If you put this story in a movie nobody would believe it. Too corny, they’d say. This is a story about community. The kind of community that many didn’t think still existed in America; the kind that still believed in wishes and miracles. But mostly this is a story about a little boy who refused to give up on a miracle. When told it was impossible he believed the way only 12 year olds can.
This is a story about Tommy Germichalos, a 12 year old boy from Philadelphia with a wish. Tommy has a serious form of cystic fibrosis. So when the Make-A-Wish Foundation asked him what he wished for he gave an answer they didn’t expect. His sister who also had C.F. had wished to meet Celine Dion.
Tommy didn’t want to meet a celebrity. He didn’t want to play basketball against an NBA hero. His wish was simple: Save my School. You see, the Archdiocese of Philadelphia was closing Tommy’s elementary school because much of the Catholic population had moved into the suburbs and the urban neighborhood just couldn’t support the school anymore. Here’s the letter Tommy wrote:
I don’t’ make CF a big part of my life because, I just want to be a normal kid but sometimes it’s just too hard. I’ve been in the hospital for C.F. with IV’s in my arm and I’ve had surgeries on my stomach and my polyps. One time when I went in the hospital I even cried because I was afraid that God didn’t love me because I asked my Mom “how can God love me if he makes me suffer?” My mom cried and told me God loves all of us and some things happen for reasons we don’t know about. Father Kearns came to visit me at St. Chris and he talked to me and I got my faith back again.
I don’t’ know how to save my school and I need your help. I’ll do anything that can make a difference. We need a MIRACLE. Please help me convince Cardinal Rigali to keep my school open. My faith is strong because I go to a Catholic School. The spirit of St. Cyril is alive in me and everyone else who has been a part of St. Cyril School. Please help me Save my school. This is my Christmas Make A Wish.”
Make A Wish Executive Director Dennis Heron said his request “blew us away.” But after researching the issue and contacting the archdiocese they came up against a cold hard reality. It cost $175,000 to run the school each year and the money wasn’t there.
Tommy’s mother Connie, who was a librarian at the school, told her son it was a “no-win situation.” It just wasn’t in anyone’s power to do. She warned him that if he didn’t change his wish he likely wouldn’t get another one. He said there was no other wish.
Pastor Kearns said his wish was the same as the little boy’s. “But there is a limit to what can be done,” he said.
The school announced it was closing. But when a waitress at a bar told a newspaper columnist about Tommy’s story he wrote a column. Soon, other newspapers and television stations ran the story about Tommy’s letter. The entire St. Cyril’s community and the entire city was moved.
There were Beef and Beer fundraisers, a Dance-A-Thon, a pizza sale, and a charity basketball tournament, and car washes. “I Believe” T-Shirts were sold. A local Dodge dealer donated a car for a raffle.
By the end of March, the $200,000 “Save our School” goal was met and surpassed. Cardinal Justin Rigali paid a visit to the school and announced the school was off the chopping block.
Tommy starts 8th grade this week. He still believes in miracles.