A group organized to preserve the legacy of John W. Hallahan Catholic Girls’ High School was dealt a legal setback Tuesday but said it will continue both its court battle and plans to open a new school this fall.
Orphans Court Judge Sheila Woods-Skipper ruled that Friends of Hallahan — a group organized after the Archdiocese of Philadelphia announced the closing of the nation’s first diocesan all-girls Catholic high school — does not have legal standing to demand an accounting of how funds donated by school founder Mary Hallahan McMichan and others were distributed.
Woods-Skipper also lifted a temporary injunction that prevented the archdiocese from selling the valuable Hallahan building, at 19th and Wood Streets in Center City.
Church officials and leaders from Faith in the Future, a nonprofit organized to manage diocesan schools, closed Hallahan and Bishop McDevitt High School in Wyncote this month. They cited declining enrollment and financial issues.
J. Conor Corcoran, a lawyer for Friends of Hallahan, said the Tuesday court ruling is far from the end of the road for the group. He said he will refile court papers on behalf of a larger group, including a current Hallahan student and parent.
“Mary Hallahan McMichan called for this school to be operated in perpetuity, and from time to time by the Archdiocese of Philadelphia,” Corcoran said. “They can leave. They can abandon their post if they want to. We have this nonprofit organization that is ready to take up the mantle of Mary Hallahan McMichan.”
Corcoran said the group will seek to have itself named a trustee of the Hallahan money and “to prevent the archdiocese from sneaking around, trying to sell the property for $20 or $30 million.”
As lawyers and supporters of both sides squared off inside City Hall, a small band of Hallahan supporters gathered outside, praying and waving signs declaring “Save Hallahan!” and “Girls’ Education Matters!”
“Where is Mary’s money?” one shouted.
Church officials have said they will ensure any gifts designated for Hallahan students follow the students to new archdiocesan schools.
Nan Gallagher, a former president of Hallahan, is now board president of the Friends of Hallahan, leading plans to open what’s being called “Center City Girls’ Academy,” a school that could open in the fall. It was initially set to be named after Mary Hallahan McMichan and take Hallahan’s place, but the archdiocese, in a cease-and-desist letter sent to the group, said it owns the Hallahan name.
Gallagher said the court’s decision was a “minor setback, but we’re moving forward. We will find a way.”
Gabby Maffei, who just finished her junior year at Hallahan, wore her Hallahan uniform to court as a show of faith tying her to a school she still prays will reopen in September.
She and her classmates were “devastated” at the closure news, she said, but she’s still hopeful “we can keep educating girls in Center City.”