A Bronx Catholic high school founded by an Irish immigrant priest in 1949 is undergoing a resurgence thanks in large part to a committed board of directors, many of them Irish American former graduates, who see the school as a vital lifeline to the students it now serves.
Monsignor Scanlan High School in the south east Bronx, founded by Ennis, Co. Clare emigrant Monsignor Arthur J. Scanlan, was a haven for first generation Irish families led by parents determined to provide their children with the education they were unable to obtain in Ireland.
The demographics of the neighborhood have changed since the school’s founding, and like many Catholic schools in the greater New York area, Monsignor Scanlan has grappled with financial difficulties that almost prompted the Archdiocese of New York to close its doors. However, concerned board members stepped in to restructure its operations and take on financial responsibility for the school which mostly serves underprivileged students.
“There is no way we could let the school close. The work of Monsignor Scanlan is just too important, and the influence it had on our lives when we there is immense,” Chris Gallagher, chairman of the board of directors and a 1965 graduate, told the Irish Voice.
“The Archdiocese was subsidizing the school and didn’t want to do it anymore. In 2012 they gave us a four-year period to straighten things out, and we were able to do that before four years.”
The Archdiocese agreed to let Monsignor Scanlan operate as an independent school, following all Catholic educational protocols but responsible for its own financial health. A 15-year lease was signed in May for the Archdiocese to charge $1 a year in rent for the 13-acre campus on the Hutchinson River Parkway by the Whitestone Bridge. Board members are developing creative ways to generate income and continue the school’s mission to provide quality education to those who need it most.
The school is leasing its former boys’ school building to the Grand Concourse Academy Charter School, and another building on campus to a day care center. Fundraising events and an annual giving campaign are also key, and board members, alumni and non alumni have been diligent in reaching out to spread the story of Monsignor Scanlan far and wide.
The numbers are headed in the right direction. Monsignor Scanlan graduated 87 students this year – 100 percent of its senior enrollment – and welcomed a freshman class of 135. The statistic is especially encouraging when comparing it to the New York City public school graduation rate which hovers at 64 percent.
Ninety-seven percent of the graduates proceed to college. The families of two-thirds of the students live at or below the poverty line, and the majority of students receive scholarship aid to offset the annual $6,900 tuition.
“What’s really impressive is that the families we serve have prioritized the education of their children, even though it’s financially difficult for them,” says Gallagher. “They know we’ll do a superior job of educating their kids, especially compared with a public high school, and that we provide a safe and nurturing environment.
“If it wasn’t for our school,” Gallagher adds, “who knows what would happen to some of our students. We’re excited to give them a running start that they otherwise would not get.”
Board members graduated from Monsignor Scanlan decades ago, but they remain deeply committed to the school’s current mission. Many of them have been quite successful in business – Gallagher practiced mergers and acquisitions law at Skadden, Arps, one of the world’s biggest law firms, while another, Bruce Bozzi, is a co-owner of the Palm chain of restaurants across the U.S. – and attest that they would never have gotten as far without the influence of Monsignor Scanlan.
“The joy we get from transforming the lives of these children stays with us forever,” says Gallagher, son of Irish immigrants who left Ireland with hardly any formal education.
“I gave my first donation to the school in the 1970s after I got my first job. They didn’t even know what a donation was back then. And a whole group of us has stayed involved ever since.”
One 1961 graduate, Joe Solimine, son of Italian immigrants, spent 50-hour weeks at Monsignor Scanlan prepping the old boys’ building for occupancy by the charter school this year. Bozzi is a constant donor to the school, building sports fields and new labs, and donating his West Side restaurant for events, the most recent being a board dinner on Tuesday, September 22 to promote the annual giving campaign which needs to raise in the region of $500,000 for the school to flourish.
“The kids who attend the school now aren’t Irish or Italian, but we want them to have the same values and education that we had, and that’s the reason why we are all so committed,” said Gallagher, who also mentors Monsignor Scanlan graduates while they attend college.
“We feel a tremendous debt of gratitude to Monsignor Arthur J. Scanlan for creating the school in 1949 and to the Dominican Sisters of Sparkhill and the Marist Brothers who ran the girls and boys departments. We want to continue their legacy and have these motivated children reap the benefits that we did.”
For more information on Monsignor Scanlan High School and its plans for the future, visit www.scanlanhs.edu.