For the first time since its inception a decade ago, the Gesu School Spirit Medal will be bestowed on an African American.
This year, the board decided to honor the Rev. Stephen D. Thorne for his commitment to aiding North Philadelphia children and bolstering charitable efforts for Gesu, now an independent Catholic school outside the Archdiocese of Philadelphia educational umbrella.
Thorne is one of only five African-American Catholic priests in the Philadelphia Archdiocese. He has been mentoring the “Boys to Men” program at the school, providing eighth-graders with life and education skills.
“He serves as a mentor to these students,” said Kellsey Turner, spokeswoman at Gesu. “He hosts weekly sessions to teach them how to tie a tie, develop a resume, make good decisions, and to develop into confident men.”
“Father Thorne is truly deserving of Gesu’s Spirit Medal,” said Bryan Carter, the school’s president. “It is imperative that our boys have a positive role model in their life to encourage them to strive for a better future. Father Thorne is able to provide that. His mentoring program has made an immeasurable impact upon the lives of our students.”
Thorne is accepting the recognition with a bit of reluctance, acknowledging that he initially declined the honor. He explained as a priest, community engagement and service are things that he should be doing in keeping the focus on God, who empowers him.
When Carter asked him to think and pray about it, Thorne did.
Thorne said that he received a surprising answer to his prayers. That by accepting the honor, he could further motivate his mentees and draw others to do mentoring work.
“It is a great institution to receive an award from,” said Thorne, who is also an adjunct professor of education at Neumann University in Aston, Pa. “It was important for the students to see an African-American male receive this honor.
“So often in the past those honored were priests, sisters or lay persons who were not African American,” he added.
“Since I work with the students, this year 19 eighth-graders are going to present me with the award. This is special in a school with 475 Black kids. They get a chance to see their peers give the award, and someone like me who is helping at the school receive it. It symbolically shows them that they, too, can become a Black leader,” Thorne said.
The North Philadelphia native was ordained in 1998, and has been a pastor since 2011 at St. Martin de Porres Catholic Church in the Nicetown section. He earned his bachelor’s and master’s from the St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Wynnewood. Recently, he earned his masters in education from Neumann Wynnewood University.
His civic involvement includes being a member of the citywide Fellowship of African American Males, which meets quarterly to address educational and other challenges facing Black students.
The Gesu Spirit Medal honors individuals who have shown extraordinary commitment to the school through their loyal advocacy and actions, making a significant contribution to the school’s success.
The medal will be presented to Thorne and retired investment banker Peter Gould on May 5 at Gesu’s annual fundraiser, which supports the school’s mission of breaking the cycle of poverty and violence through a quality education.