The old school building on Dorchester Avenue in Lower Mills, once the home of St. Gregory’s Grammar School, is undergoing a complete renovation. When completed in September, old timers (like me, Class of ’58) who spent their primary school years at St. Greg’s will have trouble recognizing our old schoolhouse.
I joined Cardinal Sean O’Malley, the legendary Boston philanthropist Jack Connors, and others last month 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. The entrance on Dot Ave will be handicap-accessible, with a new elevator and side door with ramps for access to the schoolyard. The elevator is the gift of a St. Greg’s graduate in memory of her handicapped father.
The rehabbed 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, two resource rooms, 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 upwards of $10 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 reportedly are thriving.
Mary Myers, an official of the archdiocese’s Campaign for Catholic Schools, said her office plans an event this month to help raise funds to help furnish the renovated buildings. Co-chairing the June 22 reception at Venezia restaurant (6-8 p.m.) in Port Norfolk is Bill Kennedy, a member of the school’s board of trustees.
“The Lower Mills Campus is currently in the middle of a transformative $10 million renovation project. Our fundraising goal to purchase the furniture is $185,000,” Kennedy says. “Like any construction or renovation project, unforeseen matters have been encountered costing more money than expected. Therefore we now seek funds specifically to furnish the school.”
“Some of the alumni at St. Greg’s and of Catholic schools in Dorchester have asked if they can be involved,” Myers told me. “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.” Donor names or the names of a family or loved one will be listed on a Donor Wall in the school.
Connors will be a special guest at the Venezia event. “This is very exciting for us,” he told me as he toured the work site. “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. 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.
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. So it’s been a labor of love.”
(To make a donation or reservation for the reception, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 617-779-3748.)