In the mid 1950’s it is said that there were over 300,000 students in Catholic schools across the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. And while the schools seemed to be healthy, there was an enrollment drop at John W. Hallahan Catholic Girls’ High School. The loss, at least on paper, was two girls. But in the much bigger picture these two girls were losing something much more precious as their father had been diagnosed with cancer. Thus they made the decision to leave high school and assist their mother with raising the rest of the family. As their father lay dying, these two Catholic school girls promised their dad that they would do everything they could to support their mom and family. And so they soon joined the work force and never looked back. Until now.
It’s been almost 60 years since Rosina Squilla and Rickie Descano left their school in Center City Philadelphia. And one could make the case that these two women were some of the most successful high school “dropouts” from Hallahan. You see, not only did they go on to live up to their promise to their father, they went on to do even greater things. Their legacy will not be found in an alumnae magazine as the CEOs of a Fortune 500 Company. And their legacy will probably not be found in the school’s annual report with 6 figure donations. What they have given is much more valuable. Rosie and Ricki have nurtured, mentored, and ultimately brought to fruition a family committed to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Over the last several months I have come to know and love this family as my own. I will admit, it wasn’t so hard given their strong Italian roots (and mine). But much beyond their famous hospitality, generosity and goodness, it is clear that Rickie and Rosie, as aunts, sisters, and moms, have inspired their family to be people of Gospel joy. They have provided a foundation of faith but they have done so with great enthusiasm and passion for their family and for the Lord. One only need be in their presence for a short time to realize that there is nothing fake about these people. What you see is what you get! And how refreshing that is in our world today.
In April, I had the privilege of finally presenting to Rosie and Rickie their high school diplomas in what was deemed a “private ceremony” in Rosie’s home. 35 of us Italians in the basement eating course after course after course…this is what we call “private”. But just last week, as the Archdiocese of Philadelphia wrapped up our celebration of Catholic Schools Week, I had the great joy of being a part of Rosie and Rickie’s first visit back to Hallahan since they left in the mid 1950’s. This was the icing on the cake! A Baccalaureate Mass, a tour of the school, and most importantly, personal interaction with the young ladies at Hallahan today. Standing back and taking it all in, I witnessed the students of today admiring the students of yesterday. Eyes were filled with tears as we told the story of Rosie and Rickie to these kids. I wondered if they could even imagine what it would be like to have to leave school in 2015 to take care of a dying father. I wondered if these kids realized what the word sacrifice really means. And I wondered if these kids really knew that they were in the presence of greatness.
There was no other way to wrap up this day then with a family lunch celebration. This one was small…only about 20 of us. I say “us” because I feel like an adopted son! And looking around that table, as I had done in Rosie’s house in April, I saw the impact that Catholic education has. Sometimes we want to measure legacies in monetary gifts or buildings named in honor of people. But on this day, it was clear to me that legacy means much more than this. It means family. It means joy and enthusiasm. It means sacrifice and gratitude. And most of all, it means passing on from one generation to the next the great gift of our faith. And that’s what these two sisters have done for their family….and for me!
There was way too much news coverage of this event to present all of the media links. But here are a few: