Outcomes of a Prep Education
How Prep Alumni and Students Animate Ignatian Values
For 170-plus years, St. Joseph’s Prep is a place where talented young men from across the Delaware Valley gather to be challenged to become the best versions of themselves. Earlier this spring, we brought four alumni who work in service industries (clergy, medicine, first responder, public service) and a current student to discuss how the Prep influenced their lives.
What is the same? What is different? The evergreen tenets of Jesuit education, the largest and oldest body of education, allow the Prep to stay focused on similar goals through the years. While that is true, over time the actualization of these goals has changed to evolve with the needs of our students and our community.
Still, the Prep continues to take outstanding young men from a wide variety of neighborhoods and backgrounds and has challenged them to be their best selves, all for A.M.D.G., the greater glory of God. They are pushed in the classrooms by teachers who are subject experts but also have chosen the vocation of Jesuit education. They are pushed by moderators and coaches to pursue their passions in clubs, teams, and activities. Their spiritual life is nurtured by Jesuits and lay ministers on retreats and in liturgies. They have their eyes opened to injustice around them through service, and challenged to address those injustices.
These men featured are only a handful of graduates who have taken what they have learned at the Prep and gone out to make an impact on their world.
For this issue, we have broken up the conversation by utilizing the five characteristics of a Graduate at Graduation (Grad at Grad) put forth by the Jesuit Schools Network: Open to Growth, Academically Ambitious, Religious, Loving, and Committed to Doing Justice.
Open to Growth
Antoine Robinson ’24
Mine was Ryan Maher, S.J. at the time, which at the time was just an SJ so it was, you know, no expectations on him right. Now, no one would be shocked to say that he was an inspiring teacher. He just had a different sort of holistic approach that he knew how to challenge you but in an endearing way. And he just kind of found a way to bring out the best in you and and force you into something that you didn’t even realize you were comfortable in yourself. Right? Like, I knew I was strong in math and engineering and he was teaching us English. And when I go to Temple, I wind up an English literature major because it was just the comfort, and not to mention you could teach how the right to. He had a pretty high standard of teaching you what to do. But but yeah. So it was like just those neat different challenges that he he expected more of you and you eventually over a semester or two semesters felt it yourself and jumped in. You know, he knew how to ignite.
All these years later, Gamp Pellegrini, our football coach, was more than a coach, and what I would always say about him is that I hated him every day and I loved him every night. It was just it was just torturous. But he, you know, he drove us. It gave us confidence. And it was it was an incredible experience. One of the toughest conversations up until that point, at least in my life, was I was planning to go to, well I did go to Penn pre-med, that was the path. And I took this, got involved in this junior year internship program, working in a in a hospital, in a laboratory, and it wasn’t going to allow me to play football the fall of my junior year and Gamp had an insurance company in addition, of course, to being a Prep coach. And so I had to go out to his office and tell him that I was not going to play my junior year.
I played freshman year. Sophomore year. I actually gotten to be a bit of a starter, actually took somebody’s job sophomore year. So, you know, there were some expectations and I could not have been more nervous to have to sit in his office and he was busy and I’m waiting and I’m like, when is this going to be over?
And he just could not have been more kind and listening and, you know, well, son, if that’s what you need to do, but you’re always welcome back. And and I came back my senior year. I had to fight for my job, but I came back my senior year. But it was it was an incredible experience. It really, really was. But I was so nervous.
I, of course, spent a lot of time in the theater with my uncle. And what for me had happened was growing up, theater was very easy to me. It was kind of the family business and I’d been in a lot of shows and so I thought that it was something I could sort of roll into. And I learned pretty quickly, when Tony cut me from my first show, that even my last name couldn’t get me in. And so I had to work for what I wanted. And just because I loved something, just because other people had said I was good at it, didn’t mean that I was automatically going to get everything I had gotten before. And so he and again, it was extra complicated because we have these blood ties, he’s my godfather, but he always challenged me. He said, I could expect more from you. I expect you to go further still. I expect you to look for the magis in what we do. And he held all of us, and I assume he still does, to those standards. There was never everybody got held to that. Everybody had held to the same standard, and it was hard not to get the nepotism, but I learned a lot from that.
Dr. Nevin McGinley ’95
I know for me, medicine was not my first career. It’s what I always wanted to do. I ended up studying business because labs interfered with football practice in undergrad. So I didn’t start medical school until I was 30 years old. The path that led me there, I did a post baccalaureate program and I had a year where I was applying the school and I ended up filling in here as a science teacher.
Father Skechus was out for a semester and I happened to go to a football game and Father Clifford and I were talking and he said, “Well, what are you up to?” And I said, “Well, I could use a job if you know any math or science teachers.” And he asked if I could start Monday. And I came in, met with Barb Brown, and she gave me a big hug. And I started the next week.
I remember and especially in the line of work I’m in now, in Ken Kania’s sophomore religion class. I mean, he I don’t know where the curriculum came from, but it challenged me. We were reading Carl Reiner, who I would later read as a Jesuit in the college course, but we were reading Karl Rahner at 16 years old, which was in some ways crazy.
And the thing I remember most is before we went home for Christmas, he gave us an article and said, “This is your assignment over Christmas break.” And it was an article systematically debunking everything that happens in the nativity stories. That didn’t historically happen. That didn’t historically happen. That didn’t historically happen. And I remember fighting with it the whole Christmas break.
