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St. Joseph’s Preparatory School blends a rich historical legacy and tradition with the mission of preparing today’s students for the future. Founded by the Jesuits, St. Joseph’s Prep traces its roots back to 1851. The school is located in the 1700 block of West Girard Avenue in North Philadelphia. Its student body includes just over 900 young men.
Bill Avington, the school’s director of communications, explains that education is at the heart of the Jesuit mission. “There are a number of Jesuit colleges,” he points out, “and we’re part of a network of Jesuit high schools.
“We stress the classics in a lot of ways. We still require all students to take Latin. So, there’s this classical education but it’s also mixed with kind of looking forward and always trying to figure out ‘What do our students need to succeed in college and of course beyond that, in life?’
“While we stress the humanities, the classics and the writing and the public speaking, we’re also working on our STEM issues; we’re adding engineering classes, we’re putting in updated science labs so our students who are looking go into medicine or research are prepared.
“So, I think there’s kind of a nice balance between being rooted in the traditional education that we’ve always been known for and also looking forward to the next thing our students need to succeed.”
The school also has a commitment to community service and spirituality. Avington, a St. Joseph’s Prep graduate himself (one of his sons is a graduate, another is a current student), says the staff and faculty work to implement that commitment on a day-to-day basis.
“Everything we do here at the school is (based on) AMDG; Ad maiorem Dei gloriam,” he says, “which in English is ‘For the greater glory of God. So, everything you do is being done to give glory to God. Because you’ve been given great talents by God you then need to do something with them and do the best you can. Not for yourself, not for your own success only but for the betterment of the world.
So, that influences everything we do. In the classroom, we’re teaching students to be successful in their fields so that they can become leaders in their community who have been trained to do these kinds of things. We definitely stress that. In all the classes, you’re taught that, but also in extracurriculars.
“Every student, by the time they graduate, is required to do 75 hours of community service, spread out over four years. And so, we really kind of make sure we value this. And it’s a requirement because we know it’s important for you to learn how to be of service to others.
“To graduate from St. Joe’s Prep, there are certain things you need to have accomplished. Obviously high-level academics but then equally important is service to our world.
“Father Frederico, who is our director of mission ministry, always says ‘We are called to be the hands and feet of God.’ And so being of service and doing service in the community is a way to do those things. To be God’s hands and feet and to go out there and walk with others, learn what they need in their community. How can we help? What do we get from them, from being in service with them?”
Arguably the most significant event in the school’s history was a fire in January of 1966 that destroyed two thirds of its infrastructure. The school considered relocating in the suburbs but ultimately decided to remain where it was and where it remains today.
“I think that says a lot about what we do and who we are as an institution,” Avington says. “We’re a proud city school. We’ve been neighbors with many of our north Philadelphia neighbors for their whole lives here. So, it’s very important for us to stay and I think that decision in 1966 is vital to who we are today in 2018.”
The school is recognized for its athletic prowess. The hockey team won the Class 3A and Flyers Cup titles as year ago and the football team is a state and national power.
Avington notes it’s essential that the athletic program mesh with the overall philosophy of the school. “Everything you’re doing is for God’s glory,” he says. “So, if God give you the ability to shoot a hockey puck better than other people you need to do it to the best of your ability, or be on the football field or sing and dance on the stage, or being a Latin scholar or a scientist.
“Having a successful athletic program is important because God gives talents to you and you’re supposed to use them to the best of your ability. We definitely aspire to be excellent in all the things we do here, whether it’s our forensics team going to Harvard and competing there, or our broadcasting team doing the best broadcast they can, or being picked by Disney to be one of four schools in the country to do Newsies first. These are things that we’re aspiring to.
“But each of those (groups) are encouraged to do more. So, the football team every summer goes on a service trip to an area where they can really help the community. Our hockey team helps with Special Olympics and brings kids out on the ice.
“It’s infused in everything we do, that service component.”
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