Former parishioners hope to memorialize St. Kevin’s leader

Jackie Gentile, Special to the Reporter
May. 1, 2014

St. Kevin's School was photographed two days before its demolition by former parishioner Christine Inman. Above, the school's auditorium.

Former parishioners and graduates of St. Kevin church and school in Uphams Corner hope to establish a permanent memorial to one of the parish’s most respected leaders on the grounds of a new development now being built on the site.

The St. Kevin campus— including the former and school building, which will be demolished— is will make way for new residential units intended for low-income and formerly homeless residents in a project led by three agencies affiliated with the Catholic Archdiocese of Boston. The parish school, the last vestige of the once-bustling Columbia Road church community, closed in 2008. Cardinal Sean O’Malley and then-Mayor Tom Menino presided over a groundbreaking ceremony last January to begin work on the project, which should be completed by next summer.

St. Mary’s Women and Children’s Center, the Planning Office for Urban Affairs and Holy Family Parish partnered in March 2010 to revitalize the site. Demolition began earlier this year and construction is slated for a 2015 completion. The project will include two new buildings on the site, which occupies 2.63 acres bounded by Davern Ave., Bird Street, Columbia Rd., and Virginia St.

The former school building located at 530 Columbia Rd. will be demolished, and a five-story building, with 47 units, will go up. The empty church building will remain in place, with a third story added on top of it. It will eventually house 21 apartment units.

The closing and subsequent loss of some the parish structures (the church building itself will remain and have a third story added to it for the new development) has been a tough pill to swallow for some former parishioners, even though many are now far removed from their old Uphams Corner stomping grounds. Still, using social media, many have connected online to lobby the Archdiocese to remember the parish’s longtime pastor, Fr. J. Joseph Kierce, with a memorial within or around the new buildings. Kierce, who died in 2006, dedicated 50 years of his priestly career to St. Kevin’s.

“What we want to be sure is that the past is part of the future; that it’s incorporated somehow,” said Russ LeBlanc, a radio personality in Ontario, Canada, who grew up in the parish. His parents owned the Strand Donut Shop.

“We’re raising the flag to say don’t forget, especially Father Kierce,” LeBlanc said. “The guy was an institution. He would help everyone and anyone.”

“He dedicated so much of his life to that area, I just think [a physical commemoration] would be so fitting,” said Crissy McDonald Turner, founder of a Facebook ground with the title “St. Kevin Parish & School/Uphams Corner - Dorchester MA” Facebook group. There are presently 472 members of the group.

“Everybody who entered St. Kevin’s and everybody from anywhere in Dorchester and out of town knows who Father Kierce is,” she laughed.

“Everybody was involved and to see it torn down is heartbreaking,” Turner said. “And especially knowing all the work he put into that school for all those years. He walked the streets selling chance books, anything he could think of to keep that school going.

“So it was heartbreaking to see it be torn down, but life goes on.”

David Aiken, the project manager for the Planning Office for Urban Affairs, said that the Archdiocese had considered and made arrangements for similar requests in the past.

“In many of our developments we do take into consideration the history and legacy of the parish to create a memorial,” Aiken told the Reporter. “We’ll determine when we’re further into construction the appropriate way to honor and recognize the people involved with St. Kevin’s over the years.”

Christine Chimi Inman lived in Dorchester until the early ‘80s and attended St. Kevin’s School for eight years. She wrote a Letter to the Editor that appeared in the Reporter last month appealing for a chance to let former parishioners visit and photograph the church and school before its demolition.

The letter prompted a response from the Planning Office for Urban Affairs. A photographer, Inman had a “sentimental and sad” experience, visiting the campus and snapping shots of the school’s interior before demolition began.

“I think as long as we do something to honor [Fr. Kierce], people will be happy about that.”