As we say goodbye to Women’s History Month 2020, a new and unexpected chapter is being sewn into the fabric of Padua Academy’s history.
Just a little over two weeks ago, the halls at 905 N. Broom Street in Wilmington were bustling with students eager for the start of Spring. Today for the first time in over 65 years, our halls have fallen silent and many of the institution’s milestone Spring traditions, long part of Padua Sisterhood, have been either cancelled or indefinitely postponed.
The Dinner in Honor of Women’s Achievement is just one of these many events.
This year's dinner is of particular significance as our honorees are Padua’s Pioneer Class of 1958. These Padua Alumnae proved that perseverance through faith can overcome the greatest of life's challenges. Without these extraordinary women, Padua Academy as we know it today, 65 years after its inception, would not exist. So it was great sadness when we had to make the difficult decision to postpone our dinner.
“Even though time and distance has kept us apart, I know when I see my classmates we will pick up right where we left off!” - Kathleen Burns Gland ‘58
Weighing on our hearts and minds ever more so is the fact that these remaining 38 women represent the demographic most susceptible to the Covid-19 virus. Shana Rossi, Advancement Director for Padua Academy, knew that informing our guests by snail mail or a Facebook calendar update was simply not good enough. So last week, she began calling them, all of them.
Each afternoon Mrs. Rossi sets aside two hours to make personal phone calls to each of the members of our pioneer class. Sometimes, understandably, her calls go directly to voicemail. But last week, while she was leaving one such voicemail, something magical happened.
“I was leaving a voicemail on Sandra Delasso Green’s machine when suddenly my call was picked up. I was greeted by a very enthusiastic voice asking if I really was indeed just calling to check in on our alumnae. I assured her that we were just calling to check in and to reassure them that the dinner would indeed be held at a later date once it is safe for us to do so.”
After just five minutes on the phone, Mrs. Rossi had made a new friend.
“My heart was bursting with joy and my eyes were twinkling with tears of gratitude. Talking with the members of the Class of 1958 has been such a gift for me. I am reminded that just as they were pioneers when Padua first began, so too are our students in these uncertain times.”
In 1954, Chevy Bel-Airs could be found parked on the streets of Little Italy. Wilmington residents would stroll down to Ma Robino’s on Union Street for a pasta dinner. And then down to Market Street, where Woolworth’s, Wilmington Dry Goods and Storm’s Shoes were shopping staples. Interstate 95 did not even exist.
And in the middle of this burgeoning city, a group of young women did the unthinkable. As middle school students, they approached the pastor of St. Anthony’s Parish and “asked for a high school of their own.” The Italian-American community of Wilmington rallied around them and 65 years later, Padua Academy continues to educate girls in an all-female environment designed to nurture their balance of success and compassion.
Padua’s original 57 graduates paved the way for six decades of education that fosters the realization that women can be as equally sensitive to the needs of others while still taking on the role of leader.
Cognizant of our core mission, Padua has always adapted. Curriculum and learning tools have changed over the years to keep our young women on the cutting edge of industry and social needs. And on Monday, March 16, 2020, when we were told we couldn’t go home to Broom Street, HOW we distribute that curriculum would be forever changed.
Despite the challenges posed by the unplanned closure of our building, Padua Academy proved that synchronous learning was immediately possible for our faculty and students outside the walls of our building. And to date, there has been no lapse in learning.
While the learning landscape has changed, the Padua Sisterhood has not and we have not sacrificed our core tenets, including service to our surrounding communities. Despite not being able to attend the annual SALSthon Dance, Padua was still able to raise almost $30,000 for the UnLocke the Light Foundation. And Campus Ministry is providing access to online spiritual resources and even virtual Mass!
“When I went to Padua, I felt like I was special, like I was chosen for a great opportunity.” - Patricia Gifford Mealey ’58
Sure we miss the joys of in-person laughter and smiles, but Padua’s Student Council Executives continues to engage the student body through frequent motivational messages, TikToks and contests.
Much like the class of 1958, the class of 2020 and all of their cohorts are now becoming pioneers in their own right. Mrs. Rossi believes that “like the members of our first graduating class who advocated for a school of their own, our current students now are advocating to continue their education from home.”
It is fitting as we leave March 2020 behind and we continue to celebrate the centennial of women's suffrage, our young women are setting an example that despite the most dire of circumstances, they will not be denied their Padua education and experience.
So much has changed throughout the course of just two weeks time but one fact remains true. The Padua Sisterhood and Community is ubiquitous. It is not a community defined by a physical building. It knows nothing of time, distance or sickness. It is truly a bond that is boundless.