Doing good deeds
— The Philadelphia Catholic League Alumni Corps is proving to be a godsend, thanks to members who are on a mission of community service.
Gavin Keirans was an active student at Penn State University, including serving two terms as president of the University Park Undergraduate Association.
In his two winning elections and his other extracurricular activities, Keirans met plenty of young people who graduated from Philadelphia-area Catholic high schools.
A Somerton native and 2006 graduate of St. Joseph’s Prep, he wanted to mobilize all those contacts to come together for a series of service leadership opportunities.
A year ago, he began to secure commitments.
“Everybody has started their jobs, but we created a base to build off of people who want to get involved,” he said.
Keirans, a 2010 Penn State graduate who works as a management consultant, is the founder and president of the non-profit Philadelphia Catholic League Alumni Corps. The organization is not directly affiliated with the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.
After an initial meeting last November, board members began eyeing a project once they had enough people in place.
Tom Shakely, the group’s vice president and a 2005 graduate of Archbishop Wood, served in student government while at Penn State. Today, he works as a communications consultant for Catholic churches.
Shakely learned from Monsignor Hugh Shields, pastor at St. Thomas Aquinas Parish at 18th and Morris streets in South Philadelphia, of a largely unused, three-floor former convent and day-care center.
“It was a natural fit,” Keirans said.
So, on Feb. 25, 80 young professionals traveled to the parish to paint, pull wallpaper and generally give the old convent a complete makeover.
St. Thomas Aquinas, like most parishes in the archdiocese, needs a financial boost. The school was to absorb students from St. Gabriel in Grays Ferry, but that school won an appeal of a blue ribbon commission’s recommendation that it close.
The former convent can now be used for ministry, as a community center or as the home of a business that would pay rent. It’s a welcome site in a diverse neighborhood that includes Latino, Indonesian and Vietnamese populations of the parish.
“It was a pretty awesome experience,” Keirans said. “Everybody gave up a Saturday. We’re happy with the first event and excited about what could be. We have a huge population willing to help again in the future.”
The group consists of more than 100 people, including 30 who’ve joined since the February event.
About a quarter of the membership are alums of Archbishop Ryan, Father Judge, St. Hubert, Nazareth Academy and North Catholic.
The potential is great, members believe. There’s a large Catholic population in the Philadelphia area, which the group includes the city, suburbs, South and Central New Jersey and Delaware.
Almost all graduates of Catholic high schools move on to college, and many remain loyal to their alma maters. There’s also a sizable number of Catholics attending public high schools.
“We want to get out in the community and make a difference,” said Mike Wallace, the group’s secretary.
Wallace, a small-business consultant and Bustleton native, attended Prep with Keirans and was a member of student government at Penn State.
“So many people were eager to get involved at Penn State, and it makes sense to get involved back home,” he said. “We won’t turn anyone away.”
Keirans said word of mouth has made the group grow. The alumni corps will not be a “one and done” organization.
“Our goal is to have four events a year. Our long-term goal is to have regional chapters,” Keirans said. “If you have an interest in service, you can be a part of it. We'll take anybody.”
The group plans to set up chapters consisting of alums from archdiocese high schools in the city and suburbs, along with chapters for alums of private Catholic boys and girls high schools.
This year, the group wants to complete three more projects. The next is tentatively set for mid-May, though a specific project has not been finalized.
Next year, members would like to have events at least every other month. In year three, they plan monthly events.
Members are proud and energized that a bunch of 20-somethings are making a difference.
“Every project we do shows apathy is a myth,” Shakely said.
“People we know are absolutely willing to help. It’s all about mobilizing them around good causes,” Wallace said.
The Philadelphia Catholic League Alumni Corps already is 100-plus strong, and members are looking forward to growing their ranks and performing more good deeds.
“We’re at the point where we have something that has the potential to be a game-changing movement for the city,” Shakely said. ••
For more information, visit phillycatholics.com or check out the Philadelphia Catholic League Alumni Corps page on Facebook.