By Christie L. Chicoine

CS&T Staff Writer

PHILADELPHIA – The archdiocesan superintendent of schools was the only girl who, in June 1966, wore knee socks to her graduation from St. Athanasius School in the West Oak Lane section of the city.

Last week, in a visit to her alma mater, now known as St. Athanasius-Immaculate Conception School, Mary Rochford told an assembly of students that in her eighth-grade graduation picture she looks “like a fool.”

“I say that to you because sometimes, as children, we end up feeling a little foolish once in a while,” Rochford told the school’s sixth, seventh and eighth-graders during her Friday, Sept. 5 visit. “I stand before you today to say, it helps you to get to be a stronger person.”

Back on graduation day, “everybody laughed, and you know what I did? I laughed, too, because it was a good laugh,” Rochford said. “And when I look at the picture today, it really gives me a great laugh.”

Any student who feels anxiety as the new kid on the block can easily relate to Rochford because she transferred from Immaculate Conception School in the Germantown section of the city to St. Athanasius School in November of her eighth grade year.

Rochford recalled that when she was a student, the classrooms at St. Athanasius were arranged by how smart each student was. “If you were in the first row, first seat, you were the smart kid in the classroom. I was about the third or fourth row.”

Even though “I wasn’t the smartest kid in the class, I worked hard,” Rochford said.

And that was one of many lessons Rochford drove home to today’s students. “You don’t have to be the most brilliant person in the world, but if you are willing to learn and willing to work hard,” you might be pleasantly surprised at what awaits you, she continued.

“I did not sit here in eighth grade … thinking someday I will be the superintendent of schools.”

She told the students that even though they won’t see her every day – her office is at the Archdiocesan Office Center in Center City – her job is to work on their behalf. “I work for you every day. My life is dedicated to the students of the Catholic schools of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia,” she said.

Seventh-grader Terrill Gillette, 12, was happy to meet the superintendent and smiled when Rochford told the students that one of her favorite kinds of candy is Mike and Ikes. “She was fun,” Terrill said. “I like her.”

Terrill said his goals for the school year are to get As and Bs and for his basketball team to win games.

What Terrill likes best about his school is that “it gives us an education about God,” he said.

Two days earlier, on Wednesday, Sept. 3, Rochford visited the incoming freshmen of another alma mater – Cardinal Dougherty High School, where she graduated in 1970.

“She was really cool, really funny,” said 14-year-old Kyle Gormley. “She seemed like a person you could talk to and who would help you out with anything.”

Michelle Boggs, 14, said Rochford’s talk was inspiring. “She brought up the Dr. Seuss book, ‘Oh, the Places You’ll Go!'” as a fun way to guide the students through their four years of high school.

The superintendent also had advice for the Class of 2012. She told the freshmen to have fun and to get involved with school activities but never to settle with just getting by academically. She encouraged them to emulate the attitude of Christ.

The fact that the superintendent of schools was at their school on their first day of high school was both a surprise and an honor, Boggs said. “It made me feel special that she chose Dougherty, and it made Dougherty feel so special to me.”
Rochford appreciated the attentiveness of the assembly and was amused by a reaction to her revelation that she was a 1970 alumna.

“When I told them that I had graduated 38 years ago from Cardinal Dougherty, I heard one student say to another, ‘How old is this place?'”

For information about the archdiocesan Office of Catholic Education, contact Mary Rochford at (215) 587-3700, e-mail or visit the Web

CS&T Staff Writer Christie L. Chicoine may be reached at (215) 587-2468 or