Fishtown: Run Provides Support for Catholic School]

When the Archdiocese of Philadelphia marked St. Laurentius School in Fishtown for closing, some of the reasons it cited included financial issues and enrollment shortages. Since that day, the St. Laurentius community has shown both of those concerns to be inaccurate.

Male and female race winners Kyle Francis and Christina Cicco shared a laugh.

The St. LauRUNtius Fishtown 5K run was founded last year by a group of school parents, community leaders and school officials in response to the financial questions posed by the archdiocese.

“We needed to form a committee to raise funds to keep our school alive,” said second-grade teacher Dolores Griffith. “We were scheduled to close down and with our reluctance to close, we had to find a solution and this is one of our solutions. “

In just its second year, the run has become a signature event at St. Laurentius, both in terms of interest and the effect it has on the school. Over 100 runners finished the 3.1 mile run through the streets of Fishtown, in addition to many more that elected to walk a shorter course and enjoy the festivities of the accompanying block party at the school. The party featured several moon bounces for the children to play in, as well as music and food for the entire family to enjoy.

“Last year was a great turnout. This year, it’s even better,” Griffith said. “It has benefited our school immensely.”

The event has attracted all sorts of members of the community, including current and former St. Laurentius students, parents, as well as area residents, with no connection to the school who simply want to support a good cause.

This year’s event took place under the cloud of the tragedy in Boston just a week prior. Before the run, a moment of silence, followed by a moment of appreciation, took place to pay tribute to the victims. St. Laurentius students stood on the steps of the church’s rectory holding signs that read “Pray for Boston.” Event organizers remained steadfast that the race would be safe and Philadelphia Police were on hand to secure the course for the runners.

Participants of all ages line up to take part in the run.
Participants of all ages lined up to take part in the run.

“We’re not going to be afraid of running in our own neighborhood.” said A.J. Thomson, the event’s primary organizer and a St. Laurentius parent.

After the archdiocese announced the closing of the school that hosted kindergarten through eighth grade in January 2012, the school went to work proving that it needed to remain open, not just for the students but for the community at large.

“We fought for the idea of having catholic education in this broad area.” said the school’s principal Elaine McKnight.

The St. Laurentius staff demonstrated that after a series of archdiocese closings, their school would be the last remaining Catholic school in Fishtown.

The school’s plan was based heavily on facts it felt were misrepresented by the archdiocese. The school demonstrated to the board that the facts it had used to justify closing down the school were either outdated or just plainly false. The school pointed to new rising enrollment numbers, as well as efforts the school had taken to be less dependent on the archdiocese for subsidies.

Meanwhile, the community had also taken steps to ensure the school would remain open. There were many concerns about the possibility of St. Laurentius closing from parents, including the distance that students would have to walk to get to a new regional school on Girard Avenue. under the archdiocese’s plan. In addition, a group of students had just arrived at St. Laurentius from other schools that had been closed by the archdiocese, so those parents were worried about the effects of taking their child from school to school in such a short time, especially at such a young age.

Volunteers take part in registering the 5K participants.
Volunteers took part in registering the 5K participants.

In response, parents and students set out to convince the archdiocese that their school needed to remain open, hosting a rally that over 250 people attended to march through the neighborhood streets to show the archdiocese that the community was fully behind keeping St. Laurentius open. School officials said they believe that the fight to stay open brought the community a the school even closer together.

“In all the fight to stay open, having the parents involved in that really gave our parents ownership,” said McKnight. “[That] helps when we want to do the 5K run, when we have new initiatives coming up, they know that we are really trying along with them to do our best so we don’t have to fight anymore to keep our school open.”

The archdiocese spared 10 of the 44 schools it had planned to close last year and has announced no further closings at this time. The St. Laurentius community remains optimistic that in the event of any future closings, the fight to keep their school open in 2012 won’t need to be repeated thanks to efforts like the St. LaRUNtius event.

See background about the school at this link.

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