Archdiocese announces sale of over 45 acres of Brighton campus

BRIGHTON — In a deal described as a “win-win” for both parties involved, the Archdiocese of Boston agreed in principle to sell 43 acres of its Brighton campus, including several buildings, to Boston College for $99.4 million. The archdiocese and BC announced the sale, which they hope to close by June 30, at a press conference held at St. John’s Seminary April 20.

The Archdiocese of Boston will use proceeds from the sale to repay approximately $90 million in loans taken out to fund clergy abuse settlements. BC, which has expressed interest in the land and property since the archdiocese first announced its intention to sell, plans to use the 43 acres for playing fields and faculty and staff parking. The Brighton plot, which is located directly across the street from the BC campus, will be a significant addition to the university’s current 140-acre property.

"I am very pleased that we were able to come to an agreement in this matter so quickly," saving the archdiocese from paying more money in interest on its loans, Archbishop Seán P. O'Malley said at the press conference. In December 2003, when the archdiocese made public its intention to sell the property, they had envisioned the process of finding a buyer would take about two years, he said.

"While I am saddened that a large piece of our Brighton campus has to be sold to this end, it is good that the offer by Boston College was the one that we accepted at the end of the sale process since we have been able to keep the property within the Catholic family," he said. BC is a Jesuit-run university.

The Archdiocese of Boston originally planned to sell 27.6 acres of land and the former Cardinal’s residence. “Good bargaining on the part of Boston College” and millions of dollars in debt accrued by the “cash-strapped” archdiocese brought the sale from 27.6 acres to 43 acres, said archdiocesan spokesman Father Christopher Coyne.

The St. William’s Hall building, a retreat house and site of the Master of Arts in Ministry program for the laity, and the St. Clement’s Hall building, which was under a 40-year lease to BC, are included in the sale.

The sale of such a large parcel of property does not completely cover the debt of the archdiocese, said the archbishop, but “it puts us on the road to [financial] recovery.” He said proceeds from the sale will allow the archdiocese to pay off its bank loans, but will not cover other outstanding debts, including approximately $37 million owed to the Knights of Columbus.

The archbishop said he hopes that the sale of the Brighton land and property will “demonstrate to people that no parish funds are being used” to pay for the clergy abuse scandal.

"The sense of loss, in terms of our history here, is certainly very great," Archbishop O'Malley said of the lasting effect the sale will have on the historic chancery campus. Nevertheless, "people are more important than money, and the Church is more important than buildings," he continued. "Hopefully [the sale] will help us on the road to recovery both spiritual and economic."

Discussions have been ongoing with the family of Cardinal William H. O’Connell, who is buried on the property involved in the sale, about the possibility of moving his tomb. No final decision has been made as to whether his tomb will have to be moved, said the archbishop. Cardinal O’Connell, a graduate of BC, was archbishop of Boston from 1907 to 1944.

Also included is an agreement to sell the Tribunal building on Lake Street and the 3.25 acres of land on which it is located to BC in two years for $8 million. The Tribunal building houses the archdiocesan Tribunal and the Office of Religious Education, which will have to be relocated pending the sale of the property.

An additional aspect of the proposal states that if the archdiocese decides to sell the remaining Brighton campus property within the next 10 years, BC will buy it for $60 million. That transaction would include approximately 18 acres of land, the chancery buildings and St. John’s Seminary.

According to archdiocesan officials, in order for the sale to become final it must be approved by the board of trustees of St. John’s Seminary, the archdiocesan College of Consultors — a group of priests and auxiliary bishops who have to be consulted on weighty matters pertaining to the archdiocese — and the Holy See. The Archdiocese of Boston expects the sale to move forward without delay.

BC president Father William P. Leahy, SJ, called the agreement “historic” for the future of the university. “Acquiring additional space has long been a goal for BC,” he said.

Along with the enormous benefits gained there will also be enormous costs to the university, which hopes to avoid using any of its $1 billion endowment to pay for the property. “The cost will be significant, but we could not pass up the opportunity for more land, especially parcels so close to our campus,” Father Leahy said.

"There was no clergy discount today," he joked. "This was a significant price -- no question -- but our advisors said this was a very fair price."

BC plans to raise money “very aggressively” from its alumni to defray the costs of the land and property, said Father Leahy.

BC was not the only bidder on the property, said William McCall, chairman of the archdiocesan real estate committee. However, Church officials would not provide the names of other bidders. McCall explained that BC’s capacity to close the sale quickly influenced the archdiocese’s decision to sell to the university.

BC spokesman Jack Dunn said he expects alumni of the university to respond positively to the acquisition.

"I think our alumni will be supportive because they realize the opportunity that this sale presents to Boston College," he said. "And it will help the Archdiocese of Boston in its time of need."