Updated: Thursday, February 1, 2018, 5:07 PM
Last August, Latanya Dunaway Clement posted a humble request on the 6,960-member Facebook page for alumnae of Little Flower Catholic High School for Girls:
“Class of ’83 tonight my youngest Corey Clement #30 will be playing against Packers he is with the Philadelphia eagles first year as a rookie asking for prayers to go up for him this evening for this his first preseason professional football game. Prayers for angels to protect him this evening and to remain healthy during this game in Jesus name.”
After going undrafted by the NFL, Corey had been signed by the Birds at the last minute as a running back. If he nailed it in the 2017 season, it would be a game-changer for his long-term prospects with the team and the league.
“Our prayer is, ‘Little Flower, in this hour, show your power!’ says ’83 grad Clement, repeating the school’s oft-spoken invocation to its patroness, St. Therese (known as Jesus’ beloved “Little Flower”). “It’s powerful.”
Well, St. Therese must be a Birds fan. Because she flexed her holy muscles in a way Clement still can’t comprehend:
In the regular season, Corey ran for 321 yards and four touchdowns on 74 carries and made 10 catches for 123 yards and two scores. Now he’s in Minnesota practicing for The Big Game. It’s a crazy, joyously unfathomable outcome for the 23-year-old former college-football star who worried, this time last year, whether he’d get to play professionally after graduating from the University of Wisconsin.
St. Therese’s miracle has whipped Little Flower’s administrators and 525 students into a frenzy of pride. For months they’ve been storming heaven with prayers for Corey and his teammates and posting Facebook cheers for them after each game.
By Thursday morning, though, it was time to go all in. The school organized a pep rally for the Eagles and asked Latanya Clement to be their special guest.
And that’s how she came to be at Little Flower’s gymnasium early Thursday morning, along with friends from her Class of 1983. At one end, right under the basketball net, staff had placed the school’s five-foot statue of St. Therese, which normally resides in a first-floor alcove. It’s there that students, staff and alums place roses at the saint’s feet when they have a special need of the saint’s intercession.
By 9:30, students jammed the bleachers, waving cardboard underdog heads and cutouts of Corey’s face. Resident priest Rev. Joe McCaffrey offered a prayer of gratitude for the reason everyone was together, gave thanks for Clement and her son and asked that the Eagles be kept safe during the Big Game this Sunday.
Then students scampered off the bleachers and to lay 100 green-tinted roses (from Riehs Florist in Northern Liberties) at St. Therese’s feet. Clement placed three red roses among them and then spoke to the crowd.
“I am overwhelmed right now, but thank you from the bottom of my heart!” she said to her Little Flower family, who kept interrupting her with cheers and applause.
Clement kept it together until the pep band played “Fly, Eagles, Fly” and the gym erupted in deafening screams and chants of “Corey! Corey! Corey!” She stood in the middle of it all, eyes welling up, hand on her chest, slowly turning in a circle and using her phone to record the jubilance she’d never forget.
For ten minutes, the mayhem endured. No one wanted to leave. The sweetness of the moment was palpable.
Here was a middle-aged woman, back at her alma mater, being cheered from the same seats where she once sat and plotted out her life with her own young friends. In those years, she ran track – not very well, she says – and never dreamed she’d one day have a son whose athletic accomplishments would play out on an international stage. Or that she herself would be prayed for and loved by girls as young as she once was. Or that she’d share this surreal moment with her own Little Flower friends from way back when.
“I am so blessed,” she said, after she’d taken the last of dozens of photos with the girls and staff. “This has been like coming home.”
As for the students, she says, “Corey doesn’t know it. But he now has 525 new little sisters.”