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Spotlight Report

Catholic school in South Boston to close

By Megan Tench and Anand Vaishnav, Globe Staff, 6/11/2003

Buckling under financial pressures that have already forced the closure of four schools, the Archdiocese of Boston yesterday announced the shuttering of St. Augustine's School in South Boston.

The K-8 school in one of Boston's most Catholic neighborhoods is more than a century old and enrolls 158 students. But citing mounting debts, declining enrollment, and $33,000 in needed repairs, church officials said the school cannot afford to stay open.

''This was a decision that came out of the parish, not the adminstration of the archdiocese,'' said the Rev. Christopher J. Coyne, spokesman for the archdiocese.

''Enrollment has dropped way below where it used to be to make it fiscally viable,'' he added. ''The parish didn't believe it could go on any further.''

Still, the news infuriated parents who now must find a new school for their children in the fall. Some say they had been reassured by St. Augustine's pastor and principal as recently as December that the school would neither close nor merge.

''They kept vehemently denying that the school was closing, then all of a sudden, here's a letter -- the school's closed, goodbye, don't bother coming back next year,'' said parent Anne Spence .

Students were handed letters as they left school for the day, ripped them open, then began ''crying their eyes out'' on the sidewalk as they read of the closing, Spence said.

The archdiocese's financial crisis, partly because of fallout from the clergy sex abuse scandal, is forcing the church to reduce parish subsidies and close schools that it can no longer support. The archdiocese's subsidy to St. Augustine's last year was more than $100,000, and the archdiocese forgave more than $328,000 in debt owed by the school in 2000.

This year, the school's subsidy was cut 15 percent, and officials expected enrollment to fall below 150 next year.

Parents at the school made repairs and painted and could have attempted a fund-raiser if they had known the depth of the school's financial woes, Spence said.

''I talked to a couple of parents, and a lot of them agree that it's a sin that schools are closing because of the sins of the church,'' Spence said.

The archdiocese said St. Augustine's students would get priority in finding a place at the four other Catholic schools in South Boston, but Spence said she is taking no chances. She spent yesterday afternoon calling other parochial schools and charter schools for her daughters, Hope, a third-grader, and Paige, a kindergartner.

Hope and her cousin Thomas, who also attends St. Augustine's, wrote letters yesterday to the archdiocese protesting the decision.

The other four schools that closed this year are Charlestown Catholic Elementary School, Monsignor Ryan Memorial High School in Dorchester, St. Joseph in Roxbury, and St. Ambrose in Dorchester.

This story ran on page B2 of the Boston Globe on 6/11/2003.
© Copyright 2003 Globe Newspaper Company.


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