Francis Reilly

Save Sacred Heart High School committee executive member Fran Reilly reads a letter during an assembly from his mother, Donata Cirelli Reilly, 98, president of Sacred Heart’s first graduating class in 1931.

Francis J. Reilly, a former Vineland mayoral adviser and the man who led an ultimately unsuccessful attempt to keep Sacred Heart High School open, died Wednesday.

The exact cause of the 70-year-old Reilly’s death, which occurred at Penn Presbyterian Medical Center in Philadelphia, was unavailable.

Charles Ottinger, Sacred Heart’s last principal, said Reilly suffered a heart attack Feb. 20, the day after he buried his mother. Reilly had been unconscious since suffering the heart attack, Ottinger said.

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A few weeks ago, Reilly talked happily about a party that was thrown in honor of his mother, Donata, who was 100 years old.

Reilly was an adviser to former Mayor Perry Barse, who served as Vineland’s chief executive from 2000 to 2008.

He was executive director of the Vineland-based CEO Group, which represented about 50 businesses in the region. He operated a public relations company called Reilly Communications in Vineland.

Reilly formerly served as president of Cumberland County College’s board of trustees. He also wrote a weekly column for years for The Daily Journal newspaper.

One of his most recent efforts was a to lead a bid to keep Sacred Heart open after the Diocese of Camden announced in 2012 that the school at Landis and East avenues was to close.

The school got a reprieve in April 2012 when the Save Sacred Heart High School Committee said it had raised $17,700 dollars more than the $300,000 it needed to collect by May 1 of that year to keep the facility open. The money needed to be in place by May 1 under an agreement with the diocese. Committee officials also said they secured five-year financial commitments from other contributors totaling more than $1 million.

However, diocese officials eventually said the school would close at the end of the 2012-13 academic year because its enrollment was not big enough to justify continuing operations. Sacred Heart had only 168 students that academic year.

Sacred Heart held its last graduation in its 86-year history in June.

Reilly’s funeral arrangements are pending.

Contact Thomas Barlas:


Senior copy editor for the Press of Atlantic City. Have worked as a reporter, copy editor and news editor with the paper since 1985. A graduate of the University of Delaware.

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