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While playing football at Ursinus, Tim Rafter ‘13 (who works in the Prep’s Finance office and serves as an assistant coach for the football team) and his teammates were approached about joining a bone marrow registry called Be the Match. Be the Match is the connection between patients searching for a cure and life-saving bone marrow donors. A few months ago, Tim was finally able to live up to the name of the registry.

“They gave me a call right as the lockdown started and said ‘hey, you’re a match!’”, said Rafter, a Springfield (Delco) native.

A few days later, Tim traveled down to Alexandria, VA and spent five hours getting the procedure done. The patient needed his blood stem cells, not his bone marrow. All Tim was told was that the recipient was a 72 year old female in the early stages of leukemia.

“It’s very rewarding,” says Rafter, “The fact that you can learn about the person you are helping is great. It puts a face and a name to it, rather than just blindly giving.”

It’s always great to see Prep alums practicing the Jesuit ideals that are instilled in them while at 17th and Girard!

Rev. AJ Rizzo, SJ ’99 is getting his “dream.” Ever since serving his regency at Scranton Prep, he has yearned to return there to continue his ministry. Last month, he learned that dream will be coming true as he was named as the next President of Scranton Prep, the only other Jesuit high school in Pennsylvania. He will be replacing Rev. Ryan Maher, SJ, who will have served six years as President. Ironically, Fr. Maher was a teacher at the Prep when Rizzo was a student, as was Fr. Maher’s predecessor, Rev. Herbert Keller, SJ ’69, who served as Principal.

It was at the Prep when Fr. Rizzo was first connected to the Jesuits. As a 14 year old, he didn’t fully understand it or hear a calling, he was fascinated by the many Jesuits who taught him. “At that time, we had so many Jesuits who were great examples to us,” Fr. Rizzo says. “While I don’t think I would have said then that I wanted to be a Jesuit, I would have said that I wanted to be like Fr. (Joe) Michini or Fr. Keller. They were funny, they were smart, they took their faith seriously. I know it was something I wanted to be a part of.”

After graduating from the University of Scranton, Rizzo returned to the Prep to be a part of the Alumni Service Corps. It was during that year when he fell in love with teaching. “Going into my ASC year, I had no plans to be in education,” he says. “That year was transformative for me. I was able to work at a place that I loved with the people who had inspired me. When I was finished, I only applied for jobs in education.”

When he joined the Jesuits, Rizzo hoped to be missioned to one of the high schools in the province and, as a regent, he was sent to Scranton Prep. While he expected to enjoy being back in a city he loves, he didn’t expect to find another home or, as he puts it, “many homes.” “The students and families were so kind and welcoming,” he says. “They literally invited me into their homes, to be a part of their lives.”

He made such good friendships that many of his former students travelled to California when he was ordained to the diaconate and he still returns to Scranton several times a year to visit. He had always hoped to return to the school someday but his first missions were to St. Ignatius Parish in Baltimore and then Regis High School in New York City where he currently serves as the Director of Mission and Identity. Still, he held out hope that a future missioning would bring him “home” to Scranton.

That moment came last month, when the Scranton Prep Board of Trustees named him as their next President. He loves working in high schools, saying “students between the age of 13 and 17, their brains are not fully formed, specifically the part which governs how they view the world and how they make decisions. It is an incredible opportunity to make an impact on a person’s life and have that person make an impact on the world to build the kingdom of God. I think it’s the best work that the Jesuits do.”

While he knows many in the community that he will now lead, Fr. Rizzo is aware that there is much work to be done. “One positive is I don’t have to spend any time falling in love with the project because I already love Scranton Prep,” he says. “But even though is a place that I know and love, in order to be an effective leader, I have to learn it even better and in a different way. I look forward to the challenge.”

Rizzo was the first of four sons in his family to attend the Prep (Walt ’02, Manny ’15, and Gabe ’17) and he credits his alma mater for so much. “I can’t imagine my life without my four years at the Prep, it changed my life,” he says. “In addition to giving me the tools to be a funny, smart, and faithful man, it also taught me what to care about. And that led me to the Jesuits.”

