Sophomore Tiffany Rodriguez and 650 or so other St. Hubert High School students gathered in the auditorium at noon Friday.
Meanwhile, the faculty got together in a large classroom to hear the news that the Archdiocese of Philadelphia would close their 70-year-old school in June.
The students tried to stay upbeat as they awaited word, singing the school song. Then the teachers walked into the auditorium, some with shaky voices, others with tears in their eyes.
Sister Mary E. Smith, the school president, approached the microphone and said, “I’m sorry I have to be the one to tell you this, but St. Hubert’s is closing.”
A school counselor, who has dealt with issues as serious as suicide, said, “I’ve never seen anything as devastating.”
Rodriguez was among those devastated.
“This is an all-around great school,” she said. “It’s a good environment. Everyone knows everyone and is friendly. You have so much fun and you learn. The teachers motivate you.”
Rodriguez graduated in 2010 from St. Hugh of Cluny Elementary School, which closed last year. She was worried about the fate of St. Veronica, which her seventh-grade brother Justin attends, but the school will remain open. She will have to complete the final two years of her high school days elsewhere.
“I don’t want to go anywhere else,” she said. “My options are still open.”
At about 1 p.m., the students came pouring out of the building at Torresdale and Cottman avenues, many in tears and on their cell phones to tell their parents the news. Some proclaimed, “Bambies for life.”
Freshman Alicia Smith expects to move on to either Archbishop Ryan or Nazareth Academy, but wanted to be a graduate of St. Hubert, which opened in 1941.
ldquo;My whole family graduated from here,” she said. “It’s the best school in Philly. Once a Bambi, always a Bambi.”
Freshman Ashley Sampson will have to find another school for three years, while her sister Amber will be spending her senior year elsewhere.
“It’s sad. This is a really good school with really good teachers,” said Ashley, who expects to attend Ryan.
Susan Pennypacker is a 1974 St. Hubert graduate and also an alumna of Our Lady of Consolation, which also learned it would be closing in June. Pennypacker sent her daughter Tina to St. Hubert and held her Miss Susan’s School of Dance recitals at the school.
ldquo;As soon as I heard, I had to come up here,” she said as she stood outside the school. “It’s your youth, your upbringing at Cottman and Torresdale. It’s just such a staple. I don’t know what’s going to happen.”
St. Hubert supporters argued that the girls school has more students than several schools that are remaining open.
St. Hubert and four other archdiocesan high schools — West Catholic, Conwell Egan, Monsignor Bonner and Archbishop Prendergast — are being closed by the archdiocese, along with 45 elementary schools.
The Archdiocese of Philadelphia blue-ribbon commission noted that enrollment in its five-county school system is half of what it was 12 years ago and was projected to fall to 500 by 2014–15, based on the lower number of students in feeder elementary schools. The 55-percent dip in enrollment in the last 15 years is the largest of any archdiocesan high school.
Capacity of the building is less than 40 percent, and the school’s total deficit from 2006–07 to 2010–11 was $624,480.
Commission member Ed Hanway said the panel looked at a number of factors.
ldquo;What’s the senior class and what’s the freshman class? We didn’t just look at today’s enrollment. What’s the school going to look like three, four years from now? We know those projections are not favorable at all,” he said.
The spirits were a little better at the basketball game that night at the Bambie Dome against Neumann-Goretti.
Athletic director Mike Prendergast saw his alma mater, Cardinal Dougherty, close in 2010. He described St. Hubert as a neighborhood beacon for 70 years.
ldquo;It’s just shocking,” he said.
Theology teacher Ed Cox said the announcement was an emotional one, with staff and students hugging one another.
Faculty members can maintain jobs in the archdiocesan system if they have the seniority.
At the elementary school level, teachers at schools that were partnered will have to reapply. Cox’s daughter Tricia teaches at Visitation BVM, which will be the site for a new school that will include students from St. Malachy.
Cox can retire, but is concerned for his younger colleagues.
“I feel bad for some of the teachers who can’t do that,” he said.
Sister Mary Smith, who has been president for three years and principal for two years before that, said the school has been hurt by recent closings of former feeder schools St. Bernard, St. Leo and St. Bartholomew. She described the announcement as her “most painful task” and likened the closing to a death. She and principal Regina Craig were notified of the closing last Thursday. She liked the way the school community reacted with a show of love for St. Hubert.
ldquo;The faculty and the students made me proud today,” she said.
The final graduation will take place on June 5 at Holy Family University, and it’s guaranteed to be an emotional one. As for the underclassmen, they’ll soon be picking new schools.
ldquo;We believe our girls will take what they learn here and enrich their new schools with their spirit,” Sister Mary said.
Amanda Boyle will be part of the final graduating class. She’s enjoyed her four years at the school.
ldquo;Everyone here is nice, helpful and very friendly,” she said. “It’s been a great four years, and it’s sad that not everyone will experience that. I feel this needs to be the best year and we end on a good note.”
Senior Gina Montgomery agreed that the St. Hubert community must go all out for the next five-plus months to send the school out in style. Still, that won’t erase the pain.
ldquo;It’s still shocking. We were trying to think that the rumors weren’t true,” she said. “This ruins Mayfair. The school was holding us all together.”
Sophomore Elizabeth Jones lives near Ryan, but she decided to attend St. Hubert. She’s the only member of her St. Martha graduating class to choose St. Hubert. She’s a standout soccer and basketball player and wonders how athletes will fare at a new school.
ldquo;I’m upset. It’s our home. It’s all about being a girl here,” she said.
Lisa Jones, Elizabeth’s mom, is a St. Hubert graduate and guesses that many of the girls’ hearts will remain at Torresdale and Cottman, not on Academy Road (Ryan) or 10th and Lycoming (Little Flower).
ldquo;It’s a home away from home for them,” she said.
Neumann-Goretti crushed St. Hubert, 61–39, but that didn’t stop the students from storming the court at the final buzzer like they had won the state championship. They loudly sang the school song:
With proud and eager loyalty, we fling our banner to the world and catch the rays of wisdom streaming down as its glory is unfurled.
We poise our spear, we aim it true, with strength that’s born of right. Let baseness and oppression feel the piercing of its might.
For St. Hubert’s brown and gold, for our faith that’s firm and bold, with joy we pledge our strength and zeal to uphold our treasured seal.
Armed with knowledge and with truth and the fire and courage of youth, we dare to do, to live for you, our alma mater true, our alma mater true. ••