Plans set for Dorchester-Mattapan school revitalization

BRIGHTON -- In a move they hope will rejuvenate Catholic schools in Boston’s Dorchester and Mattapan neighborhoods, the Archdiocese of Boston recently outlined its plans to establish one regional school for the area.

The new school system, named Pope John Paul II Catholic Academy, will consist of five campuses, all offering pre-kindergarten through eighth grade. Two school buildings will close, and an eighth school, St. Brendan, will opt out of the regionalized school system.

The proposal was presented by pastors of Dorchester and Mattapan parishes and approved by Cardinal Seán P. O’Malley on Nov. 28. It will be the second project for the 2010 Initiative to revitalize archdiocesan schools, which completed a separate Brockton project in September.

Nine pastors in Dorchester and Mattapan unanimously endorsed the proposal, drawn up by the local school communities, said Father Thomas Foley, pastor at St. Ann Parish.

Father Foley said that Catholics in the neighborhood are “enthusiastic” and “very positive” about the plan that will invest $50 million in the school system, updating the facilities and curriculum to meet today’s needs. People like that the new system will offer the best possible education for children, he said.

Closing will be St. Peter and St. Kevin schools, and the St. Angela, St. Ann, St. Gregory, St. Mark and Blessed Mother Theresa of Calcutta school buildings will be used in the new system. At Blessed Mother Theresa of Calcutta Parish, formed as the result of a merger, the St. William School building is currently in use. Under the new plan, that building will not be used, and the former St. Margaret School building will reopen.

Renovations to St. Margaret’s will begin in January, and the building is scheduled to open in September 2008. St. Ann’s will be refurbished, reopening in September 2009, and students will be relocated to a different building during construction.

Though no longer used as a school, the Teen Center at St. Peter’s will remain open and also undergo improvements. Operated by Catholic Charities of Boston, the center will hire more staff members, upgrade the facility and provide transportation for teens.

The second stage of the project will introduce new programs for gifted students and those with learning difficulties. Improvements on St. Gregory, St. Angela and St. Mark school buildings will be completed by September 2010.

In selecting which buildings to utilize in the new school system, the pastors and school communities considered where the school children live and the need to have enough room for increased enrollment numbers, Father Foley said.

“We want to do this right. We want to make sure we have room to expand,” he said.

The pastors also wanted a regionalized school board that would include pastors, educators and local business people. The school system will benefit from collaboration, he said.

“We know from our own experience that it’s increasingly difficult for a single parish to support a school. The parochial school model served the Church extraordinarily well in the last century.” But, today, he said, “These parishes just don’t have the resources.”

The other Dorchester and Mattapan priests who endorsed the plan were Father Richard Conway of St. Ambrose, Father George Carrigg of St. Christopher, Father Paul Soper of Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta, Father Michael McLellan of Holy Family, Father Daniel Finn of St. Mark and St. Peter, Father William Joy of St. Matthew and St. Angela Parish, Msgr. Paul Ryan of St. Gregory and Father James Fratus of St. Brendan.

In a joint statement, the priests said, “We wish to express our complete support for this plan, and we pray that future generations will reap the many blessings and benefits of Catholic education.”

The archdiocese also announced that, though opting out of the plan, St. Brendan School will still benefit from fundraising efforts for the system.

In addition, all current students are guaranteed places in the new school system, and every teacher and current staff member will have a priority opportunity to be hired in the new regional school, the statement said.

The strategic planning process for Dorchester and Mattapan began in January when the pastors and principals of the eight parochial schools formed a committee to discuss the future of Catholic education. They received input from the 2010 consultative group as well as the school communities.

The archdiocese publicized the project one month ago, announcing that a plan was being formulated.

The schools in Dorchester and Mattapan have faced declining enrollment and financial challenges in recent years. Enrollment was down 6 percent this year from 2006. A committee, formed to discuss the 2010 plan in Dorchester and Mattapan, projected that no school would require more than 10 classrooms by 2011.

In September, three Brockton schools completed a merger to become Trinity Catholic Academy, one school with two campuses. It was the first project of the 2010 Initiative, first announced in August 2005.

Cardinal O’Malley said on his blog that the emphasis on improving Catholic education in the archdiocese will reap academic excellence and stronger Catholic identity at the schools.

“Dorchester and Mattapan are neighborhoods where there are many school children, and the presence of Catholic education is very, very important there,” he said.