The spirit of Ryan

Archbishop Ryan High School celebrates its 50th anniversary.

Plenty to celebrate: Archbishop Ryan High School, the largest of the 17 high schools in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, has been celebrating its 50th anniversary throughout the academic year. Above, freshman Isabella Mansfield smiles in her Advanced Placement course in world history. Archbishop Ryan is the only area school that offers that class. MARIA YOUNG / TIMES PHOTO

By Tom Waring

Archbishop Ryan High School has been celebrating its 50th anniversary throughout the academic year, and students and staff will tell you that “AR” is as good as ever.

Ryan, at 11201 Academy Road, is the largest of the 17 high schools in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. There are 1,222 Raiders and Ragdolls enrolled from 70 or so grade schools in Philadelphia, Bucks and Montgomery counties. The total includes about 100 foreign-exchange students.

“We like that we’re big,” said Nancy Kurtz, assistant principal for academic affairs and a 1988 graduate. “We have human resources to have a lot of things. We have more clubs than most of the other schools. We’re adding in terms of offerings. Our size allows us to do it.”

Kurtz cited a Chinese exchange student who requested that a table tennis club be formed. Today, table tennis is among 33 clubs. There are also more than 40 sports teams, including ones for varsity, JV, freshmen and club.

The sports teams aren’t the only ones winning championships. The mathletes, under the direction of Sister Alice Hess, IHM, have captured 22 of the last 24 Catholic League titles.

“Sister Alice has been teaching STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) before they even called it STEM,” said Keith Czarny, a 2007 graduate and the school’s director of development and communications.

The Raider family: Archbishop Ryan High School currently has 1,222 students enrolled, including about 100 foreign-exchange students. MARIA YOUNG / TIMES PHOTO

Ryan’s year-long celebration has included an all-alumni-gathering, a Mass of remembrance honoring the school’s fallen heroes, a Christmas concert and a Spirit of Ryan awards ceremony.

Still to come are an alumni golf invitational on April 17, a gala on April 30 and a May 19 closing Mass celebrated by Archbishop Charles Chaput.

Ryan, like other Catholic schools, used to be a lot bigger. Kurtz was one of 527 girls who graduated in her class, back when Ryan was split between boys and girls.

The school uses all of its interior space and has an impressive exterior that includes plenty of off-street parking, buildings for the wrestling and cheerleading teams and fields for the softball, baseball, football, soccer, lacrosse and field hockey teams.

“It’s a 50-year-old building, but we’re constantly updating the infrastructure,” said principal Joseph McFadden, a 1997 graduate.

Academically, more than 95 percent of Ryan graduates attend college or entered the armed services. The class of 2016 earned more than $26 million in college scholarships.

There are 11 advanced-placement courses, and Ryan is the only area high school with a ninth-grade AP course in world history. The school values its four-year programs in art and instrumental music. It also reaches students who have diagnosed learning disabilities.

“We want to be able to offer experiences for the kids to give them the best possible high school experience,” McFadden said.

Head of the class: Archbishop Ryan High School freshman Ryan Elkins takes notes in his AP world history class. MARIA YOUNG / TIMES PHOTO

“Archbishop Ryan really offers what a private school does. We have everything here,” said Denise LePera, the president. “We are able to meet the student at their academic level.”

Ryan opened in September 1966, had its first graduating class in ’69 and went co-educational in ‘89.

While the Franciscans oversaw the school for many years, there has been a lay principal for 15 years. The faculty consists largely of lay teachers, along with three nuns, three Archdiocese of Philadelphia priests and two deacons.

Catholic elementary school students in the Northeast generally choose one of five schools: Ryan, Father Judge, St. Hubert, Little Flower and Nazareth Academy. Only Ryan is co-ed.

“Life is co-ed. That’s our perspective,” LePera said.

Czarny, who went to Ryan when it was co-ed, said only the technology has changed in the last 10 years since he graduated.

“For the most part, it’s a neighborhood school,” he said.

McFadden graduated 10 years before Czarny, and he agrees.

“I got out in the ’90s, and Ryan has always been close knit. We know each other in the building,” he said.

To get the student perspective, the Times sat down with sophomore Conor Owens and seniors Cara DiMarcantonio, Amanda Lawson, Christopher Palantino and Izaiah Brockington.

Owens came to Ryan from Philadelphia Academy Charter School, while the others attended local Catholic elementary schools.

Owens plays soccer, takes honors and AP courses and has one of the leads in the upcoming production of The Drowsy Chaperone.

“There are so many different clubs and stuff to do,” he said.

DiMarcantonio, whose activities include serving as president of the English National Honor Society and being a member of the cross country and track teams, is from St. Anselm.

“The faith here is really strong. There’s a place for everybody here. It’s a fixture in the neighborhood,” she said.

Lawson attended Our Lady of Calvary and will spend her college days at Penn. At Ryan, she is the student body president, is a member of the National Honor Society, has played on the basketball and softball teams and took part in the dance marathon for charity.

“This is my second home,” she said. “We are AR.”

Palantino, of St. Katherine of Siena, was co-captain of the Ryan basketball team that reached the state semifinals. He’s also in the National Honor Society and the Ambassador Society.

“I was on the fence where to go my eighth-grade year, but when I saw the hospitality at the open house, I knew I would fit here for four years. The school has become part of my second family,” he said. “The teachers are one strong aspect of the school. They are very approachable and get us ready for college and the outside world. They really do love their jobs.”

Brockington, a basketball star, attended Resurrection of Our Lord before coming to Ryan.

“I like the environment. Everything is peaceful. Everybody gets along. It’s been a great experience here,” he said. “When you see other schools on the news, you realize how fortunate you are to go to a school like Ryan.” ••