"People are so focused on what's behind them, it really blurs their vision of what can become of all this."

Photo by Candace diCarlo


Housekeeper, Housing Services
Length of service:
11 years in March
Other stuff:
Last books read - "Nearly Everybody Read It: Snapshots of the Philadelphia Bulletin"; "A Prayer for the City"; "South Philadelphia: Mummers, Memories and the Melrose Diner."

When John McGuire, 37, decided he needed to find himself, a pilgrimage to Tibet wasn't an option. So he became involved with his church, St. Anthony of Padua, on Grays Ferry Avenue. Involvement led to five years of meetings - within his parish and with a committee planning for the parishes at the west end of South Philadelphia. The first big outcome of their deliberations, announced earlier this month, was the closing of two Grays Ferry parochial schools. A lot of parents are angry with John McGuire.

Q. Were you planning only for Grays Ferry?
It went beyond Grays Ferry - St. Charles, which is on 20th and Christian; St. Thomas Aquinas, which is on 17th and Morris; St. Edmunds school, which is on 23rd and McKean; and the church is on 21st and Snyder.
   I think that we're the third cluster that did this. It's been done in Roxborough. It's been done in North Philly. North Philly was the pilot program. We were lucky our pastor was involved in it to a certain degree and he understood, he made us see it in a different light - the practicality of the situation.

Q. What is the situation?
A lot of people are moving out and nobody's moving back in. A lot of different denominations are popping up. Just drive down Reed Street, drive down Tasker Street, and you can see 26 Baptist churches. Most of them are mom-and-pop operations ... but they're there.
   If we sat still we wouldn't have any kind of Catholic presence left in the area. And that's what we were striving for -with the things that we have - the shortage of priests, the shortage of parishioners, the shortage of kids coming into the schools, the shortage of stewardship, anything that makes things operate smoothly.
   All the churches, the schools that we were talking about, were built at a time when they were needed. Two of them were national schools, national parishes, which means that one was pretty much there for the Italians, King of Peace, and one was there for the Germans, which was St. Al's [St. Aloysius]. They're the two schools that will consolidate with St. Gabriel's. St. Gabriels's wasn't a national parish but was more of white Irish. But being in Grays Ferry, they have that stigma - that it's a racist area. I don't live in that area. I know a lot of people in it. I don't think it's any more racist than anywhere else in the city of Philadelphia.

Q. Will the new kids change St. Gabriel's?
If you get an influx of African-American kids who come from King of Peace school or St. Al's, and their parents opt to send them St. Gabriel's, there will have to be some kind of curriculum that will pertain to all the kids. And it's not just for the black kid. It'd be for the white kid too, to see both sides of the coin. I don't see a problem with that.
   Now we don't know if they're all going to come. There's one gentleman in the paper said he's going to put his kid in the public school. There's a lot of angry parents.

Q. Do you think people are concerned about the safety of their kids walking through hostile neighborhoods?
Yeah. I think the parents are concerned in any neighborhood. You're just naturally concerned. I didn't know that until I became a parent.
   I would say it's a concern but it's not a major concern. If you want your kid to go safely to school you walk your kid safely to school. And if it's unavoidable where you can drop your children to school - we understand that today you have to do that, two parents work. But any problem that the parisioners have - there's nothing that's shrugged off as not important - it will be looked into.

Q. Are the parishes themselves closing?
We have a proposal for the parishes. It will be written up and sent to the Cardinal, and in late March, June, we should know what's going on.

Q. What school you're kids going to go to?
St. Gabe's. It won't be called St. Gabe's.They're going to change the name. I think the schools are coming up with some kind of contest. They want to get kids involved, and that's white kids, black kids, Asian kids. And that's what we're striving for. We're striving for a little bit more peace and unity.
   This is a chance for the [Philadelphia] Archdiocese to really do something about what's going on in that area. You could put computers in the classroom. You can have music teachers.
   The people who are worrying have to walk three blocks to school. I don't think that's a worry.
   People when they talk, they talk about the good old days. They don't talk about the good days coming. They 're so focused on what's behind them, it really blurs their vision of what can become of all this. We know why we had to do it, but we don't know the outcome. The parents can help this along. They can make this happen. A little child can't make this happen. The parents can show up at meetings.

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Originally published on January 28, 1999