St. Mark’s School building on block; pastor mulling uses

Four score and seven years after St. Mark’s founding pastor, Rev. John A. Daly, opened them, the doors to the parish grammar will close for good next month.

Built to accommodate the children of Father Daly’s rapidly growing flock of parishioners in the 1920s, and in its heyday during the 1940s and 1950s a Monday-Friday learning place for up to 1,000 students, all led in lessons and prayer by the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur, the school has lost its place in a time of retrenchment and consolidation for the once-broad school system of the archdiocese of Boston.

As student numbers, and any sighting of a teaching nun, dwindled to a precious few over the last few decades, it became clear that something had to give, and it did.

Dorchester now has the Pope John Paul II Academy, its resources spread over five neighborhood campuses. St. Mark’s was to have been the sixth campus, “but the numbers didn’t work for us,” said Rev. Dan Finn, the pastor of St. Mark’s. “Five campuses made sense, six was one too many.”

While most of the students who are leaving St. Mark’s and not going into high school have found seats in other Academy schools, Father Finn has moved into the real estate business.

“I’m supposed to find a buyer or a renter for the building,” he said in an interview this week. “Thank God I have some wonderful help from parishioners and friends who work in development and rehabilitation. It’s just not clear to me at this point what will come of things.”

Possibilities hardly abound for a building with aging ramps and stairs, floors of classrooms and a few offices.

Affordable housing? That’s what’s happening on the old St. Kevin’s parish grounds in Uphams Corner and on the St. Peter’s property on Meetinghouse Hill.

A charter school? “We had one in the convent years back, but that would be unlikely for the school building given the presence of Pope JP II Academy schools nearby,” said the pastor.

A home for a non-profit like the College Bound Dorchester (formerly Federated Dorchester Neighborhood Houses) program that now rents the convent and the downstairs church space for its operations?
“That would be a nice thing to happen for us,’ said Father Finn, “but I don’t really have a sense of their overall hopes and needs and if a space like the school is right for them. Right now is a time of exploration for me and the parish; we’ll just have to see what we can do. When we were thinking we would be the sixth campus, we had all sorts of plans drawn up for the building and the property and a new traffic flow, but that’s all moot now and we have to move on.”

Meanwhile the parish keeps on keeping on. “This is a vibrant place with an ethnic mix that is exciting to me and, in our parishioners’ attention to church activities, good for the parish,” said the pastor. “I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.”

While stepping into the world of real estate brokering, Father Finn remains faithful to all manner of pastoral duties from sitting with the sick, praying for the dying and the dead, arranging First Communions and Confirmations, joining in weekly Gospel readings – and finding things that will help the young in the parish.
“We have a nice thing going on in the summer up at Wainwright Park,” he points out. “A program for about 200 youth from the parish and the surrounding neighborhood that features religious, educational, recreational, and social and community outreach activities. Regarding that situation, a nice thing happened last month: Jim Keefe, a wonderful friend to me and to the parish, raised $20,000 for this program in running the Boston Marathon.
“Then there’s the annual golf tournament at George Wright Golf Club in Hyde Park next month. Money raised here will also help us make this summer program a success.”

The pastor said the parish also works in collaboration with the mayor’s office and the Boston Police Athletic League in sponsoring Wainwright Park Family Fun Days featuring not only music, face-painting, pony rides, and refreshments for children and families but also the park itself as a safe place for families and children to gather.

A school is closing, but life goes on.