By Christie L. Chicoine
CS&T Staff Writer

PHILADELPHIA – For his dedication to African-American Catholics and faithful service as a priest and bishop of the Philadelphia Archdiocese, Retired Auxiliary Bishop Robert P. Maginnis was named the 2010 recipient of the archdiocesan Msgr. John Mitchell Memorial Scholarship organization’s prestigious St. Martin de Porres Medal.

“I am very appreciative and very honored to receive this medal,” said Bishop Maginnis upon receiving the award at the biennial banquet held Nov. 5 at the Sheraton Philadelphia City Center Hotel.

The banquet also acknowledged the nine 2010 Mitchell scholarship recipients. {{more}}

Assisted by a board of directors, Father Stephen D. Thorne, director of the archdiocesan Office for Black Catholics, oversees the administration of the scholarship fund, which provides tuition assistance to a select number of qualifying Catholic, African-American high school students at archdiocesan and private Catholic secondary schools throughout the area.

The significance of the scholarship “is the difference between the students going or not going to our Catholic schools,” Father Thorne said. “All their parents have said without the scholarship grant, they could not afford our tuition at this point in time.”

Among other requirements, Mitchell scholars must maintain a high grade point average and require significant financial need.

Since its inception, 19 scholarships have been awarded through the Msgr. John Mitchell Scholarship Fund.

Among the 2010 scholars is Brittany Sturspanant, a senior at John W. Hallahan Catholic Girls High School in Philadelphia.

“I was really happy and shocked,” Sturspanant said of her reaction to being named a Mitchell scholar both her junior and senior years at Hallahan.

Had she not received the scholarship, Sturspanant said she did not know how she could afford to go to the school, which has basically become her second home. “I’m really thankful.

“I love the classes and the teachers who teach them,” she said.

In addition to academics – Sturspanant is a member of the National Honor Society – she is captain of the cheerleading team, plays alto saxophone in the band and is a member of the Respect Life Club and the Community Service Corps.

Sturspanant plans to major in chemistry as part of the pre-med program at either the University of the Sciences or Holy Family University, both in Philadelphia. Her ultimate goal is to become a pediatrician.

The banquet’s keynote speaker was former college football cornerback Adam J. Taliaferro, an attorney and member of the board of directors of Neumann University in Aston, Delaware County. Taliaferro recovered from a paralyzing spinal cord injury sustained while playing football for the Penn State Nittany Lions in September 2000.

In a riveting address, Taliaferro rallied the nine newly named scholars to reach for their goals regardless of any obstacles they may have to overcome.

Auxiliary Bishop John J. McIntyre presented the St. Martin de Porres medal to Bishop Maginnis on behalf of Cardinal Justin Rigali.

In 1963, two years after Bishop Maginnis was ordained a priest of the Philadelphia Archdiocese, the Civil Rights Movement was in full swing in the United States, he recalled in his address at the scholarship banquet.

The news reports chronicling the movement prompted then-Father Maginnis to visit priests who were ministering to members of the African-American community in the Archdiocese’s parishes.

Among the priests he visited was Msgr. John Mitchell, who at the time was pastor of St. Ignatius of Loyola Parish in Southwest Philadelphia.

There, Msgr. Mitchell shared with Father Maginnis the culture and struggles of his black Catholic parishioners.

The insights would prove helpful when, a year later, Father Maginnis was assigned as parochial vicar at Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish in Chester, Delaware County, another “black parish” of the Archdiocese.

In 2004, when the Archdiocesan Office Center in Philadelphia was restructured, Bishop Maginnis was assigned to assist Cardinal Rigali in overseeing the Secretariat for Evangelization, under which the Office for Black Catholics operates.

On Sept. 5, 2009, Bishop Maginnis was installed as a Fourth Degree Knight of Peter Claver.

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

The 2010 Msgr. John Mitchell Scholars are:

Rashaan Hale, Malik Lewis and Kha Vaughn Love, Class of 2011, Roman Catholic High School for Boys, Philadelphia

Sandra Kpekpasse, Class of 2011, Bishop McDevitt Catholic High School, Wyncote, Montgomery County

Brittany Sturspanant, Class of 2011, John W. Hallahan Catholic Girls’ High School, Philadelphia

Thomas Johnson, Class of 2011, and Latifha Brooks, Class of 2012, SS. John Neumann and Maria Goretti Catholic High School, South Philadelphia

Kathlyn Martin, Class of 2013, Little Flower Catholic High School for Girls, Philadelphia

Katia Jean, Class of 2014, Cardinal O’Hara Catholic High School, Springfield, Delaware County