Closing St. Mary’s School in Lawrence

Many readers have been writing to us about the recent announcement that St. Mary of the Assumption School in Lawrence will close at the end of this school year.  The parish serves a very poor population in North Lawrence and was running an annual deficit.  Reading between the lines in the various press reports and looking at some of the archdiocese’s annual reports, it sounds like the Catholic Schools Foundation and the archdiocese owe the folks in Lawrence a bit more of an explanation than they have provided.

Here are a few pieces of information we thought you would find useful:

1. From the Boston Pilot we  learn that the pastor tried everything he could, but was unable to get the archdiocese to support the school this past year or commit to supporting it in the coming year. Sounds like the archdiocese is putting all of their proverbial “eggs” in the basket of the Jack Connors’ Catholic academies:

Father Reyes said the kindergarten through grade 8 school is closing because of significant operating deficits which the school has faced over the past few years. Presently, the school is running a $300,000 debt, and more deficits are anticipated as operating costs continue to rise.

“It has also become painfully clear over the past several months that the parish no longer has the fiscal resources to fund the school at the level required,” Father Reyes wrote. “I have made every effort and reviewed every possible opportunity to overcome our financial burdens but have concluded that we have no alternative but to close.”

Speaking with The Pilot, Father Reyes said the school erased last year’s deficit through a loan from the Archdiocese of Boston.

According to Father Reyes, the school did not receive support from the Catholic Schools Foundation this year. He also said he did not anticipate the school would receive CSF funding for the 2011-12 school year.

The Catholic Schools Foundation provides scholarships for students with financial needs. Mike Reardon, executive director of the Catholic Schools Foundation, said that St. Mary’s had submitted a grant request for the next school year and said final decisions are made in May.

He expressed the foundation’s desire to support Catholic education in Lawrence.

“The Catholic Schools Foundation is committed to Catholic education in the city of Lawrence and we need to ensure the dollars entrusted to us by our donors have the most long term impact they can have so the students in Lawrence can be assured the benefits of Catholic education would be available for years to come,” Reardon said.

In September 2010, Lawrence Catholic Academy (LCA) opened from the merger of St. Patrick School in Lawrence and Our Lady of Good Counsel School in bordering Methuen.

When local Catholic school officials were planning LCA, there were discussions with St. Mary’s officials inviting the school to join. However, St. Mary’s opted to remain open as an independent parish school.

“We could not afford to join the academy,” Father Reyes said. Father Reyes said it would have cost his parish $80,000 per year plus half of the proceeds from the rental or sale of the existing school building.

Father Reyes said he opted for closure, as well, because he could not wait until May to receive a definitive answer from the Catholic Schools Foundation as to whether St. Mary’s would receive funding.

2. From the 2010 Annual Report (p.35), we know that in the year ended June 30, 2009,  $126,000 was transferred to Trinity Catholic Academy, Inc., a related organization that in 2007 consolidated the operations of certain parish schools in Brockton.  That is on top of the $2.5M that was given to Trinity Catholic Academy in August of 2007 (as we described in (“Is the Archdiocese of Boston Committing Fraud?”)

3. From a September 12, 2010 press release by the Catholic Schools Foundation, we know that the CSF gave $425,000 in grants and scholarship assistance to the new Lawrence Catholic Academy:

Mike Reardon, Executive Director of the Catholic Schools Foundation, announced a $125,000 grant to the newly opened Lawrence Catholic Academy…The funding will be used to enhance the curriculum and environment of the newly established Academy.   “This grant, along with our recent gift of $300,000 for scholarship support, is a testament to our belief in the students and teachers at Lawrence Catholic Academy.”, said Mr. Reardon following the announcement. “We are proud to partner with LCA to make a first-class Catholic education available to these students and families.”

4. Several local newspapers, the Eagle Tribune and Valley Patriot today described how about 500 students, parents and supporters of Saint Mary’s School of the Assumption in Lawrence rallied and held a vigil Saturday to oppose the decision of the Boston Archdiocese to close the schoo.

Parishioners complained that the Archdiocese had plenty of money and even increased funding (nearly double) for the catholic school in South Lawrence, Lawrence Catholic Academy.

“What we can accomplish is, we want to send a message to the Cardinal,” he told The Valley Patriot. “… you can’t spend $35,000 on this school? But you can spend twice that much on the other school in South Lawrence? They’re getting So much more. So, there is the money.”

“Lawrence Massachusetts residents are outraged about the fact that the only Elementary Catholic School, St. Mary of the Assumption, in the North side of the city has announced that it will be closing its doors June, 2011.

