By Arlene Edmonds
Special to The CS&T
WYNCOTE – The Bishop McDevitt High School family is mourning the loss of their longtime academic affairs vice principal Albert Achuff. Many of the school’s staff, faculty and students attended his funeral Mass at St. Frances Cabrini Church in Fairless Hills on Saturday, April 18. Achuff, 64, was buried at Holy Sepulcher Cemetery, within walking distance of the secondary school where he came on staff in 1984.
McDevitt principal Rosemary Naab was among those who coordinated Saturday’s funeral. There were 750 obituaries printed and all of them were gone before the 11 a.m. Mass began, according to Naab. The church was filled with current and former McDevitt students. Some sang in the choir during the Mass, others were pallbearers and about 40 attended the final rites in the cemetery.
“It was such an uplifting service,” Naab said. “One former student left the day before to drive up from Florida. Another sent his friend because he was in Iraq. His friend brought a Philadelphia police shield that the former student wanted buried with Mr. Achuff because he said he would not have made it through the police academy if it wasn’t for him. Students have set up a Facebook site to pay tribute to him.”
Naab said that Achuff would not have anticipated the emotional outpour from those who knew him at school. She noted that he was “a humble, gentle and deeply spiritual man” who “truly lived the Gospel.” This was evident by the fact that he would often track students who were not doing well academically and work closely with them until they graduated.
“I was just truly mesmerized by the students being our strength,” said Naab. “Ever since we found out he died on Tuesday the 14th, everyone has come together. It’s definitely a family around here … in the best sense of the word family.”
Since Achuff was the first one to arrive at McDevitt every school day, when he was not there by 7:15 a.m. on April 14 many of the staff and administrators began to worry. They immediately called a neighbor and the Cheltenham Police. When Achuff was found dead in his home the news devastated the entire school.
“I think one of our parents said it best when she said that he was the heart and soul of this school,” Naab said.
Bishop McDevitt President Salvatore DiNenna agrees. He pointed out that the students arrived at St. Frances Cabrini Church on their own Saturday morning, all dressed in their school uniforms. Even though Achuff’s family filled one pew, the church was standing- room only.
“There were so many alums there who appreciated his devotion,” DiNenna said. “He was an amazing mentor who did so much over and beyond his job description. He was dedicated to Catholic education. This was his vocation in serving the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. We were blessed to have him for over 25 years here. His vitality and animation as well as guidance to our students will be missed. The whole McDevitt family is saddened to lose such an enthusiastic and devoted mentor.”
Achuff earned his bachelor’s degree from LaSalle University and his master’s degree from the University of Scranton. He began his educational career in 1967 as a social studies teacher at Bishop Conwell High School in Levittown.
After leaving Bishop Conwell in 1984, he spent a year teaching U.S. history at Holy Family University. He then joined the McDevitt staff, first as the assistant principal of student services. In 1990 he became assistant principal of academic affairs.
Achuff is survived by his sister, Sister Loretta Regina, I.H.M.
Arlene Edmonds is a freelance writer and St. Raymond of Penafort parishioner. She may be reached at ArleneEdmonds@aol.com.