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Miracle on High Street

The Rise, Fall and Resurrection of St. Benedict's Prep in Newark, N.J.

Thomas A. McCabe

Publication Year: 2010

Just outside downtown Newark, New Jersey, sits an abbey and school. For more than 150 years Benedictine monks have lived, worked, and prayed on High Street, a once-grand thoroughfare that became Newark's Skid Row and a focal point of the 1967 riots.St. Benedict's today has become a model of a successful inner-city school, with 95 percent of its graduates-mainly African American and Latino boys-going on to college. Miracle on High Street is the story of how the monks of St. Benedict's transformed their venerable yet outdated school to become a thriving part of the community that helped save a faltering city.In the 1960s, after a trinity of woes-massive deindustrialization, high-speed suburbanization, and racial violence-caused an exodus from Newark, St. Benedict's struggled to remain open. Enrollment in general dwindled, and fewer students enrolled from the surrounding community.The monks watched the violence of the 1967 riots from the school's rooftop along High Street. In the riot's aftermath more families fled what some called the worst city in America.The school closed in 1972, in what seemed to be just another funeral for an urban Catholic school. A few monks, inspired by the Benedictine virtues of stability and adaptability, reopened St. Benedict's only one year later with a bare-bones staff . Their new mission was to bring to young African American and Latino males the same opportunities that German and Irish immigrants had had 150 years before.More than thirty years later, St. Benedict's is one of the most unusual schools in the country. Its remarkable success shows that American education can bridge the achievement gap between white and black, as well as that between rich and poor. The story of St. Benedict's is about an institution's rise and fall, resurrection andrenaissance. It also provides valuable insights into American religious, immigration, educational, and metropolitan history. By staying true to their historical values amid a continually changing city, the downtown monks, in resurrecting its prep school, helped save an American city.Some have even called it the miracle on High Street.

Published by: Fordham University Press

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-xi

When Father Jerome Flanagan looked to find a fitting mascot for the athletic teams at St. Benedict’s Prep in 1924, he settled on a bee because ‘‘a bee, with all its concentrated activity, just about symbolized the St. Benedict’s...

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Introduction: Downtown Monks and the Miracle on High Street

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pp. 1-6

Just outside of downtown Newark, New Jersey, sits an abbey and a school. For more than 150 years Benedictine monks have lived, worked, and prayed on High Street, a once-grand thoroughfare of Victorian mansions, churches...

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1. Newark’s Forgotten Riot

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pp. 7-17

The miracle on High Street actually began on William Street. On September 5, 1854, three thousand men, most of them wearing Prince Albert coats, round felt hats, and red sashes slung over their shoulders, paraded through the streets...

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2. ‘‘Necessary, Useful, and Beautiful’’: Founding Fathers and a Catholic Day College, 1868–1900

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pp. 18-35

It was a family school from the start. John and William McGurk, teenage sons of poor Irish Catholic immigrants, walked to school each morning from their home in a predominantly Irish working-class neighborhood of Newark...

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3. The Making of a Modern Catholic Prep School, 1900–1926

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pp. 36-60

Some students called it the ‘‘pickle factory,’’ but the new four-story facility was one of the best school buildings in the state when it was completed in September 1910. Boasting three floors of classrooms, modern science laboratories...

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4. St. Benedict’s Prep from Depression to War, 1926–1945

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pp. 61-81

When Paul Healy and John Kling entered St. Benedict’s Prep as freshmen in the fall of 1929, they had already known heartache and hardship. Paul’s father died when he was only two years old, and when his mother became...

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5. The Duke, Divine Comedy, and Discipline at St. Benedict’s Prep

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pp. 82-107

Bells ordered the day for Father Dunstan Smith. By the mid-1950s, the bells of St. Mary’s Church, rebuilt in the aftermath of the 1854 Know- Nothing riot, had been pealing through her High Street neighborhood for close to a century...

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6. Benedict’s Hates a Quitter: Athletics at a Catholic Prep School

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pp. 108-133

Jimmy ‘‘Jiggs’’ Donahue’s last-minute hardwood heroics not only secured his school’s first state prep basketball championship, it triggered a sequence of events that forever changed athletics at St. Benedict’s Prep. In a ‘‘clash of speed...

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7. ‘‘He Was Afraid of the City’’: Abbot Patrick, the Monastic Family, and Postwar Newark, 1945–1967

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pp. 134-155

In the months before the end of World War II, Abbot Patrick O’Brien appointed a committee to plan for the building of ‘‘a new and greater St. Benedict’s, to be located in Newark, N.J.’’ On four separate occasions in the 1940s, the monks...

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8. ‘‘Camelot Is Dead’’: The Newark Riots and the Closing of St. Benedict’s Prep, 1967–1972

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pp. 156-189

On hot summer days in the city, the downtown monks loved to go to ‘‘Tin Beach.’’ After climbing a dark, narrow staircase and ducking under a half door, the monks stepped onto the tin roof of the school building...

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9. ‘‘A Possible School’’: The Resurrection of St. Benedict’s Prep, 1972–1977

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pp. 190-223

‘‘There were guys who said the ship was sinking, and they bailed out,’’ recalled one monk.1 Having just lost fourteen ‘‘brothers’’ to the abbey in Morristown, the monks in Newark walked around a half-empty monastery and a completely...

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10. The Headmaster and the Street, 1977–1986

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pp. 224-253

For the last three decades ‘‘the hand’’ has gone up at St. Benedict’s Preparatory School. Like clockwork, at eight in the morning a young man strides to the center of Shanley Gymnasium and raises his right hand straight in the air...

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pp. 254-257

The shadow from the cross high above St. Mary’s starts early in the morning near where William Street and Springfield Avenue meet. Father Edwin Leahy once walked to that corner of the abbey’s property in the mid-1980s and looked...


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pp. 259-301


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pp. 303-322

E-ISBN-13: 9780823248742
Print-ISBN-13: 9780823233106
Print-ISBN-10: 0823233103

Page Count: 336
Publication Year: 2010

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Subject Headings

  • St. Benedict's Preparatory School (Newark, N.J.) -- History.
  • Preparatory schools -- New Jersey -- Newark -- History.
  • Minorities -- Education (Secondary) -- New Jersey -- Newark -- History.
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