The call came into Rev. Francis Gwiazda’s office at 12:30 p.m. Thursday informing him that St. Laurentius would remain open. The school was one of three archdiocese schools that appealed the impending closures and won.
Sister Rita Marie Aponik, principal of St. Laurentius, received a call from the pastor soon after hearing the news, and planned a 7 p.m. prayer for the students and families to celebrate.
“I’m overjoyed, just delighted with the decision,” Aponik said, “Philadelphia keeps a good school, and we have the opportunity to make improvements.
At 7 p.m., the parents, children, and parishioners came in force to the chapel at 1612 East Berks St. in Fishtown, ready to sing praise and thank the lord that their beloved school had been spared. People packed into the pews row by row, wearing shirts in support of the school and smiles upon their faces. The night began with a prayer service to send their high praise as they embraced loved-ones and celebrated alongside teachers and faculty.
“We would haven’t been able to do this without the support of everyone in the community,” Aponik said.
The archdiocese announced last month that 44 Philadelphian elementary schools would close due to declining enrollment, down nearly 30 percent over the past few years. The plan was to merge many of the Catholic institutions into regional schools. Parents feared that the children’s learning and extracurricular activities would suffer, and many more were concerned with the walk the children would have to make down to Girard Street every day. Buses would not run on the same schedule, some kids would have to quit sports teams, and even more students would share a smaller space. Some students were attending Saint Laurentius because their previous school had already been closed. So amid these concerns, the parents gathered in support of the school and fought back.
“We were absolutely blindsided,” said Karen Klenk, a fifth-grade mother and parishioner at Holy Name, upon hearing the initial news of the closings.
“Saint Laurentius has teachers that go above and beyond the call of duty, the whole neighborhood is involved,” said Doreen Thompson, an eighth-grade mother.
On Jan. 24, with great support around the community, including signs that read “Save Saint Laurentius” hanging around Fishtown, the school filed for an appeal with the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.
“I love St. Laurentius, it’s like my second family,” said 10th-grader Rebecca Valentine, who recently graduated from the school, but who visits nearly every day.
“My father did the appeal, and I couldn’t be happier. Graduates want to come back, because the school, the teachers, mean so much to the students that go here.”
Stories of the parents who helped keep the school open, as well as the teachers who work so hard to give the kids the best education possible, poured out as the night went on. Kids hugged in celebration of not only a cancellation of homework, but for a true reason to be thankful, being able to stay in a school that cares about them that much.
“It’s a real community here,” said Elaine McKnight, an eighth-grade teacher of 25 years. “We’ve worked so hard to set goals, and we’ve accomplished every single one of them. We have smart boards and computers in every room, and with the donations we’ve received in support of Saint Laurentius, we’ll see even more improvements.”
“The teachers here don’t give up,” Aponik said, “We stay up as late as it takes, always willing to find a way, and that’s what we’re trying to instill in our children, the will to never give up.”