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Friends Of Hallahan Loses Bid To Reopen All-Girls Catholic High School

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) -- A bid to reopen a prominent Philadelphia all-girls Catholic high school has lost a round in court. The Friends of Hallahan are promising their fight is far from over in reopening the school.

A protest was held outside Philadelphia City Hall to wrestle away control of the recently closed Hallahan building and its remaining assets from the Archdiocese.

Inside and up on the fourth floor, parents of Hallahan students left court in tears.

"The history of our school is just, they're not considering it. So it's just completely wrong," parent Pamela Johnson said.

In an unusual showdown, the so-called Friends of Hallahan moved to block the Archdiocese from selling the 19th and Wood Streets building and asked that the financial books be opened.

Those requests were shot down by Judge Sheila Woods-Skipper as she granted objections by attorneys for the Archdiocese and a Pennsylvania deputy attorney general who argued it was her office's responsibility to protect the restricted charitable assets of the now-closed school.

Lawyers for the church declined to comment.

Friends of Hallahan are not walking away.

"I do believe that this was a minor setback and that we can move forward," former Hallahan president Nancy Gallagher said.

The Archdiocese has said the school's assets will provide financial assistance for former Hallahan students while relocating to other archdiocesan schools.

The Friends of Hallahan however say it was the foundress' intention that high school girls be educated at this site "in perpetuity."

They intend to wage a battle even with the Recorder of Deeds to delay or hold up any possible property transfer.

"We're also gonna be able in the meantime before the next hearings that are heard in this case to prevent the Archdiocese from sneaking around and trying to sell this property for $20 or $30 million to some developers it has in its back pocket," Friends of Hallahan counsel Connor Corcoran said.

The Archdiocese of Philadelphia released a statement to CBS3:

The decision to close John W. Hallahan High School at the end of the current school year came after much detailed study and prayerful consideration. Continued operations would have accelerated tuition increases to unaffordable levels and jeopardized our ability to provide the diverse academic and extracurricular offerings our families deserve. Every potential alternative to closure was considered, but none were viable. 

Since last November, we have worked with the Hallahan school community on a comprehensive, student-centric transition plan and provided all possible modes of assistance to school families. We have remained transparent and communicative while following through on our commitments. 

Plans addressed needs including scholarships, financial aid, transportation, academic programs, athletics, and other extra-curricular activities. We are pleased to share that those efforts have resulted in over 72% of Hallahan's current students registering to attend other Archdiocesan high schools next fall. We are committed to continuing our work until the needs of every family are met to the greatest extent possible.

A major component of this work involves the commitment of the Archdiocese to match the scholarships and other forms of tuition assistance currently being received by Hallahan students following their transfer to a new Archdiocesan high school. 

In order to achieve that goal, the Archdiocese has filed a petition with the Philadelphia Orphans' Court concerning Hallahan's restricted funds established mostly for tuition assistance and scholarships. In some cases, the original donor did not designate where the fund should be directed in event of the school's closure. If the petition is granted, the Archdiocese will be able to allow all of those funds to be disbursed for the sole purpose of benefitting current Hallahan students who enroll in other Archdiocesan high schools.  A similar petition is in the process of being filed for Bishop McDevitt.  The same process was used for the closure of Cardinal Dougherty and North Catholic.

Today, after a hearing, the Judge vacated the preliminary injunction order sought by Friends of Hallahan and agreed with the Archdiocese and Attorney General that Friends of Hallahan lacks standing to be heard in this matter. We are grateful for the consideration by the court and the decision rendered.

The original donation made by Mary McMichan in the early 1900's to establish an all-girls Catholic high school was fully expended on the construction of the original school building in accordance with her donor intended purpose. The Archdiocese received the remains of her estate in 1976 following the death of her daughter and the remaining funds of this estate are part of the funds which would be used to benefit Hallahan students over the next three years.

Our goal remains consistence, to serve as partners in the formation of our young people in a Catholic tradition is a sacred trust which we treasure. Every action we take revolves around providing the best possible education for the young men and women who will be the servant leaders of tomorrow. We will continue to utilize every available resource in support of the families who rely on us and remain grateful for their belief in the value of our schools. 

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