Sunday, January 08, 2012

"Garnet and Gray, we hail today..."

Just two years ago, I was writing about the closing of North Catholic, the scrappy little school in northeast Philly that I student taught at.

Never, ever did I think I would be writing a similar post about my own alma mater.

The Archdiocese of Philly just announced its plans to close 44 grade schools and 4 high schools--Archbishop Prendergast High School for Girls being one of them.

Now, I didn't LOVE high school. I had a pretty okay experience. I wasn't a standout in any way; I found my happy little niche with the choir and theater kids, excelled in English and Spanish, limped along in Math and Science, feigned enthusiasm at the pep rallies, had some great teachers (my junior English teacher, who actually made Beowulf palatable) and some pretty awful ones (one of whom spent the better part of sophomore History dishing dirt on her fellow teachers and telling us about the gun she kept in her glove compartment), and made some great friends that I am still close with today.

But there were things that made Prendie special, and that is what makes me sad--that other girls won't get to experience that. "Music on the Stairs" signaled the official start of Christmas break. The choir would gather on the grand staircase of the main entrance to school, and serenade the students with Christmas carols as they left for vacation. The month before graduation, you could "kiss a senior goodbye" by sending them a Hershey Kiss candy-gram (and being a girls' school, it was just a cute little tradition instead of something fraught with romantic drama and angst). And we were blessed with a gorgeous chapel--basically the size of a small church--which had served the children of St. Vincent's Orphanage, the original residents of the building. My friend Erin and I started attending the lunchtime Communion services senior year, and it provided a blessed few moments of peace and serenity in the midst of the usual high school nonsense. (I would also pop into the chapel alone on occasion when I just needed some quiet. For a teenager, this haven of sacred silence was literally a Godsend.)

And finally, the bell tower was the Holy Grail for bad-asses--strictly off-limits, and punishable by suspension if caught trespassing. The day before graduation, my friends Jenn, Trish and myself managed to climb up and paint our initials on the wall. I ran home and breathlessly confessed to my mom, a fellow Prendie alum, about our sordid crime. She feigned anger, and then quietly gave me a high five when my dad wasn't looking.

High school definitely wasn't the best time of my life. But it was pretty good, all things considered. I wore my garnet and gray uniform with a sheepish pride, and my heart swelled with mixed emotions on graduation day when we sang our alma mater for the final time: "Garnet and Gray we hail today, girls of Prendergast High..."

And now, girls who have had this tradition in their families for generations will have to find a new home. There are options, sure. But I know I was happy to share this bond with my sister, mom, and godmother, and also know how much I took it for granted. Prendie stood like a stalwart beacon on the hill at Lansdowne Avenue and Garrett Road; I just always assumed it would be around. As did thousands of families who are now wondering where their children will go next fall. As did 1700 teachers in the Archdiocese, who are painfully uncertain what will become of their jobs come spring.

It's a strange time for the Church. There is no choice but to downsize and consolidate; I get it. But I do hope it remembers that "pro-life" means "ALL life," and that they do everything within their power to help these families and teachers who have sacrificed so much for Catholic education.