Major work underway at the old St. Gregory’s schoolhouse

Jack Connors: Jack Connors was among those who toured the Lower Mills campus of Saint John Paul II Catholic Academy on Tuesday afternoon. The campus, formerly known as St. Gregory’s school, is in the middle of a dramatic, $8.4 million renovation project. Connors was one of the key donors and organizers of the Campaign for Catholic Schools, which has funded the work at the Dorchester campuses of the academy. 	George Martell/Archdiocese of Boston photoJack Connors: Jack Connors was among those who toured the Lower Mills campus of Saint John Paul II Catholic Academy on Tuesday afternoon. The campus, formerly known as St. Gregory’s school, is in the middle of a dramatic, $8.4 million renovation project. Connors was one of the key donors and organizers of the Campaign for Catholic Schools, which has funded the work at the Dorchester campuses of the academy. George Martell/Archdiocese of Boston photo

The old school building on Dorchester Avenue in Lower Mills, once the home of St. Gregory’s Grammar School, is undergoing a complete renovation this season. When completed in September, old timers who spent their primary school years at St. Greg’s will have trouble recognizing their old schoolhouse.

We joined Cardinal Sean O’Malley, legendary Boston philanthropist Jack Connors, several Catholic school leaders and a handful of other supporters this week for a hard-hat tour of the two school buildings, now called the Lower Mills campus of Saint John Paul II Catholic Academy. The visit revealed a major reconstruction project that is still a work in progress.

“At the front door, we have located a beautiful stained glass window that has been preserved and will mirror the archway so the natural light will come inside,” a tour leader said Tuesday afternoon.

The reconfigured front entrance on Dorchester Avenue will be handicap-accessible, with a new elevator and a new side door with ramps for access to the schoolyard. The elevator is the gift of a St. Greg’s graduated who donated it in memory of her handicapped father.

The two rehabilitated buildings will feature an array of modern improvements including 16 renovated classrooms, an early childhood floor for three-year-olds, with individual bathrooms in each classroom; a new media room, a reconfigured cafeteria, nurses station, teachers’ room and two resource rooms for tutoring, family meetings and teacher conferences, and updated specialty rooms for science, music and art.

The Lower Mills campus serves some 300 students in grades K-8. The project, which began in the winter, is projected to cost $8.4 million.

It has been six years since five Dorchester Catholic parish schools – at St. Margaret’s, St. Ann’s, St. Mark’s, St. Angela’s in Mattapan and St. Gregory’s- were consolidated into a multi-campus school named for the late Pontiff- now Saint John Paul II Catholic Academy. Although the St. Mark’s campus closed after two years, the others seemingly are thriving.

Mary Myers, an official of the Archdiocese’s Campaign for Catholic Schools, said her office plans an event next month to help raise funds for some finishing touches in the restorations.

“Some of the alumni at St. Greg’s and of Catholic schools in Dorchester have asked if they can be involved June 22 at Venezia Restaurant,” she said. “We will invite people who would like to adopt a chair, sponsor a table, sponsor a desk, that sort of thing. Donors will be asked to contribute $250 to $1000, and a
placque will be installed at the school to commemorate the donations of the St. Gregory’s alumni.”

The event will be chaired by Bill Kennedy, a Dorchester native who recently returned to the neighborhood, moving in to a new home in Lower Mills near the school.

“This is very exciting for us,” Jack Connors said in an interview after the tour. “There are four Catholic schools in Dorchester and we have rebuilt three of them and we’re very grateful.

“There are a lot of donors who don’t know these kids, but believe in Catholic education,” continued Connors. “Over the last 7 or 8 years we have raised just under $80 million and we have rebuilt five schools, two in Brockton and three in Dorchester, at an average cost of between 10 and 13 million dollars.”
What inspires Connors?

“The motivation was that I and a lot of my dear friends have become a generation of users, not builders. And so I wanted to go out and build something and make some things better for the next generation- just like our forefathers did when they built these places 100 years ago— the immigrants.

“So it’s been a labor of love,” he said.

– Ed Forry, St. Gregory’s class of 1958