Farewell Fr. Swope
Cura et Gratis Fr. Swope
By Tara McFadden P’20, ’22
It all begins with gratitude,” said Rev. John W. Swope, SJ ’72 to the community gathered in the Plaza Lot, in the shadows of the Church of the Gesu. After fifteen months of not gathering and not being together, this spring the Plaza Lot became the go-to location for lunch-time wiffle ball, Masses, award ceremonies and banquets–who could have predicted that? On that day, it was a place of gratitude: from the Prep to Fr. Swope for his six years of service to his alma mater and from Fr. Swope to the people who had made his time so special.
Before I came to work at the Prep, I thought I knew the importance of a hand-written thank you note but I came to understand the magnitude as Fr. Swope wrote thousands during his time at the Prep. These little white note cards were his way of expressing gratitude for going above and beyond the call of duty. Often I would see them displayed on a colleague’s bulletin board, a sign of how important they were.
So I begin this piece with gratitude for the gifts bestowed upon the McFadden family. I was on a plane to Boston when I got the call. “Fr. Swope, the newest President of the Prep, is looking for someone to run his office. Interested?” “Um, yes please.” That voice mail message changed the trajectory for my family, especially my three kids who were in grades 7, 5 and 5 at the time. It led them on a firm path of the caliber of education that we were seeking. A chance to go to the Prep (and Merion for my girl!). My prayers were answered.
Once the interview was scheduled, I told the kids: “I have an interview at the Prep.” “Yes! I can go to the Prep,” said Sean ’20. “I haven’t even gotten the job yet.” “You will.” Thank you for your faith in me.
So that’s my story of gratitude. And many of you know how it’s going. With one son now at Cornell University and two seniors looking at colleges, we are indeed grateful as they can write their own ticket because they have the foundation that their school has offered. Doors are open to them and they can choose through which to go. Thank you, Fr. Swope! My gratitude is endless.
This is just one of the many stories of people who have been helped by the generosity, forgiveness and compassion of John Swope. His kindness has changed the course of my life and also the trajectory of so many others in his subtle ways. He has offered an opportunity to so many students and then let them run with it—he has allowed others to write their own story or walk through those doors.
He sets the stage for others to thrive—if they want it.
I could write this all in Latin but only have a few years of it and I didn’t study at the Prep so we might as well toss that out the bathroom window (nod to John Swope). When I think of Fr. Swope, I think of cura. Care. At 17th & Girard, we say cura personalis, we say cura urbi, we say cura apostolica—common to many Jesuit institutions. So it’s not just 17th & Girard but worldwide as we are but one small part of the international Jesuit community.
From my seat on the 2nd floor of Jesuit Hall, I watch students pass by, I see prospective parents taking a tour and I welcome guests. I also see directly into the President’s Office. I hear him on the phone and I witness him talking to himself (I knew we were kindred spirits!). When the chips are down and someone needs help, John Swope picks up the phone and talks and listens. He figures a way to care for the individual. Maybe it’s by welcoming them to the Prep. Or, welcoming them back with another chance. But always by setting the stage for success.
Over the years, I’ve seen him do those little things so many times: asking freshmen to thank their moms publicly at an event; for a young man to get out of his comfort zone and reap the opportunities that St. Joseph’s Prep has to offer; helping colleagues to excel in their fields by offering advice or encouragement; providing solace on the loss of a loved one; ensuring the future of the Prep by contacting alumni and benefactors and asking for a gift. All for a larger purpose, a purpose greater than him.
As I complete my journey at 17th & Girard with John Swope, I am grateful for all of those opportunities and that encouragement to care for one another. In the end, that is everything
Tara McFadden is the Director of the President’s Office and is the mother of two Preppers (Sean ’20 and Matt ’22) and her daughter Emmy is a rising senior at Merion Mercy Academy.