The Community of St. Mary of the Assumption Parish is demanding answers from the Boston Archdiocese in particular, Cardinal Sean O’Malley.

“We want to know why if the Catholic School 2010 Plan” took in to account the ethnic, economical and social differences called for the initiative of two catholic schools in Lawrence, one in South Lawrence and the other in the North, and we are now blind sided with the news of the closing of the school in the North.”

That would leave the Lawrence Catholic Academy in the south to which the majority of the students from the north can not financially afford nor do they have the physical space to accommodate them.

5.  In the 2010 Annual Report released last week, we heard that “Catholic schools remained a priority.”  Superintendent Mary Grassa O’Neill had her total salary reduced slightly in 2010 but increased back to $325K in 2011.  Defending against criticism of the high salaries, Vicar General Fr. Richard Erikson said in The Pilot, “Cardinal Seán has attracted world-class talent to his team, and the fruits of their labor can be seen in what they have accomplished.”

Catholic school enrollment is declining year after year, now down to about 42,000 students.  More and more Catholic schools are closing.  Can someone share with BCI exactly what is it that Mary Grassa O’Neill (paid $1 million over 3 years) and her team of six-figure salaried associate superintendents have accomplished?

BCI does not know the right answer for the Lawrence situation, but simply is sharing this information with Catholics interested in this specific situation and in the future of Catholic education in Boston.

26 Responses to Closing St. Mary’s School in Lawrence

  1. Catholic School Alum says:

    Closing institutions that are supposed to be educating and raising the future of our church doesn’t seem to be a good solution. Hearing that the CSF is not supporting another group of students in need is disappointing. This information makes me wonder what the real goal of the Catholic schools office and their friends at the CSF is.

    As far as Trinity goes, how can a school that received so much financial support justify not giving raises to the teachers who are working for them this year? The fact that they still seem to be struggling to succeed financially also shows that the newly created RCAB academies of consolidated schools are not the answer.

  2. Boston Blackey says:

    It seems to this observer that all the highly touted world-class talent is doing is closing schools in poor parishes. Where is the Christian Charity in all of this? I am really disgusted by all of this.

  3. Paula Essick says:

    $325K for what? Since when do charitable organizations pay such absorbanent salaries? It appears that displacing Ms. O’Neil from her plush salary could save St. Mary’s school. 270 futures saved at the price of one salary – it seems like a no-brainer to me. It’s time for the Archdiocese to step and take care of its poorer communities!

  4. Gerald Brent says:

    I noticed last week that the press releases were flying and Jack Connors was taking bows for raising 2.4 million for the Inner City Scholarship Fund. He should take a bow, well done. But wait, one week later in Lawrence it is announced that they have pulled the plug on St Mary’s School. From the web site it states that ” The Inner-City Scholarship Fund is the signature program of The Catholic Schools Foundation. Through this fund, thousands of children in need receive partial scholarships to attend Catholic schools in the Archdiocese of Boston. Scholarships are given primarily to students in high poverty neighborhoods and are awarded without regard to race, religion, national origin or gender” Excuse me, but isn’t Lawrence one of the highest poverty cities in the state, if not the highest? I believe that St Mary’s is in the highest poverty part of Lawrence. Their web site states that they primarily serve the Latino community. I have heard that a couple of hundred
    grand from the foundation would keep this school open. My guess is that there is a story behind the story. I ask you Jack Connors why is this happening? Why did you say no? The Pilot article states that decisions for funding are made in May. Sounds to me that someone made that decision for the foudation. I don’t want to hear that the foundation is seperate—right. Let’s hear your comments on this.

    I neither have a child in Catholic education nor live in Lawrence—just an observer. It seems to me that Cardinal Sean should spend less time running around the globe for the Pope and more time keeping an eye on the ranch. I have seen in previous posts that the payroll in the school department is soaring. It soulds like our federal government. One less “suit” would most likey fund St Mary’s for a year. I resent my donations going to fund a million dollars of payroll in the education departmernt. I want it used to educate. At one time years ago when there were far more schools, they were run by a religious brother or sister.

  5. Beaumont says:

    As far as the closing of Saint Mary’s in Lawrence goes, I have the following observation.
    It is such a shame that the children who have caring parents and teachers who want the best and a safe haven for their children are being denied that. Why were they not deemed worthy of support from the Catholic Schools Foundation? Something must be done as there is not room to accommodate 270 new students at the area Catholic schools. At the time of the current campaign “Catholics Come Home”, it looks as though a large group of Catholics may not be granted a home.

  6. Devoted Catholic says:

    What ever happened to helping the poor? This school is in the worst section of Lawrence and it has helped so many Hispanic families.

