St. Columbkille welcomes students from closed schools

BRIGHTON—More than 70 students from the St. Anthony of Padua School in Allston, closed in August, were welcomed Sept. 6 into Brighton’s St. Columbkille School community for the new academic year.

“It has been a very difficult situation, but it has gone on in the best possible way,” said Father Charles J. Higgins, the pastor of St. Anthony’s, who was on hand to greet students and parents during the first week of school.

“Difficult as it is, it is a wonderful opportunity for community building,” Father Higgins said.

Although she was not expecting to have so many new students, the principal of St. Columbkille, Mary E. Battles, said it has gone very well. “We didn’t want to turn anyone away.”

On Aug. 18, three days after the announcement that St. Anthony’s was closing, Battles hosted an open house with Father Higgins, which attracted more than 100 parents and students from the closed school. “Parents were both curious and happy they found a place for their children to go,” she said.

Having Father Higgins at the open house went a long way to easing the anxiety everyone was feeling, she said.

It turned out that families from the two parishes already knew each other from softball, baseball and hockey leagues, she said.

Because many of the St. Anthony’s students met St. Columbkille’s teachers during the Boston Catholic Schools Connect summer program, teachers were able to greet the new students by their first names, she said.

Battles said her school now has more than 250 students, including another 65 students who transferred in when Brighton’s Our Lady of Presentation School closed last year, making St. Columbkille’s a prototype magnet school for Boston’s Catholic school system.

The school’s student body is diverse both ethnically and geographically, she said. Besides the European backgrounds, traditionally associated with the neighborhood, there are pupils from families with roots in Latin America, Asia, Africa and the Caribbean.

A significant number of pupils live outside the Boston area, coming from as far away as Framingham, dropped off and picked up by parents who work in and around Brighton, the principal said.

The enrollment is the school’s highest since before Battles became the school’s principal in 1986, she said. To accommodate for the new students, the school has added an additional sixth  grade and kindergarten class. “Now we have a big school—bursting at the seams.”

There are more books and supplies on order, as well, Battles said. “We have had to move some classrooms around and some of the furniture that we thought was settled.”

The students from St. Anthony’s mingled comfortably in her seventh-grade class, said Sister Catherine Loretto, SND, who joined the St. Columbkille faculty from Our Lady of Presentation.

Seven of Sister Catherine’s 15 students were from St. Anthony’s, she said.

Although students who already had St. Anthony’s green and red plaid uniforms may wear them through the end of the school year, Maureen Holman said her daughter, fourth grader Jennifer, 9, is wearing her new school’s blue and black colors to better fit in.

The night before her first day of school, Jennifer told her mother she did not want to go, but coming home from her first day, she changed her mind, Holman said.

Jennifer told her mother that she loved her new teacher because she was in control of the class.

Patricia Daly said her daughter, second-grader Leah, 7, will continue to wear her St. Anthony’s uniform, but she is happy in her new school.

Both Daly and Holman attended St. Anthony’s, along with both their husbands, parents, sisters and brothers, Daly said.

This is the most difficult part of the transition, said Father Higgins.

The school was a home for the community for 80 years, he said. Yet, because of the timing of the decision to close the school, students and teachers never had a chance to say good bye, he added.

To help provide a positive opportunity for closure, Father Higgins said there will be an Oct. 1 Mass at 4 p.m. followed by a reception at St. Anthony of Padua Church for all members of the school community.

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