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Spotlight Report

4 accuse bishop of breaking promise

Letter says Lennon reneged on school

By Megan Tench, Globe Staff, 6/28/2003

In a scathing letter sent to Bishop Richard G. Lennon, four South Boston politicians accused the Archdiocese of Boston's interim administrator of being dishonest with them in their efforts to keep St. Augustine's School open.

The letter, hand-delivered Wednesday by state Representative Brian P. Wallace, a South Boston Democrat, accuses Lennon of ''reneging on your promise'' to support fund-raising efforts and says Lennon ''insulted'' students, parents, and the community. The letter, released yesterday, also demands that Lennon meet with parents, teachers, and elected officials to explain why the school is closing. It is the fifth Catholic school in the archdiocese to shut down because of financial woes.

''This community has been good to the archdiocese for a long time. To treat them with disrespect is really wrong,'' said Wallace, a St. Augustine's alumnus.

After the school's closing was announced two weeks ago, Wallace said, the Rev. Christopher J. Coyne, the archdiocesan spokesman, said Lennon would support keeping the school open if the school community raised money. The archdiocese's subsidy to the school last year was more than $100,000, and the archdiocese forgave more than $328,000 in debt owed by the school in 2000.

Wallace estimates the school needs $200,000 to stay open, and has raised $120,000 through donations. Supporters also have scheduled a fund-raising concert Sept. 20 at the FleetBoston Pavilion, he said.

On Wednesday, however, Lennon rejected the plans without an explanation, Wallace said in his letter, which was signed by state Senator John A. Hart Jr., City Councilor James M. Kelly, and City Council President Michael F. Flaherty, all of South Boston.

In an interview yesterday, Coyne said no promises were made.

''People who wrote the letter will be responded to through the proper channels,'' said Coyne, adding, ''A lot of people are spreading a lot of misinformation. It doesn't help matters.''

The K-8 school in one of Boston's most Catholic neighborhoods enrolled 158 students this past school year. But with mounting debts, declining enrollment, and costly repairs required, church officials said the school cannot afford to stay open.

''This was a decision made on the local school level,'' said Coyne, reiterating that school officials were the ones who decided to close the school, not the archdiocese.

St. Augustine's pastor, Monsignor Thomas J. McDonnell, could not be reached yesterday.

''They kept putting up hoops, and we kept jumping through them. The closer we got to the goal, they pulled the rug out from underneath us,'' Wallace said.

This story ran on page D12 of the Boston Globe on 6/28/2003.
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