By Mike Gabriele
They graduated in back-to-back years from St. Joseph’s Prep in Philadelphia, even playing on the same football team. Little did they know 40 years ago, when big hair and big lapels were in vogue, that they would someday be back-to-back mayors of their beloved city. Michael Nutter, Prep class of ’75, has just completed two terms as mayor of Philadelphia; January 2008 – January 2016. Jim Kenney, Prep class of ’76, recently took the oath of office to carry on the torch. In their respective outgoing and incoming public remarks, both attributed their Jesuit education at St. Joe’s Prep for fostering a call to service.
Although raised Baptist, Michael Nutter’s parents knew the benefits of a Catholic education, sending him to Transfiguration of Our Lord elementary school and later to St. Joseph’s Prep in North Philadelphia. Upon graduation from the University of Pennsylvania, he worked for both Xerox and an investment banking firm before gaining a seat on the City Council and later running for mayor. At a time when Philadelphia was experiencing some of the worst crime in the city’s history, Mayor Nutter successfully worked to bring the homicide rate to its lowest numbers since 1967. He received an honorary doctorate in public service honoris causa from Saint Joseph’s University in 2015.
Michael Nutter’s successor, Prep classmate Jim Kenney, also knew the benefits of a Catholic education. After graduating from St. Joseph’s Prep, he earned his bachelor’s degree from LaSalle University, also in Philadelphia. Winning a seat on the City Council, he held his position for 23 years before leaving to launch his candidacy for mayor.
The mere fact that these two students graduated so close together from the same Jesuit high school and later went on to become successive mayors of the same city is not what truly sets this story apart. The real crux of this coincidence is that both men, both mayors, credit the years they spent at St. Joe’s Prep with their ambition to serve others and better their city.
Michael Nutter even chose to deliver his final public speech from the Church of the Gesu at St. Joe’s Prep. Speaking to nearly 900 students of his alma mater, as well as some former classmates, Nutter emphasized the importance of a life of service and how the Prep “prepared” him for such a vocation. "I learned more and more about community service right here at St. Joe's Preparatory High School, and it truly prepared me for life service, the thing I've been doing for the last 30 or so years.” He went on to quote Saint Ignatius, saying that the founder of the Jesuits would often ask, “What am I doing for God and what more can I do for Him?” He encouraged the young men to share their talents with the world.
On the same day that Mayor Nutter gave his final speech as Philadelphia’s top politician, incoming Mayor Jim Kenney delivered his inaugural address. Much in the same way, he gave a nod to the Jesuits and his Jesuit education at St. Joe’s Prep for having molded his understanding of the Magis; doing more for others. He specifically ascribed his parents’ sacrifices in sending him to the Prep and the Jesuit teaching he received there for getting him to where he is today. “Together they taught me that you can never truly be happy unless you are in service to others.”
While it may seem surprising that two classmates graduating from the same high school a year apart both became consecutive mayors in the same city, it is not so unbelievable that they both paid such high honor to their Jesuit educations. Those fortunate enough to have studied at a Jesuit school, at any level, understand how it can transform lives so much more than academically. The city of Philadelphia can certainly attest to its effects. As Mayor Michael Nutter noted, “For at least twelve years, Philadelphia will be led by a Jesuit-trained graduate of the very same school.”
Below is an excerpt from Mayor Kenney's inaugural address where he mentions the importance of his time spent at St. Joe's Prep.