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Changes come to Lake Street

MAYOR MENINO, born in 1942, remembers when the influence of the Catholic Archdiocese of Boston was demonstrated by the amount of property it owned, and no holding was more elegant than the archbishop's palace on the estate in Brighton. Today, the archdiocese has new stresses on its resources. It is negotiating to sell what is left of the Brighton property to Boston College and move office staff to more economical quarters in Braintree. These plans are reasonable. Menino's challenge now is to manage the growth of Boston College.

In 1942, Cardinal William O'Connell was archbishop of Boston. In the 1920s, he had moved the archbishop's residence and staff from the South End, near the Cathedral of the Holy Cross, to an estate next to the existing St. John's Seminary. O'Connell died in 1944, and when Menino was growing up, "Lake Street" was shorthand for the influential archbishops who succeeded O'Connell. It's understandable Menino fears the archdiocese may curtail its work in Boston.

The religious center of the archdiocese, however, remains the cathedral in the South End, where Cardinal Sean O'Malley, the present archbishop, has been living since 2003. St. John's Seminary will stay where it is. And the archdiocese will continue its education and social service missions in the city. These do not depend on the location of administrative staff.

The archdiocese has sold sections of the property to Boston College in 2004 and last year. It apparently will sell the rest, with the exception of the seminary, sometime in the next few weeks. There's an air of urgency as the archdiocese shores up its finances after the sexual abuse scandal. But even under the best of circumstances, the estate in Brighton, with O'Connell's Italian palazzo, would have become a needless luxury. By selling it to Boston College, the archdiocese, as O'Malley said in 2004, will keep the property "within the Catholic family."

The quiet archdiocesan property has also buffered the Brighton neighborhood from the growth of Boston College. "There is a lot of concern -- use and density," said Massachusetts Secretary of State William Galvin, who lives on Lake Street.

Jack Dunn, college spokesman, said the tentative plan for the land includes a baseball stadium and a dormitory for 600 students, part of an initiative to house more than 90 percent of the 8,900 undergraduates on campus, not in the neighborhoods. Galvin, having endured what he describes as three drunken forays by B.C. students down Lake Street early Friday morning, is not impressed.

In 2007, higher education is one of the drivers of the Boston economy. Menino needs to balance the need for college expansion with the neighbors' concerns. No wonder he hearkens to the days when the archbishop of Boston was the only person a mayor had to worry about on Lake Street.