Why did he give us this? This is a Catholic school. What is he thinking? But as I spent time with it and really prayed with it, I saw the way that he was inviting us. He was saying, you’re not kids anymore, you’re adults. And so you need to have adult relationships with the faith. You can’t be these little kids that still think a Christmas pageant is the center of what this faith is. That was good when you were in grade school. But you guys are men now, and so you need to learn how to relate to Christ in a way that’s mature. And I think without that foundation, especially from him, I wouldn’t be where I am right now.
I’m also in theater, so I can, I’m not an actor, but I can relate to working as hard as possible under Mr. Braithwaite, but with all the different clubs I do, each and every one of the moderators always wants the best of the people in their club. So the people in the club can come together and make something beautiful, whether it be a yearbook, a play, a newspaper. And when the moderators do this, there’s something beautiful comes from it. It really it brings the school together as one. It furthers people like the students as people brings out the cura personalis and many other things that the school stands for. And it’s really a shame when kids here don’t do many clubs and activities and they miss out on the connection they get with their fellow students.
Jake Braithwaite, S.J. ’07
And then the other thing that really stood out to me about the Prep in a spiritual way was Kairos. Kairos taught me that I’m not alone. You know, there’s a lot of people who I might think one thing because I see what’s on the outside, and I have no idea what’s going on in their life. And, you know, it taught me that we all have our own struggles. And what we see on that outer shell is not always what’s going on inside. And that helps me in my job today. You know, people come to the emergency department because they have no place else to go. They’re scared and they’re worried about a health problem. And, you know, sometimes I might see it as, you know, I’m surprised this person came here for, you know, something so small. But to them, it may be the biggest thing in the world. And being able to step back and realize that it’s about them and helping them with that, you know, again, that that came from something at the Prep, you know, realizing that, you know, what people put forward isn’t always what’s out there. And it really helped me connect with people.
Obviously, I chose a life of grand acts of of kindness. But Kairos for me here as well, just showed me the impacts of small acts of kindness, everyday little things that you don’t care. Just asking somebody how they’re doing, how they’re feeling, connecting with people in a classroom, if it’s the 2 minutes that you have before you know, before the teacher, you know, locks you up. Right? It’s it’s it’s those moments sometimes that make a major impact in people’s lives. And from Kairos on, I don’t think I ever stopped doing it because you just recognize and realize it, like it provides an emotion. And I want to share too much of Kairos right. We all know that. But. But it just provides like an emotionally raw impact and an insight into how the effect has been and on other people. So you take little elements of it and carry it with you forever for me.
I don’t have a job. I’m not I’m not in the career public service yet, but where I can see it in the three years I’ve been here is just every class is built, whether it be like math or science, are built to instill you with values in their own way that carry on service in people. And almost everything in the school, not even just classes. It’s whether it be subtly adds these skills to you no matter what. And that’s what the school is built on, no matter where you are. When you’re reading a book in the new Howley Learning Commons, or in the theater, you will find someone, something anywhere. You will find something that will give you those skills.
Michael Fanning ’94
There is something about the shared experience of walking through those doors and coming to 17th and Girard that makes that bond very tight. There can be decades apart from, from a class graduation standpoint, but immediately close because of this place. And so I don’t know about other schools, but, you know, as I often identify myself as being from the class of 75, the best class ever came out of the Prep.
Mariniacci: “Agreed or (laughter)”
But, I mean, you know, we have a 75 person email chain of regular contact. We have at least one or two get togethers a year. People check on each other. We, you know, sadly lost a couple of folks, which is, you know, kind of a reminder of where we all are in the in the journey.
When I have the opportunity to help somebody, I try to do it. In my job, I usually don’t have a very long period of time that I can sit and meet with patients, but I sit down. I take the time to listen. And there are times where I come across patients who, once they leave that emergency department, they’re out on their own and they get scared and they don’t know how to navigate the health system.
And, you know, they can’t schedule a follow up appointment with me. But there’s times where I’ll give them my personal cell phone number on my business card and say, if you need anything, call me. And they appreciate that. And I have had patients call me and I’ve been able to help them. And that helps me a lot, too, you know, knowing that this is somebody who in that short period of time, we made a human connection. And again, this is all stuff that I learned how to do at this institution.
Committed to Doing Justice
Mayor Michael Nutter ’75
You know, I’ve realized here that, you know, I want to do something that I get something out of it. I want a sense of fulfillment. You know, I couldn’t imagine doing something for my entire life where I didn’t feel fulfilled. And that was something that I learned here. You know, they talk about The Prep, talked about educating the mind, body and spirit and educating the whole person. And, you know, fulfillment and feeling a sense of self-worth was really important for me. And that was something that I learned when I came here.
The kids here, we don’t just we’re not just stuck in the building either. We we go out service projects. People take the L in, the Broad Street line, people go to the corner store after school all the time. I do. And so you’re not just in North Philly. You say, Oh, the schools in North Philly. I’m in North Philly. I’m amongst the people. No, you actually use the services in the area. You talk to the people in the area, you see someone on the sidewalk. You say hi to them. You get to know them. Maybe. Who knows? And there’s just so much more than just being in North Philly. You actually interact with the environment of North Philly, West Philly, all of Philly, really, because we come from all around it.
I was on a scholarship. I got a Gino scholarship. And a part of your responsibility was community service. I think we were doing community service before community service was community service. It’s just what we did. And so I tutored and and over at Gesu. I also did some work at Transfiguration where I went to where I went to grad school, but in the continuation of of a public service career, I never got greater joy as a councilperson or as mayor than to be able to read to kids go to a classroom. And so that again, a passion for learning, that love of learning, but also the continuation of still giving and giving back. And that’s really been, for me, kind of centered in the things that I learned here.
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