Updated teen center re-opens at St. Peter's

Cardinal Sean O'Malley greeted young people in the newly renovated St. Peter's Teen Center: Photo courtesy Catholic Charities.Cardinal Sean O'Malley greeted young people in the newly renovated St. Peter's Teen Center: Photo courtesy Catholic Charities.

Former Celtic legend M.L. Carr stood beneath one of the new baskets. Afternoon light shined through the new windows, glistening on the hardwood at the renovated Teen Center at St. Peter's. The scent of fresh polish on the floor wafted through the gym.

"Absolutey, I would play here," said Carr, who is the President and CEO of WARM2Kids, which will provide computer-based youth development programming at the center.

Carr was but one of the many politicians, community and religious leaders present for the opening following the $4 million renovation. The center, which serves 200 teens daily, reopened with Mayor Thomas Menino and Cardinal Sean O'Malley on hand.

"When it comes to education, it is so important to have a teen center on Bowdoin Street," Menino said. "The opportunity we give young people to make positive decisions after school is so important. Even in difficult economic times, there are priorities."

Teens come to the center, some bussed in from nearby schools, for homework assistance, sports leagues, language assistance, college preparation, dance and music classes, explained Vivian Soper, regional director for Greater Boston Catholic Charities. Included in the renovations are a new library, classrooms, kitchen, dance studio and gym. Philanthropist Jack Connors also donated a new computer center for St. Peter's.

Paulo De Barros, director of the center, said that the new renovations completed the vision, which began in 2001 when the teen center was launched with a series of small discussion groups. "There wasn't any money [back then] but that didn't stop anything," De Barros said. "The teens told us what they wanted."

"They don't just come to play basketball and soccer. They come to work study and grow," De Barros said, noting that the center provides English language tutoring for many recent immigrants of Cape Verde.

Before blessing the center, Cardinal O'Malley thanked the Yawkey Foundation, the Campaign for Catholic Schools and Suffolk Construction for their support and contributions. A year ago all the good feelings of the day may have seemed unlikely, when the archdiocese announced the closing of St. Peter's School as well as St. Kevin's as part of its 2010 Initiative. Both elementary schools served some of Boston's poorest students.

When asked if he felt that today's re-opening put an end to some of the sad and bitter feelings of the last year, Cardinal O'Malley said he hoped so. "Certainly, people see the commitment to the center and the fact that children have new and better schools is a sign of our commitment to providing Catholic education," O'Malley said. "The proof is in the pudding. [This is a] realization that Catholic education is here to stay."

State Senator Jack Hart echoed some of the same sentiments. "There was an attempt made to save the school. There were some hard feelings," Hart said. "But as his Eminence may say, when God closes a door, he opens another."

"This is an extraordinary moment for St. Peter's and all of Dorchester. This is the possibility the people of Dorchester have been looking for for a very long time," Hart said.