Classmates John Hilferty ’14 and Jack Widman ’14 have both been working in Los Angeles, finding productive work in the entertainment industry. John is an assistant to the CEO of Ovation TV and Jack works for HBO. Recently, Joe Boyle ’09, Manager of the Prep Fund, caught up with the two men to find out more about their work.

Joe Boyle: How did you end up on the West Coast for work?

JH: I wanted to do a service year in a different city than I had lived in before, so I worked in an inner-city high school with City Year Los Angeles for a year. I had always loved film and television and realized I could work in the industry when I was living out there.

JW: By my senior year at the Prep, I knew for sure I wanted to get into the film industry. At the time, it seemed like LA and New York were the only places to be for that. I preferred LA, so I enrolled at Loyola Marymount University and kind of never looked back. I found a sense of familiarity in LMU’s Jesuit tradition (largely in the emphasis on critical thinking and service), which was important to me. Other than that, it was a different world, and I didn’t mind. I will say, people still mistake the Philly in me for “standoffishness,” but they get over it.

JB: How did your education impact your career?

JW: I double-majored in Screenwriting and Psychology. Aside from a couple courses on the entertainment industry more broadly, those majors had little to do with my current job as a Business Affairs Coordinator at HBO. But, LMU’s Screenwriting program is very practice-focused. You start writing on your first day. So, I still have scripts that I wrote at LMU which are being shopped around right now, and my continued growth as a writer has its roots in what I learned at LMU (and before that in Mr. Whelan’s Film and Lit class). As for the Psychology major, I don’t intend to pursue a career there. But, I am currently helping a retired NFL player produce a documentary on CTE that leans heavily on Psychological research, so that’s a bit of my worlds colliding.

JB: How do you like your current job path and what is the goal for you within this career in the future?

JH: I love my job! I lucked out with my boss, because I’ve heard horror stories from other friends who have been or are assistants now. My goal moving forward is to transition either into the talent management space or government affairs within the entertainment world. What we watch on screen has an impact on us both consciously and unconsciously, and I appreciate the fact that people are really promoting diverse voices and increasing the amount of content we see from people with different experiences and backgrounds than us. I’ve also been able to do some Advance work with the Joe Biden Presidential Campaign because of my boss’s previous security experience, and driving around the VP Biden, Dr. Biden, and senior staffers during the LA Debate and on Super Tuesday are definitely highlights of the work I’ve been fortunate to do.

JW: While my intention has always been to focus more on the creative side than I do right now, my current job provides me with a more holistic understanding of the industry than I would have had otherwise. I anticipate I’ll always value that.

JB: Are there any cool stories of people you have met in your career or even Prep guys who have crossed your paths in LA?

JH: Mike Conaboy, who had spent a lot of time working in entertainment ,became a mentor to me and helped me land on my feet when I finished my service year and wanted to work in TV. He introduced me to a ton of people, and a couple of the first people I met in the industry were two Prep guys, Gianluca Keeler and John Pickhaver. I hope there are other guys looking to move out there who I can help as much as he helped me!

JW: Aside from running into John at a deli, not having realized he was even out here, one story sticks out in particular. While I was still in college, Mr. Hart (who was Dean while I was at the Prep) found out that I was trying to get into comedy writing, so he set me up to meet with Rob McElhenney. Rob gave me a lot of valuable advice, but one bit, in particular, was burned into my brain. He said, “If you want to be a person who’s making things in this industry, just do it. Too many people who want to end up just getting into the proximity of people making things, and never actually make something.” When you think about how much more technological capability is available to the average person today than when he started making Sunny, you realize he’s absolutely right. Since then, I’ve focused on writing mainly things that I can shoot with the equipment, actors, and locations I have access to, and then going ahead and making them.

JB: Are you working on any cool projects or things that our alumni should know about?

JH: Shortly I will be wrapping up my job to start my MBA at Wharton, so I’ll be moving back to Philly soon. I hope to move back to LA once I’m finished.

JW: I’m pretty excited about this CTE documentary. It’s getting into the later stages of editing, so it should be ready fairly soon. I would mention some of my scripts, but I’m afraid I might get JUG for the subject matter of them.

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St. Joseph's Preparatory School
1733 West Girard Avenue Philadelphia, PA 19130
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