Some eighth grade pupils were kept after school last Friday at the Neponset Avenue campus of the new Pope John Paul II Catholic Academy, but it was not for poor behavior or to clean the erasers. The students were invited to stay late to receive a group of visitors who brought welcome news for the school's future.
Cardinal Sean O'Malley was joined late Friday afternoon by school officials and leading Catholic philanthropists at the building that formerly housed St. Ann school to announce that the renovated and rejuvenated elementary school would receive a $15 million grant from the Yawkey Foundation, the Dedham-based charitable trust founded by the former owners of the Boston Red Sox. The school was formed this year from five previous parish schools across Dorchester.
"In this the bicentennial year of the archdiocese, the Yawkey Foundation is making a very historic announcement," the Cardinal told the students. "It's going to have a dramatic and a very, very positive impact on the church's work in Dorchester and Mattapan. We serve the whole community - with so many different ethnic groups and so many different faiths." He said the enrollment at the five campuses now totals 1500 students.
"Up to 32 percent of the children in our schools are non-Catholic, but they are welcome to be a part of our Catholic schools," O'Malley said. Calling it "the first new Catholic school in the City of Boston in decades," he praised the construction team that did the work over the school vacation weeks last summer.
"John Fish and our friends at Suffolk Construction accomplished an incredible feat this summer renovating school buildings in record time," he said.
In prepared remarks, Yawkey president Jim Healey said, "The Trustees of the Yawkey Foundation are pleased to make this grant to support the Pope John Paul II Catholic Academy and the St. Peter's Teen Center. Throughout their lives, Tom and Jean Yawkey championed education as the cornerstone to a life of opportunity and success. By providing high quality education to youth in the Dorchester and Mattapan neighborhoods, the Archdiocese and the Campaign for Catholic Schools (CSS) are making an immeasurable investment in the future of our community. "
In a press statement, the archdiocese said, "The award will be used to support the construction and renovation of the five school buildings comprising Pope John Paul II Catholic Academy in Dorchester and Mattapan, and the renovation of the St. Peter's Teen Center in Dorchester. Catholic elementary schools in Dorchester and Mattapan are being revitalized through a comprehensive plan, designed to enhance the academics and Catholic faith education with a new regional governance model, new leadership and curriculum along with professional development for all teachers. This effort is part of the Archdiocese of Boston's 2010 Initiative."
The Cardinal and Healey were joined in a second floor classroom of the renovated school by philanthropists Jack Connor and Peter Lynch. Connors, who chaired the campaign which has been raising funds for the effort, was ebullient as he spoke to the students.
"This is a very special day for a lot of us," Connors said. "Kathleen Driscoll and I and (Suffolk Construction president) John Fish met three and a half years ago with the Cardinal, and in our opinion, this is a man who has been an inspiration in everything that we have done because, simply stated, he is our shepherd. He has been put here to fix and to heal this archdiocese. And the day he was installed, he said that Catholic education is very important to the future of the Catholic faith.
"In 1965 there were 250 of these schools - parish Catholic schools- today there are only 99. He said 'we're drawing a line in the sand, the defense has been on the field too long, and we're going to build these back.'"
Connors told the 8th graders that when he in elementary school he spent the first six grades in a public school in Roslindale.
"In the 7th and 8th grades, I was at St. Aidan's in Brookline. When I see you here today, I just remember that my mother and father wanted the best for us. And they knew that the best was primarily available through a wonderful education. The hopes your parents have for you are exactly the same as the hopes my parents had for me. They want us to be healthy, they want us to be happy, and they want us to make a difference in the world.
"In the history of Catholic education, no one has ever made a gift of $15 million. It will be spent on your education. All of this means that a lot of people, in addition to your family, your friends and your neighbors, genuinely care about you and your future. I am very grateful that you stayed after school today. Thank you for the opportunity to make a difference in your lives."
Connors said that his committee's efforts have raised $9 million to consolidate three parish schools in Brockton into one, and with the Yawkey grant, they are almost two thirds of the way towards their goal for the Dorchester and Mattapan school.
"In Dorchester now with this, we have gotten commitments for $47 million, and we're going to go out and raise another $23 million. We're going to raise $70 million in Dorchester," he said.
"In the beginning nobody, nobody believed we could do this. And now the Yawkey Foundation has given us permission to believe we are on the right track, and we are grateful to them."