South Boston celebrates new, stronger Catholic school

Cardinal Seán P. O’Malley speaks with 1st grader Ronan O’Connell during his Sept. 9 visit to the newly established South Boston Catholic Academy. Pilot photo/ Gregory L. Tracy

SOUTH BOSTON -- The new South Boston Catholic Academy officially opened Tuesday, Sept. 8, with a Mass celebrated by Cardinal Seán Patrick O’Malley the following day.

Immediately following the Mass, the cardinal toured the school and spoke with students.

SBCA opened in the former St. Brigid’s School with 362 students ranging from Pre-Kindergarten through Grade 8 that were consolidated from St. Brigid’s and Gate of Heaven Schools, both of South Boston.

“All the anticipation was worth it this morning,” SBCA Principal Nancy Carr told The Pilot on Sept. 8. “We had a schoolyard full of happy kids and happy parents.”

“When you put two communities together, there’s anxiety,” Carr added. “It couldn’t have been better.”

The new academy features three K1 classrooms, two classrooms in each grade K2 through 4, and one class each of grades 5 through 8. According to Carr, the average class size is 21, with the fourth grade having two classes of 24.

“It makes sense to have one healthy enrollment,” Carr said.

The new SBCA features many instructional improvements, such as an upgraded standards-based curriculum and new textbooks in Math, Language Arts, Science, and Social Studies, Spanish for Grades 1 through 8, a full complement of special classes including Music, Gym, Art, Computer Science, and Library Studies, professional development opportunities held in collaboration with local colleges and universities, two new Pre-K classrooms, new interactive white boards in Grades 4 through 8, white marker boards for Pre-K through Grade 3, and a new security system.

Grades 4 through 8 will benefit from departmentalized instruction, and the junior high students have new lockers.

SBCA has been chosen to receive a grant for the Literacy Collaborative, a program to ensure literary achievement for students in the early grades. Further, the academy has been selected to participate in a Facing History and Ourselves program for middle school students, which helps classrooms around the world link the past to today’s moral choices.

It will also offer an after-school program for students and a sports program organized by parents.

Father Robert Casey, pastor of St. Brigid’s and Gate of Heaven parishes, noted the school was “spruced up with new paint, sparkling clean floors, and many enhancements to the buildings and programs.”

The Pilot reported last November that the new SBCA would occupy the former St. Brigid’s School because of a number of advantages over the Gate of Heaven site, such as a gymnasium for physical education and assemblies and restrooms on each floor as required by building codes. The St. Brigid’s building is also 44 years younger than the Gate of Heaven site.

Renovations were expected to cost 36-percent less at St. Brigid’s.

The creation of the SBCA, with its curricular and physical plant improvements, was made possible through the private philanthropy of Jack Connors and other local business men. The money was raised through the Campaign for Catholic Schools (CCS), an outgrowth of the 2010 Initiative for Catholic Education, a strategic plan that focused on the future of Catholic education in the archdiocese in light of declining enrollment, changing demographics, and school closings.

For example, St. Brigid’s had an enrollment of 228 last year, Carr said, and one class at Gate of Heaven had only nine students last year.

Demographic factors include South Boston’s 61-percent turnover in the last five years, and the neighborhood’s expected 22-percent decline in the number of Catholic school-aged children, according to the Pilot reported last year.

The SBCA was formed from the last two remaining Catholic schools in South Boston.

To date, the CCS has raised over $100K toward their $200K goal for the SBCA, according to CCS President Kathleen Driscoll.

SCBA is the third academy established through the work of the CCS and under the 2010 Initiative.

Trinity Catholic Academy formed in Brockton in 2007, and in 2008, five former parish schools in Dorchester and Mattapan came together as campuses of a regional Pope John Paul II Catholic Academy. Both academies feature updated curriculums and building improvements.

The CCS is also working for renovations at St. Ann School in Gloucester.

Cardinal O’Malley said that these consolidations will lead to a brighter future in Catholic education, but at the same time, he acknowledged the emotional side of such strategic planning decisions.

“These mergers are sometimes painful, but it gave us even better resources to educate our young people. The commitment is to Catholic education and helping our young people to be good Christians and wonderful human beings,” the cardinal said. “We look at this as a way that Catholic education is going to be strong. Sometimes the parish school isn’t big enough to give the quality education the children deserve.”

The cardinal also noted that Catholic school students test above their peers in public and charter institutions.

Marie Laundry, a longtime parishioner at Gate of Heaven Parish who has coached CYO teams at the parish for the last 20 years, said she felt “angry and sad” when she first learned that Gate of Heaven School, the school that educated her parents, would be merging with St. Brigid’s to form SBCA. But, at the same time, she is extremely pleased with the education her granddaughter is receiving as a second grader at SBCA.

“It’s been long and difficult. We wanted to keep our identity,” Laundry said. “My grandchild went yesterday, and she was very happy, and that’s all that’s important to me.”

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