  7. Lapsed and Loving It says:

    Another instance of the Boston church turning its back on the cities. Workers’ hard earned money built the magnificent structures and institutions of the Archdiocese and now…. see ya.

  8. Anarosa Munoz says:

    It is sad and quite disturbing that the Archdiocese would entertain the notion of closing a school that provides, as some of the responders have identified as, a “safe haven”. As a faithful catholic, it is very disturbing that our leaders of the Archodiocese would allow a school that the Sisters of Notre Dame worked so hard to build over 150 years ago for immigrants and the poor, would come to a closing over money which can be made available to save it. Is this what Jesus would do? I don’t believe so!

    Leaders involved should be ashamed!

  9. Lazarus' Table says:

    Anarosa, do you think Jesus would do HALF of the stuff our clergy leaders do? Do you think it’s the Gospel that guides their values and choices? No, the church is struggling to survive, and that takes M-O-N-E-Y. All’s fair in trying to get alot of it.

  10. broken hearted Catholic says:

    It seems that the Catholic Schools Foundation wants to take over all the schools, so that there are no independant parish schools left. Since they have been running the show schools are closing like crazy. It seems someone is someone doing a very poor job of keeping Catholic education going. No hospitals, no schools, no churches……

  11. Michael says:

    I have a question?

    Does the Catholic School’s Foundation have donors that give to it to further political agendas? Who sets the rules for the schools under the Catholic School’s Foundation? The Cardinal – pursuant to Canon Law — or a Board of Directors who have political agendas … e.g. aggressively implementing the new homosexual policy?

    What I mean is … when they say they need to ensure the goals of their donors are being met … what goals are those? Is it a Catholic education will be provided to the poor or is it some other progressive agenda?

    Is there slight of hand going on here? Close all of the schools under the actual control of the Archdiocese (the Cardinal) and open schools under the control of the Catholic School’s Foundation and you can transform the teaching program from one adhering to the principles and teachings of the Catholic Church to one where the donor’s get to impose their democratically held beliefs on the “catholic” school system? I hate to be a conspiracy theorist here, but is there any truth to this concern?

    • Little Red Hen says:

      Michael, if you’re a conspiracy theorist, then so am I. Look at the website of the Catholic Schools Foundation and you will see nothing — not a word — about fidelity to Catholic teaching. I think that the “sleight of hand” you describe is exactly what’s going on here. Connors, Grassa O’Neill, et al. will be the ruin of what little is left of truly Catholic education in this archdiocese.

    • Angry Parish Council Member says:

      Michael, I largely agree with your underlying complaint, but think you’ve misunderstood how these schools operate. They’re closing an increasing # of PARISH schools, which are under the immediate direction of the parish pastor, but they take some direction from the archdiocese still, and students in these schools still benefit from scholarship funding by the Catholic Schools Foundation. As they close parish schools, they are pushing students to go to the new regional “academies” that span several different parishes. Though the Catholic Schools Foundation doesn’t “control” the parish schools or the academies, it seems by means of them controlling scholarship aid and grants, they can still influence the direction of the schools. For Lawrence, they lack of funding by them appears to have been a determining factor on the closing of St. Marys.

  12. Former Employee says:

    It kind of reminds me of those comedies where a guy talks in pig latin to try to hide something and everyone knows what he is saying.

  13. Serviam says:

    Some thoughts…

    Why doesn’t His Eminence invite orthodox and thriving teaching orders as the Dominican Sisters of Saint Cecilia [a.k.a. the Nashville Dominicans] or the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist of Ann Arbor into the Archdiocese to run one or more of the schools as a means to re-establish and reform “Catholic Culture” within our schools.

    As it stands, they are virtually all diocesan (formerly parochial) schools are run on a lay model that is increasingly secular and decreasingly Catholic in their culture, which undermines effective formation in the Faith. Sad to say if my local Catholic School in West Roxbury is representative, lay teachers are all over the board in their own formation and practice. Curricular that follows the ‘Hallmark’ calendar instead of the Liturgical calendar. How can parents expect othodox formation? Unfortunately, most parents in their 20’s through 50’s are poorly formed themselves and demand or expect little in this area, except a private affordable alternative to Boston Public Schools. Instead, out of necessity (and damage control)Catholic education is becoming a largely do-it-yourself affair among parents serious about their childrens formation. This would have been unheard of just 40 years ago among my parents generation (I’m 53).

