Tears fell amidst empty desks and rules of grammar chalk-written on the blackboard. Candace Morris held back more as she spoke of the Salesian tradition of Northeast Catholic High School for Boys.
“We try to teach our students […] that you’re not expected to be everything; you’re only expected to be who you are and whoever Christ means for you to be,” said Morris, an English teacher at North Catholic High School for Boys.
“I don’t think our society tells our young people that that’s all they need to be in this world. You don’t have to be the star; you don’t have to be anything but who Christ meant you to be. And that’s good enough. So I’ll miss that.”
Morris will miss North Catholic’s tradition in the Salesian teachings of the Oblates of Saint Francis de Sales. She will miss the values and morals she instilled in her students throughout her 12 years teaching. She will miss the principles applied to the education of the students. She will miss all of this because North Catholic is shutting its doors at the end of this school year.
Cardinal Justin Rigali announced that Northeast Catholic High School was closing in June. The decision was based on a report made by the Archdiocese Office of Catholic Education that examined the current and projected enrollment, regional and demographic trends, building capacity and the finances of the individual high schools over a one-year period that began in September 2008. Cardinal Dougherty High School in Olney is also going to close.
Northeast Catholic High School for Boys, more commonly known as North Catholic, opened in 1926 and used to be one of the largest Catholic High Schools in the world, housing 4,410 students at its peak in 1953. The school, located in Frankford at 1842 Torresdale Ave. currently enrolls 551 students, a 35 percent decrease from 1953. Enrollment dropped 29 percent in the last 10 years, and if kept open, was expected to decrease by another 24 percent in the next three years. The closing reflects the shutting down of 33 city parishes in the last half century.
In Fishtown, where over 30 percent of residents are Roman Catholic, the closing of North Catholic symbolizes the end of a tradition. Proud fathers cannot send their sons to their alma mater or watch them get their diploma. The legacy might remain, but the institution that housed it will be gone.
“I was at a birthday party for my cousin’s husband who was 75,” said Morris. “Well, here he was a North grad and somebody told him ‘you know, she teaches at North.’ Well, I had at least 12 to 15, 75-year-old men wanting to talk to me about the good old days at North,” she said with a laugh. She said that every one of them had the same story to tell, “I wouldn’t be where I was today if it wasn’t for North.”
Elijah Resnick, a Fishtown resident and junior at North Catholic, always knew that he wanted to go there.
“I believe that North is a family,” said Resnick, who is unsure of his plans for senior year. “You can go almost anywhere in the area and find a North grad and no matter what they take care of you. Everyone just loves North. I’ve found that people who were dying to leave come back and talk about how much they wish they were still here.”
Resnick is in Morris’ English class. He said she loves teaching and is the most enthusiastic English teacher he has had, and that he will miss her dedication.
Resnick said he was heartbroken when he heard that North was closing. He was on his way to Florida for a baseball tournament when he received text messages from friends telling him about the decision.
“North has been my life for the past three years and I can’t imagine senior year anywhere else,” he said.
Resnick would not have to imagine this if the plan to keep North Catholic open until at least 2011 was kept. Through the creation of the North Catholic Information Technology Academy, alum and academy founder John Fries gave the school $1.5 million to train students as information technologists, computer repairmen and network managers. At the end of the program, they could apply for certification from the Microsoft or Cisco companies. The academy was supposed to include night classes for adults who also wanted the certificate, but this never came into fruition and so there was no extra income generated for the school. The academy, established in 2006, was supposed to last for five years.
“It’s a sad day; it’s a very sad day,” said Morris in her empty classroom after school was out for the day. “It’s still kind of raw right now.”
Morris said the archdiocese is meant to ease the transition for the students and faculty. It is hoped that every student currently enrolled at North Catholic will wear their North ring, walk with their North stall and receive their North diploma, at whichever school they attend.
She does not think that North Catholic, as a building, can be saved; however, she believes its spirit will last through the teaching of Saint Francis de Sales.
“I say that the spirit of Saint Francis de Sales exists in the boys, but they leave and it seeps in the walls and every new class of freshmen that come in, somehow it comes through the walls and right back into them, because it stays in this building. It stays in the heart of the people that teach this and they believe passionately in what we do.”
Morris said the tradition will continue to live in the boys, alum and faculty.
“They’re living what we teach. […] They’ve taken hold and not let go.
“To put it simply, a door closes and a window opens. And God does that, so I’m willing to believe that this door is closing, but God’s there and a window will open. We will embrace. It’s just in the meantime; it’s a difficult struggle we will have to get through.
“This is a home to many of our students. This is not just a school.”
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