The archdiocese of Boston has taken preliminary steps to redevelop the St. Christopher’s church property on Columbia Point into a complex that could include dorms intended to house students from the neighboring UMass Boston campus.
The planning— described by church officials as in a “preliminary stage”— could include a new, freestanding church on the site, alongside one or two new dormitory buildings to house as many as 2,000 students, according to church sources.
There is no agreement in place between the church and state university system, which is now building its first-ever dormitories on its Dorchester campus. The UMass Building Authority authorized the construction of the dorms— a pair of buildings to house 1,040 freshman students —in 2015.
UMass officials declined to comment on the record about the archdiocese’s plan. But sources familiar with the issue say there have been preliminary conversations about the potential re-use of St. Christopher’s in the future.
“There are no firm plans in place, but the archdiocese is discussing the possibilities of partnering with other entities to build student housing for students at UMass Boston – building it on the property of St. Christopher, but with church remaining there,” said Fr. Soper, who serves as the archdiocese’s secretary for evangelization and discipleship and director of pastoral planning.
UMass officials have “indicated to us they’re interested in seeing us to do it,” said Soper. “There’s a push to increase the amount of student housing available and they have limited resources to do it,” he added.
Parishioners at St. Christopher’s were told of the potential re-use — and of plans to seek a new pastor— at Masses in the last two weeks.
Preliminary conceptual drawings have been created for the archdiocese that envision the option of keeping the existing St. Christopher church building at 265 Mt. Vernon— which dates to 1956. Another alternative would include building a new, smaller church building somewhere else on the property.
Soper said that whatever happens on the site, St. Christopher parish will continue to exist on the Columbia Point peninsula. “There is no plan to close St. Christopher’s parish,” he said. “The cardinal wants to see St. Christopher’s even more deeply involved with campus ministry of UMass Boston and he feels its distinctive enough to keep them on their own as a parish.”
Soper said that a new pastor succeeding longtime pastor Rev. George Carrigg would be selected to oversee a parish collaborative that will be set up by next June.
The church-owned lot is 144,649 square feet (3.3 acres) in size and valued at $3,070,000, according to the city of Boston’s records. It is too early, Soper said, to discuss how the student housing might be situated on the site— or how tall any new buildings might rise.
If the archdiocese and UMass eventually forge an alliance for a campus ministry program, it would likely be modeled on other existing relationships at parishes like St. Paul’s in Cambridge, located just steps from Harvard Yard, and St. Clement parish near the campus of Tufts University.