John Knebels
Sports Columnist

At Cardinal Dougherty High School’s 50th-year celebration four years ago, Cardinal John Foley was among the featured guests. After Dougherty principal Father Carl Janicki praised the cardinal for living a life fully immersed in the core values of a Catholic education, it was Cardinal Foley’s turn to speak.

“It’s always nice,” he said, “to be canonized without having to go through the hassle of dying first.”

The crowd roared.

This column is not an attempt to canonize anyone, but it is designed to recognize a life that, like Cardinal Foley’s, has been well lived and one that appears to keep getting better. It’s also about a person who continues to demonstrate a distinct sense of loyalty for his family, friends, church and high school alma mater. (Full disclosure: this person is my father-in-law.)

Bill McGarvey has been a bastion of Catholic education ever since he could remember. A product of Our Lady of Lourdes School in the Overbrook section of Philadelphia and St. Joseph’s Preparatory School, class of 1951, McGarvey, now 76, spent some time at St. Charles Seminary before instead choosing the vocation of marriage and fatherhood.

He and his wife of 49 years, Barbara, have four daughters and one son. The girls – Mary, Sheila, Patty, Kathy and Stasia – attended Villa Maria Academy in Malvern, while the only boy, Bill, followed his dad’s footsteps at the Prep.

Daily communicants from St. Andrew Parish in Drexel Hill, Bill and Barb have 13 grandchildren. Five live in Maryland, two in Cincinnati, Ohio. While all have benefited from their grandparents’ never-ending support, the other six have enjoyed the advantage of being geographically closest.

Whether it is a sporting event, a play, an important school function or the celebration of a personal milestone, Bill and his wife are in attendance just about every time.

One of McGarvey’s nine granddaughters, Kate Knebels, was casually asked what she likes most about her grandfather. The 15-year-old Merion Mercy Academy junior perhaps captured the true essence of her “Pop Pop.”

“He’s always thinking of other people before himself,” she said.

Like when he generously treats to meals, or makes sure that former teachers of his, or those of his children, are invited to Christmas and Easter dinners at the McGarvey home? Or when he continues to attend a traditional weekly lunch with “old timers” that began almost six decades ago, offering rides to those who cannot find transportation?

“I just think he’s happiest when other people are happy,” she said.

McGarvey’s father, “Whitey” McGarvey, was a star swimmer at West Catholic Boys before graduating in 1927. He and his wife Libby had three children. Bill and younger brother Jim were Prep grads while sister Marianne, like her mother, attended the Academy of Notre Dame De Namur in Villanova.

Whitey became a fixture at West Catholic basically up until the time he died in 1998 at age 89.

Not surprisingly, after graduating from St. Joseph’s College with a bachelor’s degree and later Harvard University with an MBA, Whitey’s elder son gradually increased his devotion toward the Prep, an institution run by his beloved Jesuit priests.

These days, retired from the business world but still teaching as an adjunct professor at several universities, McGarvey contributes his patented “Prep Prep Prep” bellow at football games regardless of the weather.

Same deal with basketball games, where he lauds the astuteness of legendary coach Speedy Morris.

“For some people, their high schools become a part of who they are, and they carry the values and traditions they learned wherever they go,” said McGarvey. “I guess that’s sort of what happened with me.”

Ironically, the last person who would have predicted that McGarvey would be rooting for Prep high school athletes 58 years after he graduated was himself.

“I didn’t have a strong love of the Prep while I was there,” said McGarvey, “but I would have fought anyone who said something bad about it.”

Jim Murray, a 1959 Prep grad who this fall will begin his 40th year as athletic director there has witnessed similar sentiments from many past graduates.

“Sometimes you need time and distance to get a perspective on the values that you received,” he said. “What Bill says absolutely makes sense. It’s part of what makes the Prep the Prep, and what has made West Catholic West Catholic. It’s the love of school that you don’t really understand until one or two or three or more years have gone by.”

Murray said people like McGarvey continue to educate today’s youth by their visibility at athletic events and their words of encouragement to the athletes after games.

“He not only is in the stands, but afterwards he makes a point of chit-chatting with the boys and congratulating them whether they won or lost,” he said. “You can tell that it means a lot to them.”

Prep football games commence a little more than a month from now. No doubt, Bill McGarvey will be in the stands. Just another daily example of living a life well lived.

And as Cardinal Foley, a Prep man himself, class of 1953, might say, it would be a shame if it was too late to read a newspaper article chronicling a life well lived.

Especially when it’s your own.

John Knebels can be reached at