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- Miracle on High Street
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 Miracle on High Street is the story of how the monks of St. Benedict’s transformed their venerable yet outdated school to become a thriving part of the community that helped save a faltering city.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 and
renaissance. 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.
Thomas A. McCabe is Visiting Professor in the History Department at Rutgers University–Newark, where he teaches seminars on race and ethnicity in the United States and American cities and suburbs. McCabe received his Ph.D. in American History from Rutgers University in 2006. Previously, he worked as an administrator and teacher at St. Benedict’s for more than 15 years.
A dramatic, riveting account of a school and a city that rose and fell together, and the community of monks who dared to wed hopes for a revived St. Benedict’s with Newark’s precarious dreams of rebirth. Thomas A. McCabe is a gifted historian; he has crafted this highly lucid narrative with an insider’s passion and a scholar’s balance and grace.—James T. Fisher, On the Irish Waterfront: The Crusader, the Movie, and the Soul of the Port of New York
"The inner-city school's remarkable revival shows that American education can bridge achievement gaps between white and black as well as rich and poor."—Publishers Weekly
"A fascinating story of how suburbanization and racism ripped apart one urban Catholic community, and the survivors' brave efforts to piece it back together."—Jack Dougherty, Trinity College
"McCabe deftly explains the Benedictine vow of stability and how it led a group of white, Catholic religious men to remain in a city that was, by all accounts, dying."—Margaret McGuinness, LaSalle University
The Alliance joins with the History and Bibliography Section of the New Jersey Library Association, Rutgers University Press, and Special Collections and University Archives of Rutgers University Libraries, to present an annual award to an author who has published recently on a topic about New Jersey.
2011 William Noe Field Award for Catholic New Jersey History
This award named in honor of the late Monsignor William Noe’ Field (1915-2000), a noted rare book librarian and bibliophile is bestowed on the best publication in the field of New Jersey Catholic history produced over the past two year period.
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