‘God has new adventures for you,’ St. Mark’s School students are told

“The new succeeds the old and builds on it, and so it is with St. Mark’s School after 87 years. Its work, in God’s plan of things, is completed and God has new adventures in learning in store for its students.”

Rev. Francis J. McGann, ordained just four years when he was assigned in 1953 to join four other curates, as they were called at the time, in assisting Monsignor Patrick J. Lydon in running the affairs of a very active St. Mark’s Parish, was back at his old stand on Sunday, 45 years after he left, celebrating, with upwards of 600 worshippers, a Mass of Thanksgiving honoring the old school, its faculty and students, and celebrating its rich legacy.

The congregation was vintage 2010 Dorchester: multi-ethnic, multi- color; the very young (and the very noisy); teens; young adults, young couples, young married; the middle-aged; and old to the very old. Many in the pews were moved-on parishioners who had come to offer a last goodbye to a learning place that had received them from their doting parents and launched them on their public lives.

Sitting in pews of honor at the front of the church were a number of elderly Sisters of the Notre Dame de Namur congregation, which had over the decades, and in redoubtable fashion, ensured that unquestioned discipline and religious fidelity went hand in hand with learning for tens of thousands of students.

And over on the auxiliary altar at the front right of the church stood the Pope John Paul II Catholic Academy (Central Campus) Choir of Strings and Whistles, making music throughout the service under the firm guidance of Mary Swanton, its director, and music teacher Tipp Harris. There is something special about the sound of young voices singing in a church, an ineffable quality that puts a listener in another, quite pleasant place for the duration. This ensemble made sweet vocal and instrumental sounds on Sunday.

Mike Hegarty, a Boston firefighter who has been an active member of the parish and school community, took to the altar to note “the blessings” the parish and the school have given to him. “My parents were married here 43 years ago, they sent me to school at St. Mark’s, and now my children are here. I made life-long friends here,” he said in a tone that was more elegy than lamentation.

Anne Marie (Sullivan) Reed and Nancy (Lynch) Holloway of Weymouth, graduates of the school in 1956, nodded in agreement with Hegarty’s comments. Inseparable in friendship from their days in the classrooms of St. Mark’s School to the present time, they recall with great clarity how the culture of the school some 60 years ago encouraged making numerous friends in a lasting manner.

As Father Daniel Finn, St. Mark’s pastor, was thanking one and all for joining the occasion, Reed and Holloway and many others were eager to get to the reception in the school hall where they would get one last chance to walk up and down the ramps they first traversed more than 60 years ago.

“It’s remarkable how some things are still the same,” said Reed. “That’s where our eighth-grade class sat,” she said, pointing to a room on one of the corners on the top floor. “I had Sister Florence in fourth grade right here,” said a man walking by a second-floor door. “I took piano lessons in that room,” a woman said. “I had to take time out of class for that, and some sisters didn’t like that.” And the beat went on and on, memories snatched from classroom days of yesteryear.

Now the school that was raised up in 1923 by Rev. John Daly, St. Mark’s Parish founding pastor, is closing its doors for good. According to school officials, come September, some 96 percent of the students from the central campus who aren’t going on to high school will be taking seats in the halls of Pope John Paul II Academy campuses in other Dorchester neighborhoods, where, Msgr. McGann promised in his homily, they will continue to be educated in the style to which they have become accustomed, academically and religiously.

The style, presumably, that animated the halls of the convent and school building behind Father Daly’s church for the last 87 years.