By David Benoit
Special to the Reporter
In a newly renovated basement at St. Mary's
School on Dorchester Avenue in South Boston,
parents waited anxiously for a priest in dark brown
robes to speak. They knew bad news was coming, and
it was palpable.
"Are you going to cry," one woman asked
"I already did."
Then Rev. Jerzy Auguscik, OFM Conv., took the
microphone and, in a halting voice, delivered the
"Since June 2003, our enrollment at Saint Mary's
School has dropped rapidly - 45 percent," he said.
"I see the numbers have dropped down and down. I
had no option than to consider to close the school.
It is going to be closed by the end of June."
And with that, the Friday evening meeting
exploded. For 35 minutes parents responded
voraciously to the pastor's decision. Venomous
attacks spewed with a mix of reason, anger and
distress. Pleading came from both sides of the
"You didn't even care," shouted one mother. "You
don't even know one kid's name."
"I know it is painful, believe me I had no
option but to go and take such a step," Auguscik
The pastor of Our Lady of Czestochowa Parish,
which operates the parish-based elementary school,
never once raised his voice, even if parents didn't
always offer the same. He stated over and over
again the numbers making the school's chances
"There are financial problems. If we have less
kids, we have less money," he said over a din. "We
lost 90 students, 90 students that could provide a
lot of income."
Since last year, the enrollment fell from 148 to
105. Estimates put next year's numbers another 20
lower, only 85 students from kindergarten to eighth
grade. Principal Cathy Starck said that number came
from the graduating class and the estimates of
students that would leave for exam schools.
The decision to close came from Auguscik alone,
though it was approved by the Archdiocese,
according to Sister Kathleen Fitz Simmons, the
Archdiocese's interim superintendent, who attended
"Try to understand, if the number of students
keep going down, you can't keep the school open,"
Auguscik pleaded. "Believe me, I can do nothing."
Starck agreed in an interview this week.
"Because of the cost of education and teachers
salary there is no way 85 children, their tuition
cannot pay for any of that," she said.
But parents overwhelmingly rejected Auguscik's
arguments, most focusing on their exclusion from
the decision. This meeting was the first public
discussion of the closing. Parishioners and parents
had been hearing rumors for more than a year, but
were never involved. On arrival, some were still
"I don't understand why they just couldn't have
told us and let us discuss an option," Linda Holt
said after the meeting. "We could have tried to
Danielle Muldowney, who would have been sending
her second child to St. Mary's school next year,
asked if there was a chance for one year to assess
Auguscik answered, "That was what we did last
The crowd erupted. Many contended he never
wanted to give the school a chance, that he never
walked the halls or went to events. Some asked why
they couldn't meet with South Boston's other
parochial schools - St. Brigid's and Gate of Heaven
- to discuss their possible merger. The issue of
why there wasn't enough money was raised multiple
times. Questions came about a Harvest Festival that
made considerable money and the Bingo night going
on at that very moment, which brings in
considerable money every Friday.
Fitz Simmons tried to take the microphone from
Auguscik to address concerns about where to send
children, but got virtually nowhere. Parents
refused to hear other options, wanting to quarrel
with Auguscik instead.
Auguscik was asked why the teachers and staff
had only been informed that afternoon.
"I am the pastor of this parish," he said. "I am
not the boss of this school."
He then tried to hand the microphone to the
Starck, quietly sitting off to the side, who shook
her head, silent tears in her eyes.
Molly Pedriali, the school's secretary, later
said he had "thrown the principal under the bus,"
and Starck admitted she felt the same.
"I was upset at this answer because he is,
actually, my boss," she said by phone this week. "I
am the leader of the education department and the
teachers and such, but he is above me."
The first time Auguscik had come to her was this
school year, "in recent months."
"He came to me concerned with the numbers and
because of the low enrollment and the small
deficit," she said. But when asked if there were
meetings about saving the school she said there
were "none that I know of."
After the meeting dissolved, parents stood in
groups for more than an hour, discussing their
options and berating Auguscik. Some spoke to Fitz
Simmons about their future options.
"We have plenty of room in the new Pope John II
School, if that is what the parents choose," Fitz
Simmons said, speaking of the new five-campus plan
for Dorchester's parochial schools. Registration
for Boston's Catholic schools started Sunday, two
days after the announcement.
The ten teachers employed will have options as
"They will be the second tier of candidates for
the new school," Fitz Simmons said. Dorchester's
teachers are the first option. Another option is
being placed on the "preferred hiring list" which
is sent to all parochial schools.
Howie Vinton, a parish council member and father
of a fourth grader, said he and his wife would be
considering the Columbia Road campus of Pope John
Paul II Academy, but said South Boston's parochial
school options were too expensive.
During the meeting Vinton questioned if there
was a plan to use funds from selling the school for
the new $2.5 million Polish parish center being
built. Auguscik denied the center was considered in
his decision. Vinton then publicly resigned his
"There was no inkling of this whatsoever," he
Aneta Pokorski, whose son is in the first grade,
was audibly angered with her pastor in the meeting,
though she later toned down her message.
"He could have told us a year ago. He doesn't
want anything to do with it. They didn't even ask
for extra money, no tuition hike, not one thing,"
she said. "This is the school we want our son to go
to. This is the school we went to."
Starck told the students on Monday, and they had
"They were waiting for the pastor to come over
and waited for him and he didn't show," she said.
"My concern is just for the children, making sure
they are provided a safe learning environment
Auguscik &endash; who declined direct comment to
the Reporter, asking that Starck comment instead -
had been definitive in calling his decision final,
but parents seem ready for a fight.
"There is still hope here," Pedriali said,
gesturing toward Archdiocesan officials whom she
had spoken with. "They are giving us hope."
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