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Padua Academy class of ‘pioneers’ to be focus of women’s achievement dinner April 21 in Wilmington

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Father Joseph L. McCoy congratulates Mary Ann Klekotka. Patricia Callahan is pinned by Sister Canuta. Elaine Agostini and Susan McCormick wait their turn.

WILMINGTON — The rich tradition of Padua Academy is the focus of an annual celebration at the school in the form of some important graduates.

Padua Academy’s 11th “Dinner in Honor of Women’s Achievement” is April 21 at the Dupont Country Club in Wilmington.

The tradition of the dinner has been to celebrate the accomplishments of women who have led lives of faith, leadership, charity, and entrepreneurial innovation. While in the years past the dinner sought to highlight one woman and her accomplishments, this year’s dinner will be closer to home as it will be honoring Padua’s entire class of 1958, nicknamed the Pioneers.

Pat Sianni, class of 1958 and one of Padua’s first student council officers, said she and her classmates were not expecting to be honored at this year’s dinner.

“Hearing the news about the dinner brought forth a good feeling,” Sianni said.

Before graduating eighth grade from St. Anthony of Padua parish school in 1954, the girls within the class advocated to have a school built for them. With the boys having the option of attending Salesianum School, the girls felt left out as they did not have a school of their own. Through their dedication and perseverance, they paved the way for what is now Padua Academy. However, having a school built for them was no easy task as they endured and sacrificed a lot to have their dream come true, according to the Pioneers.

Elaine Jakotowicz, another officer of Padua’s first student council and 1958 alumna, remembers having no heat in the building and students having to keep their coats on while in class, walking on concrete floors as if they were outside, eating lunch at their desk instead of in a cafeteria, and not having a gym for recreation or for school dances. With no gym, their graduation ceremony from Padua was held in the gym at St. Anthony’s.

Aside from the areas that were being improved upon, the women who are part of the pioneer class participated in designing Padua’s class ring and the emblem stitched onto their uniforms, which are still used today.

Founded in 1954 by Oblate Father Joseph L. McCoy, Padua Academy is a four-year Catholic high school for girls. The members of St. Anthony of Padua Parish, led by Oblate Father Roberto Balducelli and Brother Michael Rosenello, built the “school with a soul” on Broom Street, according to the school website. In the early years, members of the Oblates of St. Francis de Sales and the Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia administered and staffed the school. To ensure a continuing tradition in the founding spirit, St. Francis de Sales and St. Francis of Assisi were chosen as the patrons of the school.

While this year’s dinner is set on honoring the first graduating class, Sianni also wants to acknowledge the classes that immediately followed hers to be pioneers, for they, too, endured a lot while the school was still in its beginning stages, she said.

Many of the women from the class of 1958 have remained in close contact, coming together annually for Christmas luncheons and birthdays. Prior to being named the honorees for this year’s dinner, 19 of the women gathered together for lunch as a way to catch up and enjoy each other’s company.

The evening of the dinner will begin with cocktail hour at 6 p.m. followed by dinner and program at 7. Pat Ciarrochi, class of 1970 and a veteran news anchor at CBS3 Philadelphia, will be the master of ceremonies for the evening, and Carla D. Riner who has had a compelling career as a flight attendant, military pilot, law school graduate, airline pilot, and now the first female Delaware Air National Guard Wing Commander has been selected as the keynote speaker.

To attend the dinner, please RSVP by April 3 through Padua’s website at paduaacademy.org.