held an open house exclusively for families of fellow Catholic school (OLHC) on the evening of Feb. 26.
St. David School in Willow Grove is located less than three miles from the Our Lady Help of Christians in Abington.
According to St. David School principal Sister Angela Joseph, the open house was held as part of the two schools’ merger implementation plan.
“We want them to feel comfortable in their new surroundings,” Sister Angela Joseph said.
At the beginning of January, the Philadelphia Archdiocese’s Blue Ribbon Commission announced the partnership of 49-new Catholic regional schools.
This was due to the archdiocese’s decision to close nearly 45 of its once 156 elementary schools throughout the Philadelphia area, and merge them with its still standing schools.
The St. David and Our Lady Help of Christians Merger
Among those mergers will be OLHC, whose students now have the option of continuing their education at the St. David School location.
According to Sister Angela Joseph, it is expected that at least 150 of the OLHC students will join the approximately 240 St. David School students in the next scholastic year’s pre-kindergarten through eighth-grade classes.
Sister Angela Joseph said an implementation team, made up of representatives from both schools, was formed shortly after the merger announcement.
The team includes:
- three adults from each school,
- each principal, each vice-principal,
- the schools respective business managers
- and the parochial pastors.
One of the initial tasks the implementation team explored was consolidating the administration from both schools, choosing who will serve in the new regional school.
According to the Feb. 16 edition of the St. David’s newsletter, Sister Angela Joseph will become the principal of the new regional school, while Jack Bellantoni, current principal of OLHC, will serve as the vice-principal.
According to Bellantoni, as reported by phillyburbs.com in January, the merger to the St. David’s location is prudent, as OLHC does not have the classrooms to hold students at both schools.
Welcome ‘Queen of Angels Catholic Regional School’
Another initial task was naming the new regional school itself.
“Parents from both schools were asked to give suggestions on a new school name,” Amy Greenberg, OLHC implementation team member, said.
She added that a lot of the suggestions revolved around the theme of “Mary,” ultimately deciding, earlier this month, on the new school name: “Queen of Angels Catholic Regional School.”
“Part of the thought of Queen of Angels is that we think of our children as little angels,” Greenberg said. “And, we’re giving them this new school.”
Greenberg said that the students from both schools aren’t necessarily strangers, as both the schools’ students who participate in their parishes’ CYO programs, play against one another.
However, the spirit behind the implementation team, and ultimately the schools’ merger, is not one of competition, but of collaboration.
“Everyone is rallying around it, and looking forward to building this new school,” Chris Waltrich, a St. David implementation member said. “Everyone has the same goal.”
Waltrich, who has five children at St. David’s, explained that more students in the upcoming Queen of Angels school means stronger and more diverse classes and a larger pool of parent volunteers.
OLHC families were given guided tours of all the classrooms and facilities offered at the St. David location, and given the opportunity to embrace the idea of what’s to come next scholastic year.
“We’re not used to the thought of a regional school,” Isabel McCormick, an OLHC mom, said.
She expressed a little sadness at the closing of OLHC, stating that she had two children graduate from that school and two children currently enrolled. McCormick herself and her siblings are alumni of OLHC.
“I guess it’s going to be the way of the future,” McCormick said.
Like most of the parents at the open house, McCormick did express hope for a future for continuing Catholic education in the area.
“I thought the classrooms were beautiful, and I’m looking forward to a great future centering around Catholic education,” Sarah Galbreath, a parent of three OLHC students, said. “The values they present are important to me.”
Providing the majority of the guided tours were the respective student council members from both schools.
“I’m giving tours around the school, helping Our Lady Help of Christians parents get to know the school better,” Colleen McErlean, St. David eighth-grade student council member, said.
Although, as a graduating St. David student this year, Colleen won’t attend the new Queen of Angels Regional School, she isn’t worried about the school’s success.
“I’m confident and excited, because my little brother is coming to this new school, and I want it to be a good school for him,” Colleen said.
Erin Mars, also on the St. David eighth grade student council, will have her younger sisters entering the second and eighth grades at Queen of Angels next year. She shares Colleen’s sentiment.
“I think it’s great our schools are coming together,” Erin said.
According to OLHC implementation team member Bob McNamee, many of the visiting families also gave positive reactions to their visit, and were impressed with such school amenities as a Smart Board in every classroom.
“I’ve been overwhelmed by the acceptance of St. David’s,” he said. “We have to look toward the future of Catholic education, and, literally, this is where it’s going to be.”
According to McNamee, the implementation team will host an update for both St. David and OLHC parents at OLHC this week. The team has also formed a sub-committee, which will plan three student integration activities for the students from both schools will be created before May.
McNamee said that such activities will be designed to help the students better prepare to be classmates next year.
“Initially, I thought it was a short time, but it seems to be going very smoothly,” McNamee said of the merger process.
While the merger between St. David and OLHC may be going according to plan, the tests for success of the new Queen of Angels School may still lie ahead.
“It’s a new beginning,” Rev. monsignor Richard Bolger, pastor of St. David Church, said. “Our goal is to be sustainable with the idea for those who wish Catholic education for their child to let them know we’re going to be here for the foreseeable future.”
A public open house for the new Queen of Angels Catholic Regional School is slated for March 25, from 2 – 5 p.m.