Our School History

Do you recognize the name Father Petrus(Pietro) Michetti?

That name might belong to the most important male figure in the history of St. Donato's Church and School, but, before you read this fabulous program,it's very likely most did not know the name, Father Pietro Michetti.

In January of 1910, Fr. Michetti was given the assignment of establishing a church in the Overbrook/Haddington section of Philadelphia. Its mission would be to serve the growing immigrant population in that area of Philadelphia.

Within seven months, Fr. Michetti had amazingly completed the task he was assigned. On July 16, 1910, he served the first Solemn Mass in St. Donato's Church, and was present for its official dedication.

Fr. Michetti had performed admirably in establishing the new church so quickly. His next project would prove more daunting.

This humble priest from Italy set out to establish a school to meet the needs of his immigrant flock. He showed no interest in building himself a permanent home, and vowed to do so only when a school could be guaranteed.

For the next two years, Fr. Michetti lived the life of the nomadic pastor, taking up residences at Our Mother of Sorrows rectory, and other Overbrook locations.

Finally, on January 18,1912, construction began on a 1-story temporary school building which would be located next to the church.
Fr. Michetti's school was finally being built! What happened next would live forever in St. Donato lore.

The pastor needed to staff his new school and searched for a Religous Order to do so. At about the same time, a well known nun, who founded the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart, would make her final (of many) transatlantic trip from Italy to the United States.

Upon her arrival, she was introduced to Fr. Michetti. Despite a shortage of sisters to staff her many missions, Fr. Michetti convinced this fellow humble servant of God to staff his new school. Parishoners of St. Donato Church, both past and present, should forever thank Fr. Michetti for his persistence.

On April 15, 1912, Mother Frances Xavier Cabrini was officially commissioned to staff St. Donato's School by Archbishop Edmund E. Prendergast!!!

The future St. Frances Xavier Cabrini would initially assign five sisters to help teach the parish's children, but, that number would soon increase as the main school building was built, and ready for use in September of 1914(incidentally, Fr. Michetti finally formed a permanent home when a second floor was added to the former kindergarten building, and, the entire edifice was converted to a rectory in August of 1915).

Mother Cabrini, the "Saint in our Midst," passed away in December of 1917, and missed St. Donato's first graduating class. But, Fr. Michetti, in his 12th year of a 20-year tenure as pastor, was present for the 1922 graduating class of 11 students. His smile and stature in the photo commemorating that moment shows the pride he must have felt that day.

Pastor Michetti would depart in 1929, and the series of pastors that followed him would see the enrollment increase to 700 in 1949.
If Fr. Michetti might be considered the "founding father" of St. Donato, the pastor in service during the 1949 peak period might be considered its "visionary father."

His name was Fr. Michael Pasto, who served as pastor from 1942-1967.
Soon after his arrival, Fr. Pasto showed his 25-year stay would be a dynamic one. By the end of his first year he oversaw the renovation of the interior of the Upper Church in the theme of the Passion and Death of Christ. Those renovations are marveled at to this day by new and regular visitors alike.
Was it any surprise that when St. Donato's hit an enrollment of 700 in 1949, and continued to grow in the 50s, Fr. Pasto would respond? He did so in dramatic fashion.

With Louis Gambone assigned engineer-architect, and Nicholas Brandolini, James Mulhern and William Miele assigned as contractors, Fr. Pasto undertook the expansion our present day students still enjoy.

A second floor was added to the main building; a second-story building was erected, directly connecting it to the main building; the "platform" ( also known as "Caffe' Napoletano" to visitors of St. Donato's Italian Festival) was established as a recess area for the students; a state of the art gymnasium, with its legendary tiled floor, was included to meet the physical needs of its parishoners.

This fabulous "new" school, which expanded St. Donato's to fifteen full-sized classrooms, was almost seamless in the way it combined the Main building and the new one. Kudos should be awarded to Fr. Pasto, Mr. Gambone, and the Building Committee, who met for one year prior to the school being built, and showed future generations how well religious-lay committees could work.

The expanded school was blessed and dedicated by Archbishop(later Cardinal) John F. O'Hara on October 5, 1952.

Fr. Pasto, ordained Rt. Rev. Monsignor soon after the completion of the school, presided over many changes during his tenure. His final school-related innovation was the establishment of the Annual Carnival, which began on June 8, 1966 at the Cabrini Home grounds, and has continued to be a major fund-raiser for the school to this day.

Msgr. Pasto served his flock magnificently in a period of great growth for the school and parish. The years following his departure would offer new, and transitional, challenges to those who would face them.

