By Lou Baldwin

Special to The CS&T

PHILADELPHIA – James G. McSherry, who died in 2006, had two great loves in life – Roman Catholic High School, from which he graduated in 1940, and St. Stephen Parish, where he was raised. St. Stephen closed in 1993, and it couldn’t be helped; his high school is another matter.

Roman Catholic, founded in 1890 as the nation’s first free diocesan high school, still exists thanks to dedicated alumni, especially McSherry, who contributed generously of both time and treasure to keep the grand old school at Broad and Vine Streets open.

During his lifetime, McSherry, a Northeast Philadelphia realtor and insurance broker, donated almost $700,000 to his alma mater. At a press conference held at the school on Feb. 17 it was announced that in death he bequeathed $425,000 to Roman, bringing his overall contributions to more than $1.1 million. It means that McSherry is second only, as an inspanidual donor, to the school’s founding benefactor, coal and ice merchant Thomas E. Cahill, under whose will Roman was established and built.

“Jim loved ‘Catholic High,'” said Roman Catholic President Father Joseph W. Bongard. “During his time here he distinguished himself for academic and athletic achievements. He formed lifelong friendships with students from neighborhoods throughout the city of Philadelphia.”

During his life, McSherry, a former Roman alumni president, was an ambassador for the school with the business and civic community, and he was a major force in the mid-1980s when the school was threatened with closure, Father Bongard said.

Underlying McSherry’s commitment to his high school was a strong Catholic faith. For example, Father Bongard cited his 2004 rental of a movie theater to invite the entire senior class of the school to a viewing of Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ.”

“He would say it was very important for our students to understand the depths of Christ’s love and all He did to save us,” Father Bongard said.

McSherry’s donations during the last two decades of the school’s revitalization were almost evenly split between capital programs and student assistance programs.

McSherry’s $425,000 bequest will benefit various scholarship programs, with half earmarked to a fund honoring his parents, James and Ellen McSherry, and the balance equally split among four other funds: the Thomas E. Cahill Adopt-a-Student Program; the McSherry Brothers Scholarship; the Cahill Club Scholarship; and the Lt. John Murphy, ’40 Scholarship. The latter is named for his classmate, friend and business partner John Murphy, who was killed in action during World War II.

“Mr. McSherry defines stewardship. He was a leader and yet at the same time a very humble man,” said Alumni President Lawrence Elliott ’66. “He supported all endeavors of Roman but always had his eye on the future. His wisdom will surely impact future generations.”

Lou Baldwin is a member of St. Leo Parish and a freelance writer.