Five parochial schools in Dorchester and Mattapan will be combined into a regionalized Catholic system, with renovated buildings, a restructured curriculum, and higher teacher salaries under a plan described to elected officials last night by the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston.
Archdiocesan officials said they will close two of the eight parish schools - St. Peter at Meetinghouse Hill and St. Kevin in Uphams Corner. Those are two of the more troubled sections of Dorchester, but archdiocesan officials said the church remains strongly committed to serving the poor. Church officials said all but two of the surviving schools serve significant numbers of children from low-income families.
The officials said the archdiocese will spend several million dollars upgrading the Bowdoin Street After School Program and Teen Center at St. Peter as a demonstration of its commitment to the area. They also said the archdiocese hopes that the pupils of St. Peter and St. Kevin will attend another Catholic school, and they will seek to provide transportation aid to make that possible.
"No one is serving the poor more than the Catholic schools, even at what would appear to be fewer buildings," said Jack Connors Jr., the retired advertising executive who is heading a committee that is advising the archdiocese on how to shore up its struggling urban schools, which, like many Catholic schools around the nation, have been losing students for decades.
The plan, which has been approved by Cardinal Sean P. O'Malley, will combine five parochial schools, now overseen by parish priests, into one regional pre-K-8 system, called Pope John Paul II Catholic Academy, with campuses at the five parishes - St. Angela in Mattapan, St. Ann in Neponset, St. Gregory in Lower Mills, St. Mark in Fields Corner, and Blessed Mother Teresa near Edward Everett Square.
The committee headed by Connors is pledging to raise $50 million to $60 million to refurbish the surviving schools, boost teacher salaries, and provide ongoing teacher training.
The committee expects by 2010 to renovate or replace the school building at St. Ann's, which will require relocating those pupils during a yearlong construction phase and to permanently move the students of Blessed Mother Teresa from the school building at the former St. William parish in Savin Hill to the school building of the former St. Margaret parish on Columbia Road.
"There are fiscal realities that none of us can ignore," said City Council president Maureen E. Feeney, who attended the briefing. "It's unfortunate that any school has to close, but the cost of maintaining and running these schools has brought us to this point."
Michael Paulson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.