Miss Loretta Yogis, known almost exclusively as "Miss Loretta" to those students who were lucky to learn under her, came on the school scene in 1966 when she was hired as a teacher by Msgr. Pasto.

When she arrived, Miss Loretta recalled the school had 14 sisters and 3 lay people on the faculty; kindergarten through eighth had 2 classes and 2 teachers per grade; the school was almost exclusively Catholic and Italian(remember, St. Donato was an Italian National Parish at that time); Miss Loretta related that " most students walked or were driven to school each day"; fund-raising by parents served as a small percentage of the school budget; and, finally, the Convent was a thriving home for both the sisters of St. Donato's, and, orphan girls, known affectionately to most of us as "the Convent Girls."(Did you know one of the original missions of Mother Cabrini's order was to care for orphaned children?).

The years to come would see major changes to the landscape Miss Loretta first experienced. The pastors and principals who followed Msgr. Pasto would make major contributions in meeting those dramatic challenges.

Fr. John Busco, who followed Msgr. Pasto as pastor, and served 13 years, brought a hands-on approach to the budgetary problems his parish faced, and developed a successful tithing program which helped offset declining enrollments, and, the loss of religious teachers.

Fr. George Ettore followed Msgr. Busco( who became Monsignor in 1973)with a short, but, eventful 4-year pastorate when he oversaw the emergence of the computer era in 1983 and approved the contruction of a $50,000 refrigerator and freezer in the school's kitchen( when the School Carnival moved to 65th St., these food storage areas proved invaluable to the Carnival's fund-raising successes).

Fr. Ettore left St. Donato's prematurely due to an illness. Upon his departure, our church was assigned its ninth pastor. Again, St. Donato's was blessed with a leader whose talents seemed perfectly suited for the challenges his pastorate would face.

Armed with talents Miss Loretta and other observers would describe as, "kind; pastoral; a good shepherd; unwavering in the practice of his faith, and very trusting in others," Fr. Ferdinand Buccafurni became pastor in October of 1984. He was not unfamiliar with his new assignment. The Italian-born priest from Calabria, served as a resident here from 1969 thru 1975.

The school he would return to in 1984, and the challenges he would face over his nearly 26 years as pastor(the longest tenure in our history) would be far different from the ones he left nine years earlier: lay teachers would eventually comprise 100% of the faculty; the school was diverse in race, nationality, and religion( Catholics and non-Catholics comprised the student body);fund-raising became a necessity, not a luxury; and school safety would emerge as a national as well as a local issue.

A person who would help the new pastor meet the challenges, arrived in September of 1986, and, their resulting 19-year partnership proved invaluable to the school's future success.

Sr. Christine Marie was assigned principal of St. Donato's School by the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart. Her effervescent, no-nonsense style was a perfect complement to the quiet leadership Fr. Buccafurni  displayed. The pastor made clear from the start that his school would follow all the traditions and rituals of his beloved faith(morning prayers, First Friday Mass for all, confession time,etc.). If you went to St. Donato's School,a religious environment was something you could count on. 

Sr. Christine enhanced that religious environment by providing what she knew every parent craved: discipline, a good education, and a safe environment( credit here goes to janitor-extraordinaire Marco Martinelli, who started his career at St. Donato's in 1989, and famously said," no one will ever hurt any of my kids." Was there ever any doubt he'd be true to his words?).

The energetic principal was also the face of a catholic school's new reality: you have to figure out ways to raise money to survive. And, could Sr. Christine figure out ways! She applied for and received numerous grants to refurbish and enhance her school; she convinced local businesses to donate their services or cash for things like carpeting and wallpaper; she oversaw the establishment of the Special Education Program; she staffed and supplied a booth at the Annual Carnival each year; and she ran her legendary "balloon room" right across from her office where every penny she and helpers like Libby Bizzari made went right back into the school!

Sr. Christine left her post in 2005, and was the final principal assigned to St. Donato's by St. Frances Cabrini's order( in fact, one of the sadder times in our history was the closing of the Convent four years after Sr. Christine's departure in 2009).

When Sr. Christine departed, Fr. Buccafurni hired Ms. Amelia Luci as St. Donato's next principal, and in this 100th Anniversary year, another fabulous partnership has emerged.

Miss Loretta said that under Ms. Luci, " nothing has changed. She has tried to carry on the tradition of Mother Cabrini."

And, in a voice cracking with emotion, she added, " our goals are still the same: education of the mind, meets the education of the heart."

Happy 98th Anniversary to St. Donato School! May the next 100 years be as good as the first 98!