A community meeting to discuss new educational programs headed to Dorchester turned into a forum over the future of St. Peterâ€™s Church last Wednesday night, July 15 as parishioners and community activists believe the moves could be are precursors to the eventual closure of the parish church.
â€œWeâ€™re here to stay,â€ at St. Peterâ€™s Church, parish administrator Fr. Jack Ahern told the Reporter last week. The Boston Archdiocese recently began renovations of the church basement, which Ahern says is an investment on the part of Cardinal Oâ€™Malley in the parish and the Bowdoin St. neighborhood. â€œIâ€™m not going to spend close to $200,000 putting bathrooms and elevators in the lower church because we want to close it next year,â€ Ahern said.
Arrangements to sell the convert and the rectory have not been finalized, Ahern, the Tri-Parish administrator in charge of St. Peterâ€™s told the Reporter. The buildings could be sold or leased together or separately, Ahern said at the meeting at the St. Peterâ€™s Teen Center, the former parish school building. It is believed the buildings would be converted to housing.
At the meeting, some said the Archdiocese has not been transparent in the past and they feared the sale of one or both buildings would continue a trend that would eventually shut down the 135 year old parish church.
â€œIâ€™m not even sure the Church is going to stay open,â€ said one woman. â€œI have this feeling, and Iâ€™ve heard other things. This is just a big farce. This church is eventually going to close. They started off with one school, they started off selling one building, another buildingâ€¦ if we donâ€™t have the church here, excuse me, but this is going to be Hellâ€ without priests in the area, she said to a scattering of applause in the room.
The parish meeting had been convened to solicit comments on plans to bring two alternative school programs, the Compass School and the Latino-focused El Centro del Cardenal, to spaces formerly occupied by the now-closed St. Peterâ€™s School. The Compass School is set to begin operations there this fall. After Mayor Thomas Menino reached out to archdiocesan officials for help finding El Centro a new home, the church offered additional space there as well.
The arrangement for El Centro is not yet finalized, but community members in attendance said that they believed their input would do little to change the course they say the parish property is headed.
â€œIt seems that Dorchester is like the national dumping ground. Whenever thereâ€™s a program that nobody wants or nobody can figure out where to put, they come to us,â€ said Dorchester City Councillor Maureen Feeney to the crowd of about 125 gathered at the parish Teen Center.
Some at the meeting expressed their outrage by what they saw as rushed arrangements brought to the publicâ€™s attention only after the key decisions had been made.
â€œIt seems that this is happening all over again. Whether itâ€™s with the rectory or the convent, whether itâ€™s with the compass school, itâ€™s all a done deal,â€ said Davida Andelman of the Greater Bowdoin Geneva Neighborhood association. â€œThis meeting tonight, as far as Iâ€™m concerned, from what Iâ€™m hearing, Iâ€™m sensing that itâ€™s moot,â€ said Andelman, â€œIts not going to mean a whole lot.â€
The empty convent has been available for lease for over four years and openly up for sale for one year.
Ahern said that maintaining the nearly-empty three-story rectory and the completely empty four-story convent is simply too great a challenge for the parish to undertake at this time. The diocese cannot afford to continue to pay to keep the convent heated in the winter, said Ahern, who added that when the choice is between heating oil for the convent and food for the poor, the choice is an easy one.
In response to complaints from church members who insist that it is necessary that at least one priest stay in residence near the church, Ahern promised that any lease or sale agreement will include a provision to provide one unit set aside for a clergyman. Ahern said that he himself will take up residence in the apartment. He currently lives in the rectory at St. Ambrose church on Adams St. in Fields Corner.