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Issue Date:  December 7, 2007

Archdiocese turns school over to grass-roots group


After a successful grass-roots campaign, the Presentation School Foundation took possession of a former parochial elementary school in October, bringing closure to a two-and-a-half year battle pitting the Boston archdiocese against residents of the Allston-Brighton neighborhood over a school building that came to be viewed by many as a vital institution.

Dozens of former students, young and old, some of them city and state elected officials, as well as Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino and Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley, joined foundation president Jennifer Doyle at a news conference Oct. 12 to announce the $1 million acquisition.

Over the course of the effort to acquire Our Lady of Presentation, Doyle said, it became apparent that “we were fighting for not just a school, but a community anchor.”

In May 2004, O’Malley abruptly closed the school, at first refusing to allow anyone back into the building. When organized opposition mounted, the archdiocese granted a one-year extension but said Our Lady would close permanently the next year.

The archdiocese, fearing protesters would occupy the building, secured the facility the night before the kindergarten graduation, June 8, 2005. Menino hosted a sixth-grade graduation in the city’s Faneuil Hall. The kindergarten graduation took place across the street from the school in Oak Square Common.

At the recent news conference, however, a reconciliatory mood prevailed. “The school closing is in the past,” Menino said. “This is about the future.”

Other speakers thanked O’Malley for helping to make the sale possible. A year ago the Boston archdiocese agreed to sell the building and halved the selling price from $2 million to $1 million. The school property is assessed at $3 million.

The cardinal expressed regret for his the handling of the lockout. At the same time O’Malley praised community activist Kevin M. Carragee, who had sharply criticized the archdiocese, for “his great perseverance for the good of the local community.” O’Malley added, “Be assured of our prayers as you continue the good work that has begun in this neighborhood.”

Presentation foundation officials said their plans include transforming the building, reopening it in 2009 as a community center, providing an affordable preschool, afterschool programs and other student enrichment programs, and immigrant outreach.

Foundation spokesperson also said a charitable foundation established by New Balance Athletic Shoes gave $350,000, making possible the $1.26 million financing secured from Boston Community Capital, a lender for development in low-income communities.

The Presentation School Foundation has raised $150,000 from other sources. The Boston Foundation has also given Presentation three grants for staffing. Nonetheless, the organization must raise about $3 million in donations and pledges before renovations of the building can begin in late spring 2008.

Chuck Colbert is a freelance writer living in Cambridge, Mass.

National Catholic Reporter, December 7, 2007

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