    We my as well be discussing the support of a private secular school system which even pales in that category. Sadly, the availability of a good Catholic education has largely no longer an option among the middle class. We instead focus on the materially poor and those elite that can afford $30K/year high school tuitions. Nice (sarcasm added)! I think we do better than to assuage our collective guilt regarding education for the materially poor. How about the major spiritual impoverishment that is growing in the middle and upper classes! If we made an effort in that area we would see genuine Caritas grounded in Faith.

  14. Serviam says:

    Dominican Sisters of Saint Cecilia
    Web Site:

    Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist of Ann Arbor
    Web Site:

  15. q says:

    Translation; St Mary’ is an independent Catholic School that depends on support from other Parishes (school tax) and the Archdiocese. Now that all comes through the Catholic Schools Foundation, and THEY decide who lives and dies. The CSF has decided. Depending on how authentically Catholic and pastorally-led this Foundation is the fate of all Catholic schools. VERY nervous that local Parish Priests are not making the decisions.

  16. kathy guicho says:

    As part of the St Mary of the Assumption School family I appreciate the thoughtful comments and support about the plight of our school. Just for clarification about the previous reply-though St Mary’s does have only lay staff they have a faith based curriculum strongly influenced by the Sisters of Notre Dame and the Augustinian Fathers with classroom prayers,first friday masses, may processions
    and daily religious ed. My prayer is that the rich and powerful who make the decisions reconsider their decision and not destroy such a vibrant, wonderful school. The Lord hears the cries of the poor!

    • Michael says:

      The Lord hears the cry of the poor. But Kathy the Lord is not in charge here in Boston. Mary Grassa O’Neill is. She hears the cry of the Democrats and the politically correct crowd.

      The fact that St. Mary’s has “a faith based curriculum strongly influenced by the Sisters of Notre Dame and the Augustinian Fathers with classroom prayers,first Friday masses, may processions” you would think ought to ensure its remaining open. But here in Boston, it clearly places a target on the school for immediate closing.

      Faith based? Please!!! … Catholic Education is NOT about training Catholic children in the faith (that is so 1950ish). It is about providing ALL children with a high quality private “education.” As long as our Catholic faith is welcoming of everyone then the school can remain open. But if you are thinking of excluding any special interest group (and I mean GLBTQI, not to mention YFDKZEVNRBCMP, etc) from a “catholic education” then you better get ready to face the wrath of Dr. Mary Grassa O’Neill.

  17. therese says:

    Did Peter Lynch found the CSF to do such an awful thing to poor Hispanic Catholic children??–does he even know what is going on and how this was handled?

  18. St. Mary HS 1984 Alum says:

    RCAB officials in power now and all those that came before them, have routinely and ignorantly made broad sweeping decisions based on advice from committees whose hands are tied behind their backs. Receiving a solid Catholic Education taught by the Sisters of Notre Dame is something that is woven into every fibre of my being. The upper church is not the true church. The true church is within the people who minister to Catholic Education, whether they be a religious or lay teacher. I have grown to know that the full flowering of the Catholic Education I was priviliged to receive at St. Mary HS has yet to unfold and every new strength that I discover in the roots of this education is a blessed gift that generations of children will never have the opportunity to receive. Sad, just plain sad.

  19. Brad Smith says:

    I have been following this in local papers and blogs. It is outlandish and ridiculous that one lady (Dr. Mary Grassa O”Neil) can weild such power. His Eminance cannot stand up to her, the provincial of the augustinian order bows down to her, the only one to stand up seems to be Rev. Jose Reyes. Thank you Father, for supporting your children in faith. However, with the politics of His Eminance and Your Provincial your fate in Lawrence may be sealed. But you took on this knowlingly this may be the end of your pastorial assignment here in Lawrence. No matter whether they bow to the pressure (which I pray for every night) or she has her political way and the school does close….you have done more in ten years than they will in a lifetime of service the poor of Lawrence. May God bless you Fr. Reyes.

  20. q says:

    I’m sure many people have read the developments, but for new people who may check the story at BCI – the parents have had a fundraiser and raised sufficient money (much as pledges, to be honest) to retire the debt and allow the school to function next year. They have been told the Catholic School Foundation doesn’t care; they have decided that St Mary’s must close.

  21. lululove123 says:

    i dont like how they closed my school beucz i been there pre-k now it hast to end like this and my brother the same way but he only had one more year for he can grajuate and from this day ik its summer vacation but from this day i cant take it no more i still want that school with out it its not the same its my home every day every one says the same line i miss my 2011 class and every ones still upset i love this school no matter wat every day i go by the school and i think about the passed about how i met my friends and were it all started i till remmber the first day of pre-k i cryed but its becuz it was my first day of school but from that day on i loved it becuz i knew it was home :*( i will never for get the times i spent in st marys

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