Time running short for St. William’s deal, says O’Neill

The clock is ticking on whether to locate a Catholic high school, currently in Cambridge, at the former St. William’s School in Savin Hill, the chair of the high school’s board of trustees said this week.

An agreement on whether to relocate North Cambridge Catholic High School to Dorchester must be reached in the “next few days” or the school will have to turn to other sites in Boston, said Thomas O’Neill, who heads the school’s board of trustees as well as a high-powered local lobbying and public relations firm.

The archdiocese of Boston and the local parish, which owns the school, had been at the negotiating table earlier this month. The archdiocese has been seeking to buy the school from the parish and lease it to officials with the private North Cambridge institution.

“We’ve been at this now for about eight months,” O’Neill told the Reporter on Tuesday. “We have to have an understanding.”
High school officials have been hoping to open the school under a different name next fall, but with the school year reaching its midpoint, a deal needs to be brokered soon, they say.

“It’s really not about us,” said O’Neill, who graduated from North Cambridge Catholic in 1962. “It’s about the archdiocese and the parish priest getting together.”

Rev. Jack Ahern, pastor of Blessed Mother Teresa parish, which includes the old St. William’s Parish, said that three or four weeks ago there appeared to be a deal: $1.5 million for the site and set-aside placements for neighborhood students. “I think Tom wants to make the deal. I want to make the deal,” Ahern said. “Ultimately it’s in the [archdiocesan] chancellor’s – Jim McDonough’s – hands.”

McDonough, who is traveling this week, could not be reached for comment by press time. “He has not been in touch with me,” Ahern said.
Talks between the parish and the archdiocese broke down last month with the archdiocese holding firm to paying $1.2 million for the site and Ahern maintaining that the property was assessed at $3.2 million. Ahern’s counter-proposal of $1.2 million – with co-ownership for the parish – was rejected. Negotiations restarted in late September.

O’Neill, a former lieutenant governor and son of the late U.S. House Speaker, Tip O’Neill, called the former St. William’s School a “great site” but that time was growing short. He said that North Cambridge Catholic, part of a national network of 22 schools across the country called Cristo Rey, is drawing increased interest from parents who want their children to go there. The school currently includes 265 students, but officials hope to expand the number to 400. “The demand is such is that we need a much larger school to occupy,” he said.

The former St. William’s School at one time contained a parochial school, but that has since been combined with the old St. Margaret’s school into a single grammar school called Blessed Mother Teresa.

The Savin Hill site, currently being used as storage space, has other bonuses, according to high school officials: it’s around the corner from the Savin Hill MBTA stop while the nearest MBTA station for North Cambridge Catholic is Davis Square. A Savin Hill location would greatly reduce the commute for 70 percent of the students, many of whom are from Dorchester, Mattapan, and Roxbury.