The former site of St. Kevin's Parish on Columbia Road is officially on the real estate market, and local civic and business groups are taking steps to make sure their voices are heard before any transaction happens.
The future of the 2.23-acre Uphams Corner property - which was closed last summer to create the Pope John Paul II academy at five other campuses - will be the subject of three community meetings this spring. The first is set for tonight at 6:30 p.m. in the Cape Verdean Adult Day Care Center on Hancock Street. Although the upcoming meetings are not sanctioned by the Archdiocese, one of the chief organizers said that church officials have been receptive.
"They've been helpful," says Matthew Bruce, a Jones Hill resident who sits on the board of Uphams Corner Main Streets. "We sat down with them last fall and they were open to having a community process. We've been able to communicate well with them and we probably wouldn't have gone forward with these meetings if that weren't the case."
Archdiocese spokesman Terrence Donilon said this week the church has had "continuous and open communications with the committee and their representatives.
"We obviously will continue to communicate with them and hear their ideas and suggestions as the process moves forward and while we appreciate the invitation we do not anticipate serving on their committee," Donilon said. "As is our general course of action, the marketing of the property is in the hands of our broker who will represent the Archdiocese with interested parties."
Mike Foley, an agent with Jack Conway Real Estate in South Boston is the listing agent for the St. Kevin's properties. Foley said this week that no price has been set for the campus.
"We're going to market it for a period of time and then have an open bid process," Foley said.
Terrence Donilon, a spokesman for the Archdiocese, said that the church typically does not set an asking price and does not "disclose appraisals" of the property.
At least two preliminary meetings have already been held to discuss the goals of the upcoming meetings. These meetings have included members of the Main Streets team, staff from the Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative (DSNI) and Dorchester Bay Economic Development Corporation and members of the Upham's Westside Neighborhood Association. Another key voice has been that of Peter Roth, president of New Atlantic Development, a company that has built and managed housing and commercial projects in the Uphams area.
Roth thinks that the collaborative effort to create a "vision" for the St. Kevin's site and other surrounding properties is well-timed.
"The scope, including the nearly three-acre [St. Kevin's] campus and other related properties, is a process that is going to be implemented over a 10-year period, not in the immediate future," said Roth. "Literally nothing could be financed there if it were 100 percent affordable given today's current conditions.
"But the district's revitalization has been ongoing for 20 years and this is a planning process that is looking forward to the future."
Bruce says that the meetings will look beyond the footprint of the church holdings to the larger Uphams Corner area.
"From a planning point of view, we don't want to just limit it to the Archdiocese," Bruce said. "Because we so seldom have a chance to do a visioning like this as a community, we want to look at the site with a wider lens."
State Rep. Marie St. Fleur says she hopes that the Archdiocese takes more than a passive role in the emerging planning process.
"The church should take some responsibility in being engaged," St. Fleur said. "I understand they have a realtor and [in the past] there has been outreach made by a number of charter schools. I'm not sure what the church has in mind. The community doesn't have any pre-conceived ideas. I will be actively participating in this because Uphams Corner has been a challenge in the past in terms of revitalization."
John Barros, whose home on Bird Street abuts the St. Kevin's property, is also part of the Uphams Corner collaborative through his role as executive director of DSNI. Barros believes that the church will hold off on making any sale until the community has had its say.
"I do appreciate the fact that church has said that they're going to wait for what comes out of this process and that might inform how they sell the land," Barros said. "So that shows they are willing to partner with us."
St. Kevin's parish - a high-profile symbol of Dorchester's robust Catholic identity in the last century - was founded as an offshoot of St. Peter's in 1945. Parishioners worshiped in a converted telephone company building on Columbia Road before two additional buildings were added to the campus. In its heyday in the 1950s and 60s, St. Kevin's boasted a huge youth population that helped fuel its highly-regarded marching band, the Emerald Knights.
St. Kevin's was synonymous with Rev. Joseph Kierce, the priest who served as pastor there for an unusually long tenure of five decades. The parish merged with nearby St. Paul's parish in 1995 in one of the first incremental signs of what has become a more widespread contraction of parishes. St. Kevin's School - which was considered the parish school for the newly-formed Holy Family parish - continued as an outpost of Catholic education in Uphams Corner until its doors were closed last June.
St. Kevin's could be the third Dorchester parish conveyed from Catholic control to a different owner. In 2006, the former grounds and buildings of St. Leo's parish on Harvard Street were sold by Catholic Chairites to a Pentecostal congregation, Bethel Tabernacle. Also that year, the Fields Corner-based Vietnamese-American Initiative for Development (Viet-AID) purchased the St. William church complex on Dorchester Avenue. Viet-AID hoped to re-develop the church and rectory into affordable housing, but instead sold the property in 2008 to a Seventh-Day Adventist congregation, which now worships there.
Donilon said that the Archdiocesean marketing plan does not prohibit a sale of St. Kevin's to another religious group. He noted that other former parish holdings have been sold to other faiths, including properties in Malden and Hyde Park.
"We take into account several points when considering a potential buyer for available church properties," Donilon said. "What their intent is for the property, what their offer is, what their intended future use of the property is and is the buyer good for the local community, among others."
The Archdiocese does employ so-called "negative use restrictions," which Donilon said could preclude uses such as an abortion clinic, embryonic stem cell research facility or other facilities deemed "incompatible with the principles of morality and good manners."
In addition to Thursday's meeting, two other community meetings are already scheduled for April 16 and May 21.
Barros says that DSNI will help to organize a strong turnout for the meetings. He hopes that many former parishioners will take a particular interest in the redevelopment discussion.
"I think we really need to make sure that folks that are affiliated with the church are involved - and many of us are already," said Barros. "I don't think we'll see the real estate arm of the Archdiocese involved, but we need to think about getting the local church more engaged."
Edward Grimes, who runs the Uphams Corner Health Center and grew up in the parish, said losing the church and school remains too painful for some former parishioners to be active in the meetings.
"I've stood back," said Grimes. "It's too painful with my history as a student there and both my parents were buried from there and my brother was ordained thereâ€¦ It's hard to see it transformed."