Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Saint Maria Goretti...South Philly Style!

Today the Universal Church celebrates the memorial of Saint Maria Goretti, Virgin and Martyr. While the entire Catholic Church has recollections of St. Maria as a rural farm girl, most of us think of Maria Goretti in terms of blue jumper uniforms that graced the streets and neighborhoods of South Philadelphia from 1954 until the present day. Saint Maria Goretti High School was a legendary institution in South Philadelphia until its merger with Saint John Neumann High School. The powder blue uniforms were worn by legions of Goretti girls on the Tasker and Morris Streets bus lines for decades to and from the daily trips to school. Many Bishop Neumann High School students, and later Saint John Neumann High School students danced many a slow dance in Neumann's gym with females from their Sister School in South Philadelphia.

Later on many of those same teenage girls went on to become the wives of the same guys from Neumann. In my own case, my mother is a Goretti girl, Class of 1959, so is my sister, Class of 1980. While the story of the real Saint Maria Goretti is often forgotten, the many girls, now women that attended the school still recall the real tragic story of Maria Goretti and how she made the ultimate sacrifice of her life for the Catholic Church. Still, over the years, I have spent alot of time associated with Goretti graduates, teachers and principals. The late, Father Peter Slane often made references to his girls as "Goretti Lambs," which was completely in opposition to the popular nickname we Neumann guys often had for our South Philly Sisters. Regardless of name, the school and its students always represented the best values and principles of Catholic education in the classroom, on the athletic fields or courts or even on the dance floor at Bishop Neumann High School.

While both schools are gone as single entities, the tradition of Saint Maria Goretti's virtue and faith lives on as a historical reminder of the generations of great women that attended the school and celebrated the martydom of the school's namesake. The liturgical commemoration of Saint Maria Goretti in itself is a superlative example of a young virgins sacrifice in defense of her personal values and in defense of her faith in Christ Jesus. In the same way, many Goretti girls have also shared the vision of faith with all of us as they became young women, wives and mothers to many new generations of faithful Philadelphia Catholics.

On my desk, I have a first class relic of Saint Maria Goretti. I don't remember where I got the relic...it was given to me somewhere in my academic and spiritual journey over the years. When I look at it, pick it up and think about Saint Maria Goretti, the blue jumper clad students, with ribbons attached for the locker key always comes most strikingly to mind first. Many Goretti girls remember swinging those keys around the local corner waiting for the bus. The powder blue jumper is now a part of Goretti history. The school now bears a rather lengthy and cumbersome moniker, Saint John Neumann & Saint Maria Goretti High School, but the statue at 10th and Moore of Saint Maria Goretti will always endear the martyred Saint to the many South Philadelphians that loved the school and its faithful adherence to the example shown by its patron in life and in her death.
Saint Maria Goretti, is not only a Saint and Martyr, but a legendary institution that has inspired many generations of women in South Philadelphia to become great women of Catholic faith in many facets of personal and professional lives. The Goretti Lambs indeed continue to live on in our memories and in our faith! Happy Feast of Saint Maria Goretti!