By Kathy McGee Burns
Every year, around this time, I write an article about St. Malachy’s School, the mission school in North Philadelphia, part of the parish founded by the Irish where my family worshipped when they came here many years ago. I do so in hope that you readers will be moved to donate money to continue their legacy of hope.
I thought I did this for two reasons. The first is in honor of my Grandmother, Mary Josephine Callahan who was baptized, educated, married and buried from St. Malachy’s. The second is because I love and respect the goodness of my long-time friend and Pastor Emeritus, John McNamee.
But, this spring I met someone who epitomizes why I am doing this begging again. I was at a fundraising meeting when this lovely, beautifully composed young woman addressed the crowd. Suddenly the light in my brain went on and I knew why I cheerlead for St. Malachy’s!
Jameeka Wilson,who is 20 years old and a graduate of St. Malachy’s, is the proof of its success. She is presently a senior at the University of Scranton where she is also a resident assistant, a police student officer, an advisor in the Panuski College of Professional Studies, and an eighth grade CCD teacher. Her goal is to attend Temple University School of Psychology as a graduate student.
And she’s no fluke. Her sister, Natasha, just graduated from Millersville; her twin, Chareese, is at Bloomsburg and Christopher, a younger brother, is also a sophomore at Scranton. It’s quite a family.
When Jameeka started her speech she said that her grandmother, Anna Frames, had given her this advice: “Always keep in mind the light at the end of the tunne.l” Anna, who had come to St. Malachy’s as an immigrant from Panama, is the driving force behind Jameeka’s family of seven siblings. Life hasn’t been a smooth path for the Wilsons. In fact, it’s been a series of rough, rocky roads. But for them all, there was the light, the “Beacon of Hope” that Anna talked about. It was St. Malachy’s,
During the troubled times, the teachers, counselors, and priests were there. They were there to comfort the children and keep them grounded. When baby Christina, their younger sister, died, “Father Mac said the Mass, paid for the funeral, and went with us to the cemetery,” says Anna Frames, with admiration and gratitude still in her voice.
Jameeka says she lives by two doctrines; one of them is St. Malachy’s School Creed:
I have faith in myself
I have faith in my teachers
I can learn if I study hard
I will learn because I will study hard
I respect others and seek their respect
I have self respect
I have self control
I love myself
And loving myself I will be myself
And know myself
I am the one who is talking.
She also loves the Serenity Prayer:
“God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.”
Even at 20, Jameeka is a wise woman. These are just a few of the things I heard her say that impressed me so much:
“God places special people where we need them,” she says.
“When someone loves you, you can love yourself.”
“Use your situation as a reason, not as an excuse.”
“You can take St. Malachy’s out of the city but you can’t take St. Malachy’s out of the people.”
When Jameeka finishes her education, she plans to stay in the city and work with children. “I want to give them the knowledge that I’ve accumulated so that they can be all that they can be,” she says.
Father McNamee, in his latest message to the vast community that is St. Malachy’s, writes, “The measure of St. Malachy School is more than making Catholics. The mission is to take the children in from the highways and byways as the Gospel parable of the Wedding Feast envisions. Give them Catholic teaching and view the children and their families with the respect that they will do with this opportunity what they are able. In the end we give them the groundwork. What they do with it is their charge.”
So, in the long run, I beg for the money so that the Light, the Beacon of Hope, can keep illuminating the path these children are taking.
You can support St. Malachy’s by attending the Catholic Philopatrian Literary Institute’s Ball this year at the Doubletree Hotel in Center City on September 29. Proceeds from the event benefit the school. And you can also meet Jameeka Wilson for yourself. She’ll be the keynote speaker.
There are other ways to support St. Malachy’s. On November 4, musician and folklorist Mick Moloney will return for the 24th year with some of his musical friends to perform a fundraising concert in the church. It’s always a standing room only concert, featuring some of the leading lights of Irish traditional music.