Catholic academy receives $2 million grant

DORCHESTER -- Gathered in a recently-renovated science lab, a group of upper grade students from John Paul II Catholic Academy received official word from the school’s administration, local politicians, and business leaders that a corporate gift will allow education at the inner-city school to get even better.

“Your kindness will give us opportunities to achieve our dreams in the future,” eighth grader Alex Jones said. “As Pope John Paul II said, ‘the future starts today, not tomorrow.’”

At a May 11 press conference at Pope John Paul II Academy’s Columbia campus, academy director Russ Wilson announced that the academy would receive a combined $2 million gift from Liberty Mutual and data storage company EMC to benefit the academy’s science, math, and technology programs.

In addition to Jones and Wilson, speakers at the press conference included Central regional Bishop Robert Hennessey, Congressman Stephen Lynch, EMC CEO Joe Tucci, Liberty Mutual CEO Ted Kelly, Campaign for Catholic Schools Chairman Jack Connors, and Sr. Gail Donahue, CSJ, director of the academy’s guidance department and former interim director.

“This is what happens when people come together to help other people,” Connors said. “It’s nothing new. It’s a continuation of a good story that began over 2000 years ago -- the Good Samaritan.”

Father William Joy, who chairs the school’s Board of Trustees and is current pastor of St. Angela Parish in Mattapan and St. Matthew Parish in Dorchester, provided the closing prayer.

Also in attendance, though they did not speak, were the archdiocese’s education secretary Dr. Mary Grassa O’Neill, Father Jack Ahern, pastor of St. Peter Parish and Blessed Mother Theresa of Calcutta Parish in Dorchester, state Rep. Linda Dorcena Forry (D-Boston), and officials from the Campaign for Catholic Schools.

“Together, we are certain to succeed in building a brighter future for the students of Pope John Paul II Catholic Academy,” Wilson said.

In a separate interview with The Pilot afterwards, Wilson said the gift is a five-year grant that will be used primarily to enhance the middle school math and science curriculum. He said next year, the academy, which has a diverse student body that speaks 18 languages other than English, will offer both advanced and grade-level math. The advanced students would graduate having satisfied a high school freshman algebra requirement, he also said.

Wilson said the gift would be used to provide professional development for teachers in the school’s gifted and talented program. He also said interactive white boards would be installed in all classrooms in Grades 4 through 8.

Jones said the school currently has a limited supply of white boards.

The grant will benefit lower grade students as well, Wilson said.

The gift frees funds for the school to implement an improved reading program for students in Grades K through 3, and allows John Paul to develop a Latin curriculum that will be required of all students in Grades 6 through 8.

The gifts will help meet the $70 million fundraising goal for the Dorchester/Mattapan school. To date, more than $47 million has been raised by the Campaign for Catholic Schools.

Pope John Paul II Catholic Academy is a five-campus school that serves 1,300 students in Grades Pre-K through 8. At the end of this year, the school will close its Dorchester Central campus. Four other campuses exist in Dorchester and Mattapan.