After nearly closing, Little Flower flourishes

In 1992, the high school was on the chopping block, but thanks to a strong pitch by the alumnae, the school remains open.

Sentinel pride: Marie Gallagher (above, right), the principal when Little Flower nearly closed 25 years ago, listens to senior class president Carley Ann Hugard speak during a celebration this week. The school nearly closed 25 years ago, but students and officials fought to keep the doors open. JOHN COLE / TIMES PHOTOS

Little Flower High School celebrates the 25th anniversary of the fight to keep the school open.

On Saturday, Little Flower High School for Girls, 1000 W. Lycoming St., opened its doors for a celebration that 25 years ago seemed unlikely.

In 1992, Little Flower was among 10 Catholic high schools in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia that were on the verge of closing their doors for good. With open enrollment for Catholic schools starting the following year, there were doubts that Little Flower would be able to keep up with other schools in the archdiocese.

It was Oct. 9, 1992 when Little Flower was brought into the spotlight. That day, principal Marie Gallagher had to deliver the devastating news to the student body in the auditorium.

“When they heard the announcement, everyone was in tears. There was crying, people were upset,” Gallagher said. “I said, ‘We don’t have time to cry, we have to work, we have a lot to do.’ ”

The news that a number of schools were recommended to be closed by the archdiocese controlled headlines that day, but Little Flower seemed to have garnered the most attention.

“Because we were the only school that had kids in school the day the announcement was made, all of the press was here,” explained Gallagher. “So they saw the response and, as a result, they really liked Little Flower and they kept coming back to Little Flower to see what was going on.”

The following eight weeks were filled with nonstop activity to keep Little Flower in the public eye and raise money from alumnae to show the archdiocese their commitment to keeping their school open.

Amy Steinmetz Carthy, class of ’87, the director of major and planned gifts, organized a celebration that took place on Saturday. She recalled the valiant effort from the Little Flower community in 1992. At the time, Carthy was working in the development office at Little Flower and was taken aback by the amount of money donated to keep the school alive.

“It came in in droves,” she said. “I had checks and cash spread out on my floor, trying to count the $5 checks, $10 checks and it all added up to in the end to $90,000.”

Perhaps one of the most influential nights in keeping Little Flower open was Oct. 20, 1992 at Archbishop Ryan High School. The students and supporters of Little Flower packed Ryan as they made their pitch to the archdiocese.

The persistence of the students grabbed the attention of Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua so much that Gallagher joked that they “literally stalked” him.

Kathleen Zolk, class of ’95, has taught mathematics at Little Flower for the past 11 years, but recalls the unique tight-knit bond of the student body at the time of crisis that kept them going.

“Little Flower is just so different,” she said. “The spirit here, you see people walking down the street and you have a Little Flower hoodie on and they’ll stop and talk to you and have no clue who you are. We’re such a family.”

The two months leading up to the decision from the archdiocese may have felt like an eternity for the Little Flower family, but their hard work did indeed pay off.

On Dec. 14, 1992, Marie Gallagher stood by the fax machine as she awaited to tell the student body the fate of their beloved school. Although Gallagher was optimistic with what the outcome was going to be, she vividly remembers the attention on the announcement that day.

“I went down to the auditorium and every major news outlet, I felt like the president of the United States, because every major news channel had a microphone on our podium.” said Gallagher.

Zolk was one of those in the student body joined hand in hand in the auditorium as they awaited the good news. “I still get chills now even talking about it.”

The announcement was made by Gallagher that Little Flower was going to stay open and the rest is history.

Twenty-five years later, and the school welcomed alumnae, their families and potential students to their celebration to remember how hard they had to fight for their school.

Sister Donna Shallo, IHM, has been the president of Little Flower for the past 18 years, and was happy to see the number of alums who came back for the joyous occasion, but reminded them that work remains in front of them.

Those in 1992 who donated money to keep Little Flower open are referred to as their “lifesavers,” but Shallo added, “We need a new generation of lifesavers” to keep the school going.

On Saturday, current students and alumnae joined in the auditorium for a presentation to remind them how far they have come and show how close they are to each other to this day.

Carley Ann Huggard, senior class president, was thrilled to see the turnout for the celebration.

“It’s so funny hearing their stories and how everything was back then because everything looks the same for the most part,” Huggard said. “The traditions are the same, because we really are rooted in tradition here at Little Flower and that’s just how it’s always been and hopefully it will continue like that for many more years.”

Although their future was in doubt years ago, one cannot question the dedication displayed by the Little Flower community. ••