A special graduation & a special young man
Today is a very special day for Monsignor Bonner High School. Just as last night was special for Archbishop Prendergast.
It's graduation day.
But what makes these events really special is that they are not the last graduations in the long history of these legendary Catholic institutions.
There was a time not that long ago when it was fairly certain that wasn't going to be the case.
The two schools were on the list created by a blue ribbon commission tasked by the archdiocese with recommending which schools should be closed as enrollments continued to shrink and costs continued to go up.
Most expected a recommendation that the tradition of separate boys and girls institutions on the hill in Drexel Hill would go by the boards, that the schools would be merged into a single school No one believed both schools would be targeted for closure.
They were wrong.
After the initial shock, a community decided to rally around the Bonner-Prendie tradition. What happened next can only be described as the "Miracle of Drexel Hill." More than $5 million was raised in a matter of weeks.
Archbishop Charles Chaput was so impressed that he reversed the decision by his own panel. Bonner and Prendie would live on.
It was not the first miracle for one particular Bonner student.
And that's why I was so impressed when I got a visit yesterday afternoon.
I get a lot of phone calls here at the home office in Primos. And voice-mails. And emails. They usually have a common theme. An upset reader wants to tell someone at the Daily Times exactly what they think of the newspaper. Those calls are usually funneled to me. It goes with the territory.
Not yesterday's visitor.
He simply wanted to say thanks. You've probably heard of him.
His name is Tommy Geromichalos.
I first encountered Tommy more than five years ago. Tommy was a student at St. Cyril of Alexandria School in East Lansdowne. St. Cyril's was struggling. It appeared it would become the latest parochial school in eastern Delaware County to be forced to close its doors.
Then Tommy wrote a letter. He suffers from cystic fibrosis. Tommy wrote a letter to the Make-A-Wish Foundation, the organization the grants the desires of sick kids. But Tommy didn't want to go to Disney World, Or meet a pop star. Or get the autograph of a famous athlete.
Tommy wanted St. Cyril's - his beloved grade school - to stay open so he could graduate with his classmates.
The good folks at Make-A-Wish took a look at the daunting fiscal challenge the school faced and realized they couldn't grant Tommy's desire. But they did something better. They told us about it. Columnist Gil Spencer profiled Tommy's wish in a Sunday column. We ran the text of his letter in the paper.
What happened next was the first 'miracle' Tommy would see. Once again, a community rallied around its school. They held bake sales. They washed cars. Local businesses got involved. Tommy's saga appeared in almost every newspaper in the region as well as every TV newscast. Of course, his smiling face appeared in the Daily Times. Again and again.
All of this culminated with Cardinal Justin Rigali visiting the East Lansdowne school and pronouncing it saved.
Ironically, Tommy went on to Monsignor Bonner. A few years later, his new school would likewise need another miracle. A community galvanized by faith - and funds - made sure that happened.
This morning Tommy Geromichalos will join his classmates at graduation ceremonies for Monsignor Bonner High School. What makes these kids remarkable, just as with Prendie last night, is that they will not be the last classes to do so.
Before he donned his cap and gown, Tommy paid me a visit yesterday afternoon. He's no longer that kid I remember from St. Cyril's. He's a strapping young man.
As I escorted him back to my office, I wondered what had sparked his visit. I soon found out.
"I just wanted to say thank you for everything you've done for me," Tommy informed me.
Tommy told me he had received an award during the honors ceremony for the student overcoming odds. He was beaming. I was, too.
His plan now is to attend classes at Delaware County Community College and then Penn State Brandywine. He wants to study history. That's fitting, considering the fact that he's made so much of it himself the last few years.
Tommy's visit reinforced my idea of what a community newspaper is all about. I couldn't help but smile as he told me how much he appreciated everything we had done.
I informed him it was our pleasure. I made sure to tell him to say hi to his parents, as well as everyone at Bonner.
I still couldn't believe he had taken the time to visit a newspaper editor.
They teach them well at St. Cyril's. And at Bonner-Prendie.
And they will continue to do so for years to come.
I guess that's the final miracle of this story.
That and a kid who reminded a newspaper editor of the value of what he does.