by Paula M. Riley
Since 1862, Our Mother of Consolation Parish School has been educating the children of Chestnut Hill and its surrounding communities. Thousands of students have walked the halls of the Catholic school on East Chestnut Hill Avenue. Today, the school offers the best of 21st century learning, but its core mission has changed little over the past 150 years.
“Parents choose OMC Parish School because it has always been a place where a child can get a quality education based on strong religious values,” said Bruce Hagy, OMC Parish School principal.
He looks to recent OMC Parish School graduates and proudly comments that they are accepted to the best private, Catholic and public high schools. Regardless of where they go, Hagy explained, the transition is an easy one because they have been well prepared.
Hagy judges this preparation as much more than just academics.
“By the time our children get to eighth grade they are not all “A” students, but they are all very nice kids – they are kids that I really enjoy being with, kids that I can talk to,” he said. “This is because we educate the whole person here – academically, socially, and spiritually. Our kids are ready to contribute to society in a meaningful way. That foundation is laid right here.”
This foundation is built upon a long tradition of education. The first pastor of Our Mother of Consolation, the Rev. Dr. Patrick Moriarity,OSA, asked the Sisters of Saint Joseph to start a school for the parish children. The sisters were running a private boarding school, Mount Saint Joseph Academy, in the current location of the Sisters of Saint Joseph Motherhouse.
The sisters agreed to help, and they organized a day school in a tenant house, which was originally part of the William Dewees Mill. Today, this location is known as Harpers Meadow, directly across from Chestnut Hill College.
In 1881, the school was moved to the OMC Parish Hall (in the basement of the church) until the school building was completed in 1887. Because of damage sustained in a fire, the school building was rebuilt in 1916.
Educating Catholic children in the late 1800s was not a popular concept. In Chestnut Hill, the Know-Nothing Party, an anti-immigrant and anti-Catholic political group, was still strongly opposed to this. When Our Mother of Consolation Church was built, the group protested and tried to halt construction.
“They didn’t want the parish to have a school, and they didn’t think that Catholic children should be allowed to attend any school at all,” Colleen Amuso, director of advancement for OMC’s parish school, explained.
Despite this resistance, the Sisters of Saint Joseph began teaching the three r’s in the fall of 1862. It was just one of the storms that the school would weather.
Last year, the Archdiocese of Philadelphia decided that many archdiocesan schools would be closed or merged, based on factors such as financial stability and effectiveness of their programs. OMC was slated to merge with Holy Cross Parish School in Mt. Airy.
The school families rallied together and appealed the archdiocese’s decision, proving that OMC Parish School was not just stable enough to remain open – it was thriving.
“The archdiocese’s study didn’t show the whole picture,” Amuso said. “We were able to show what their standardized evaluation did not and that our parish numbers are growing beyond our projections.”
Since the Rev. Bob Bazzoli, OSFS, became the pastor in 2005, the parish has been growing in numbers – baptisms outnumber funerals. This growth has increased the number of parishioners enrolled in the school, and as the school grows so too does the parish, Hagy said.
“A school helps building parish community” he said. “It’s a continuum of oneness with family. From the baptism through eighth grade, a vital school helps the parish develop warmth and collaboration among families.”
OMC’s parish school families are proud of their school and dedicate much time and energy in building that community. Eileen Kallmeyer and her husband Chris have three children at OMC.
“We love everything about OMC and the parish school experience,” she said. “In addition to strong academics and extracurricular programs, our kids are learning to be kind, considerate, and respectful – OMC is a place where families are friends.”
Hagy brags about OMC parents and the teaching staff. He has been at the helm for six years, and before that he was a seventh and eighth grade teacher for two decades at the school. On his office wall hangs a black and white photograph of 70 students sitting in neat rows of wooden desks from 1972.
Much has changed since then.
“That was the dark ages in education,” Hagy said. “It was one-way, all teacher directed where kids would only talk if they raised their hand and were called upon. Today, we have a completely different view.”
He describes a very interactive environment where students still learn the basics. The classrooms may be the same ones used in 1972 and 1922, but what happens inside has changed. Much of the work is project based and collaborative and involves individual and group presentations. Academics are integrated with the OMC Parish School Code of Courtesy in which students are called to respect everyone they interact with.
“Ultimately,” Hagy said, “The Code of Courtesy is based on the guiding principles of Christ.”
OMC Pastor Bazzoli explained that one of the hallmarks of the school was the spirituality of the religious orders involved with the school. The parish was formed and led by Augustinian priests from 1858 to 1998, until the Oblates of Saint Francis de Sales assumed leadership in 1999. Both of these religious orders have brought their own charisms to the school experience. These, combined with that of the Sisters of Saint Joseph, brings a blend of spirituality to the school.
“The Salesian charism of ‘humility before God and gentleness towards neighbor’ blends with the Sisters of Saint Joseph’s mission to “live and work so that all people may be united with God and with one another,’” said Bazzoli. “These spiritualities play out in our school every day. As we move forward, we will reinforce these spiritualities as unique characteristics of our school.”
Members of the recently formed alumni association often associate their experience at the school with an Augustinian priest or a sister of Saint Joseph. Amuso has led the charge to reconnect alumni back to the school and hosted the first alumni events – a Pub Nite at Iron Hill Brewery and an All-Years Reunion – as part of the school’s homecoming celebration earlier this month.
“They come back with so many great stories of their time here,” Amuso said. “They are so excited to see the school and reminisce about their childhood days.”
She invited any member of OMC’s alumni from the past 150 years to come back and visit, connect via Facebook, call 215-247-1060 or send her an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Alumni are invited to the many events the school is hosting to celebrate its 150th anniversary, including monthly open houses, Catholic Schools Week in January, Trivia Night in February and the Spring Soiree in April where alumni will be inducted into the OMC Hall of Fame.
A full list of 150th anniversary celebration activities can be found on the school’s website at school.omcparish.com.