Thomas A. Shakely: An Applied Vision for Young Catholic Professionals

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Philadelphians have long been known for their devotion to their city and its triumphs, both real and legendary. We’re a people whose roots run deeper than our cynicism and whose sense of spirit is our grounding rock. In our experience, this spirit has been particularly evident in Greater Philadelphia’s Catholic high schools.

Large alumni bases have sprouted with deep roots over generations across the Delaware Valley defined by a unique combination of faith, tradition, and service. After high school (and certainly after college) opportunities to carry on this special spirit have been rare.

By spring of last year, Gavin Keirans and I began sketching out the initial drafts of a new organization, the Philadelphia Catholic League Alumni Corps, as a means to unite alumni of the Catholic system through shared experiences in service leadership. In this way, the rich networks that were nurtured during high school could be sustained and grown among the same people as young professionals and Philadelphians returning home after time away at college.

At Penn State we saw firsthand how impactful Catholic high school alumni could be, and in three out of four years we elected the student body president and shaped the direction of one of the largest student bodies in the country. This was in no small part thanks to the ground force of thousands of Catholic high school alumni and friends strategically supporting a set of ideas. In preserving networks of friends and allies, that Catholic combination of faith, tradition, and service amplified our collective voice.

Now that many of these folks have graduated and are returning home, we wanted to build something that harnessed that energy to improve our communities. The journey begun together in high school or earlier could continue and, in the process, enrich our city.

After conversations with local leaders, priests, and friends, we discovered the pro-bono incorporation service of Philadelphia VIP. Within a few weeks of application we were paired with a young attorney who shepherded us through the incorporation and nonprofit exemption application process. Thus was the Philadelphia Catholic League Alumni Corps born.

We held our first service leadership event on Sat., Feb. 25th and drew more than 75 young professionals for a project we believe will be truly transformational in nature. At St. Thomas Aquinas, a Catholic community in South Philadelphia, our team converged to renovate a former convent and day care center. This center will now incubate local businesses, mission groups, and nonprofits. We conducted beautification through wallpaper removal, sanding, and painting, and will be crafting a long-term plan for the financial sustainability of the center.

This type of work was beyond the means of the local community in as rapid or concerted a fashion, and the incubator sustainability plans will accelerate the usefulness of the physical plant and advance St. Thomas Aquinas’s plan for the building by more than a year.

Over time, we hope to position the Philadelphia Catholic League Alumni Corps for growth into geographic sub-chapters to serve nurture people across the city’s neighborhoods. As an organization, we strongly hold true the idea of promoting cura personalis — of building the whole person. We know that this will take sustained effort and long term support, but we envision this organization as a multifaceted resource and ally for people across Philadelphia.

We met earlier this month with Catie Wolfgang, Mayor Nutter’s Chief Service Officer, to begin a cooperative relationship. It is our hope that within a year we have the long term structure in place to live our vision of building a better Philadelphia through service leadership.

If you have a vision for improving your neighborhood in any sense, we would like to know you. Whether or not you live in Philadelphia, tell us about your city and its opportunities.


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