St. Philip Neri School closes its doors after six decades
The walls at St. Philip Neri School would have a lot to say if they could speak.
Second grade students pray alongside their teacher, Sue Hillegass, during morning prayers.
In the 61 years since the school opened its doors in East Greenville, it has had literally thousands of students call it home. There have been many dedicated teachers imparting lessons in U.S. and world history, math, science, literature and reading. Countless hands have come together in prayer. There has been a lot of heartfelt guidance and much music and laughter echoing through the halls.
There has even been a fair share of skinned knees and trips to the principal’s office.
But as principal Pat Schleeweiss closes the doors and waves goodbye to students for the last time at the Sixth Street school, she will reflect on one thing.
“We give an excellent Catholic education here,” she said. “We prepared students for the 21st century. But I’m very unhappy my family is being pulled apart.”
The school, one of 48 scheduled to close or consolidate by the Archdiocese of Philadelphia back in January, held its last student day at the campus June 14.
St. Philip Neri students arrive for school as normal on the final day of classes in the building.
It was originally slated to merge with St. Isadore’s in Quakertown at that school’s campus, but administrators and parents found out shortly afterward that the school would close altogether. School officials said there was simply not enough support for the merger.
Schleeweiss said the majority of the 132 students will be going onto other area Catholic schools, like St. Mary’s and Blessed Theresa of Calcutta in Schwenksville or St. Francis Academy in Bally. But many students will be transitioning to public school.
“I’m definitely going to miss my teachers and my friends but I am looking forward to meeting new people,” said seventh-grader Matthew Souder of Perkiomenville. “I’m going to miss the school too because I went to preschool here. I’ve been going here as long as I can remember.”
“I think it will be fun. It will be something to adjust to,” said sixth-grader Marissa Wahl, who will be moving on to Boyertown Junior High East.
In September, Claire Stoll will be heading to Upper Perk Middle School along with classmates Cassidy Wright and Hannah Weil. “It will be weird not to wear a uniform and be able to wear nail polish and dye our hair,” she said on the differences between the school codes.
While Schleeweiss is officially retiring, some of St. Philip’s 15 staff members have been able to secure positions at other Catholic schools. Many are still looking.
“It’s really sad to see it close,” said seventh grade teacher Michele Martin, a former St. Philip student. “All the kids are going different directions. Being in the upper grades, we have known many of these families for a long time…It’s a great education and it’s sad to see it end.”
A student writes a message on the dry erase board expressing her feelings about the East Greenville school closing.
“It’s been wonderful,” said first grade teacher Jennifer Tisoskey of her time at St. Philip. “I actually got to see my first first grade class graduate this year. I always appreciated the opportunity to bring God and Jesus into teaching.”
The school itself, a branch of St. Philip Neri Parish in Upper Hanover, will continue its preschool and kindergarten program at its current location. It will additionally serve as a place to educate children in grades 1-8 in religious studies.
It will also be the new home of the St. Philip Neri Catholic Family Life and Religious Education Center, a project Rev. Robert A. Roncase of St. Philip Neri Parish is excited about.
Roncase said the school building and the Neri Center, the former St. Philip Neri Church at the corner of Route 29 and Sixth Street in East Greenville, will host meals for Catholic families and be the site of several 6-week sessions centered around strengthening family life as well as general education classes on computers and the like.
“Faith comes primarily from the family, so in order to have strong faith we must have strong families,” said Roncase of the center’s mission.
“Unfortunately, the school closing is taking place for financial reasons,” he noted of the closure, explaining the parish was subsidizing the majority of tuition costs for students. He said he is hopeful regional Catholic schools, with parishes working together, can keep Catholic education dynamic and credible for the future.
Students leaving the building last Thursday had tears but said they will have only good memories of the school that meant so much to them.