Guest Columnist
By Father Stephen D. Thorne

On May 16, I gathered with my classmates to offer Holy Mass, share a meal and give thanks to God for 10 years of priestly service. As I sat in the pews of Immaculate Conception Chapel at our Seminary, I spiritually revisited all of my assignments as a priest. Indeed, I have been blessed with a variety of ministries parish priest, teacher, administrator and pastor. Two of my 10 years were spent teaching at St. John Neumann High School in South Philadelphia.

Even though I am not a Neumann alum, I am a “Pirate” by adoption – with black and orange in my blood. I taught 11 sections of theology to freshmen and sophomores, as well as serving as moderator for two classes of juniors for homeroom and dozens of young men in the Community Service Corps.

I was a happy high school teacher. I went to sporting events, plays and dances. I am quite sure some student still has his theology book full of my endless notes. Many of those happy memories were spent in my classroom at Neumann: Room 117.

In June 2004, Neumann closed and was merged to become SS. John Neumann and Maria Goretti Catholic High School. I was transferred and I closed Room 117. As I left, I thought I would never return.
On Monday, May 19 I returned to witness the blessing of St. John Neumann Place by Cardinal Rigali.

St. John Neumann Place is the result of substantial rehabilitation and conversion of the former high school into 75 modern, affordable, independent living apartments for seniors aged 62 and older. St. John Neumann Place becomes the newest facility operated by Catholic Health Care Services of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, which operates outstanding long term care facilities, assisted living and community based residences.

Anyone who believes the Archdiocese has abandoned the City of Philadelphia ought to visit St. John Neumann Place. It is truly a beautiful facility – outside and inside. And it is a sign of hope for that community.

As I entered the doors, I was immediately drawn to the last classroom across from the chapel: Room 117. It is now someone’s home – a safe home, a beautiful home, a spiritual home.

In his recent pastoral visit to the United States, our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, chose the theme “Christ our Hope.” In the midst of the struggles and challenges of life, there is always hope, because there is always Christ. Hope is exactly what St. John Neumann Place provides for the good people of South Philadelphia.

Father Thorne served on the faculty of St. John Neumann High School in South Philadelphia from 2002 2004. Presently, he serves as the Director of the archdiocesan Office for Black Catholics and pastor of St. Therese Parish in Mount Airy.