By Rick Cawley
For the Review
Hundreds of alumnae, parents, and students held a prayer vigil and marched to the Art Museum steps recently to voice their disapproval of the Philadelpphia Archdiocese’s decision to close Hallahan Catholic Girl’s High School at the end of the school year. Many of the participants who braved a chilly night were Roxborough residents who came out to advocate for the past, present and future of a beloved educational institution that has served generations from our community.
The rally also had representation from many other parts of the city and outlying areas including South Philly, Port Richmond, Fairmount, Fishtown, North Philly, and suburban communities as far as Norristown demonstrating Hallahan’s richly diverse population. Hallahan is the oldest all-girls Catholic high school in the country.
The event began with a candlelight vigil at the Cathedral Basilica of Ss. Peter and Paul followed by a trek along the Parkway to the Art Museum steps. Along the way, they were cordially escorted by officers from the Philadelphia Police Department to ensure a safe and uninterrupted journey.
While navigating their way along the Parkway, marchers carrying “Save Hallahan” signs were also delighted to see a scrolling message from the crown lights of the PECO building echoing support for the Hallahan cause.
At the Art Museum steps, the Hallahan crusaders of multiple generations, who were strictly masked, reconnected with familiar faces and long-lost friends. They sang along with rallying tunes from a portable speaker in a bonding fashion that reinforced their feelings of belonging in the Hallahan family.
Paula Sahm, who is a member of Hallahan’s Board of Directors as well as an Alumna and parent, took the mike and gave a fire and brimstone oration that precisely captured the gatherers resolve in fighting for their rightful destiny to stay open. She proclaimed that “it’s not what’s in your wallet that counts, it’s what’s in your heart.” She concluded with a heartfelt rallying cry that echoed the sentiments of fellow Board members, “We will not give up on Hallahan and we will not give up on you.”
Roxborough resident Joy Kimbrell (’93) and fellow alum Gina Batavick (’02) were instrumental in pulling off the logistics to make the rally happen. According to Kimbrell, “We are part of The Friends of Hallahan Strategic Committee that was formed to bring together the Advisory Board, the Alumnae Association, Hallahan grads and parents to organize and collaborate into sub-committees of groups to help out once an action plan is piloted.”
It is the hope of all involved to get the archdiocese to meet with Board representatives to see the data from the sustainability report that was conducted last summer by “Faith in the Future” and explain how their decision was made. Both Hallahan and Bishop McDevitt in Wyncote were recommended for closing due to financial shortfalls, with both schools operating at around 40% capacity. Faith in the Future is made of bankers, educators and former CEO’s who oversee the long-term viability of Diocesan high schools and their ability to offer a quality Catholic school education.
According to Hallahan Board Executive Director Mary Tracy, “We were all taken by surprise by the decision” and dismayed that they were not consulted during the review process. Tracy is equally taken aback because of the location and historical presence of the school and the value placed by many on single-sex educational environments. She feels that without question, schools like Hallahan are unparalleled in giving young women “opportunities to develop leadership skills, a platform to raise gender equity, and a forum to allow young ladies rise to their highest capability.”
Tracy is nonetheless moved by the groundswell of genuine affection stirred up by the situation. “There is no way you could have predicted the outpouring of love and sympathy that has been bestowed upon our school.”
Perhaps, there are some glimpses of hope for those who believe that no mountain cannot be overcome. The Hallahan community is in the midst of an ambitious drive to help raise funds to save the prestigious school. City Councilwoman Katherine Gilmore Richardson, who attended Girls High, recently pushed through a resolution calling for “the archdiocese to keep John W. Hallahan open and engage with students, alumnae, board, and other stakeholders in decision making around the school’s future.”
Joy Kimbrell tosses the ball directly in Archbishop Nelson Perez’s court. “Please give us a meeting and let us see the report. Let’s talk, let’s negotiate, let’s work this out. Let us work together to save Hallahan.”