks in January, Archbishop Chaput indicated support for school vouchers, as “they would return the power of educational support to parents.”

Chaput emphasized in his January column that this would not imply government support for public schools.

In February, Chaput credited outside monies for saving four Catholic schools previously targeted for closure—Bonner-Prendie, Saint Huberts, West Catholic and Conwell-Egan.

As reported in Philadelphia Weekly, Chaput acknowledged that the decision to keep the schools open was a risky one, as there is essentially no long-term plan.

Chaput said without a voucher system, the schools will end up in a similar position of uncertainty. “We need expanded EITC (education-incentive tax credits) funds and opportunity scholarships to help our schools survive,” he said.

Joe Watkins, chairman of Students First PA, was present Monday night to lend support to these arguments.

Students First, its website states, is a non-partisan committee devoted to supporting Pennsylvania legislative candidates who support education reform.

Watkins urged those present to contact their state legislators to know their stances about school choice.

Christina Spino, St. Bridget alumna and St. Bridget Media Committee member, expressed her support for this plan.

“Wouldn’t it be great”, she asked those present, “to be there for the heyday of school choice?”

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