By Pete Stidman
St. Peter's School had their last day of school
ever last Friday, ending 110 years of Catholic
education on Bowdoin Street.
At the last graduation ceremony Thursday night,
some parents said they hadn't found new schools for
their children yet, others confirmed enrollment in
the new Pope John Paul II Academy, but all lamented
the decision to close the school, a bright spot in
a poor neighborhood racked with gang violence and a
high concentration of foreclosures.
"It's exciting, but it's hard to look at all
your friends knowing you can't come back and see
them. It's hard to see people cry around you too,
because they know they're leaving," said Sheena
Jeune, an eighth-grade graduate. "That's the most
valuable parts that you got here, you get love and
Former national field director for President
Bill Clinton and St. Peter's graduate Michael
Whouley returned to his alma mater to keynote the
event, recounting to the children how he once made
a habit of watching planes taking off from Logan
airport while laying on his back in Ronan Park,
wishing he could be in one, and how he much later
pointed out the park's lights to Clinton while
flying over the parish in Air Force One.
"You are the last graduating class of St.
Peter's and that's a special gift you will have for
the rest of your life," Whouley told them.
The close relationships between teachers and
students here were evident, when students chanted
assistant principal Mark Olson's name "Ol-son!
Ol-son! Ol-son!," when a graduate gave tearful
goodbye speech to teacher Charlie MacLaughlin, and
particularly at the end of the night, when the
entire school sang together. Parents clapped along
and Francis Depina, a member of the St. Peter's
basketball team, did an impromptu gymnastic floor
routine in front of the stage.
But afterward, Whouley confided that he wished
he had known about the school's closure sooner, a
number of the younger children were crying, and
much of the parent-teacher talk was reviewing the
facts of the closure and what they would be doing
"These kids are remarkable," said MacLaughlin,
who taught literature and three or four other
topics at the school. "Those seventh graders read
22 classics this year. I wanted to have them so bad
next year because, you know, you build with them.
But they'll do fine. Most of them will go over to
MacLaughlin himself is considering retirement.
Olson is still job-hunting, having come to St.
Peter's only a year ago after his former
employer&emdash;St. Anthony's in New
Bedford&emdash;suffered a similar fate.
"I think the only thing here is they closed the
two poorest schools
they should have kept one
of them open," Olson said. He hopes that St.
Peter's students will be able to afford the new
options open to them at Pope John Paul, but is
skeptical. "It hinges on how much financial aid
they're going to give them."
St. Peter's lies in the poorest neighborhood of
the seven Catholic schools affected by the
reorganization in Dorchester, according to 2000
Census household income data, and it had the
highest number of subsidized students as well as
the cheapest tuition, according to Archdiocese data
released last year. St. Kevin's in Uphams Corner
and Blessed Mother Teresa school in Savin Hill had
The Archdiocese is raising over $50
million&emdash;largely through donations from
advertising millionaire Jack Connors and at-cost
construction from Suffolk Construction
company&emdash;to consolidate seven schools onto
five campuses and improve educational offerings, a
new system called collectively Pope John Paul II
Principal Mary Lou Amrhein, who never expected
to join Pope John Paul after speaking out against
St. Peter's closure last year, said she was
frustrated both with the decision to close St.
Peter's and the lack of a stronger public outcry
"It's truly deafening," she said in a phone
interview last week. "The silence is totally
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