The Inside Story of the Closing of St. Paul School in Wellesley, MA: Part 2

This post is a follow-up to our first post, The Inside Story of the Closing of St. Paul School in Wellesley, Part 1. The Boston Globe wrote an article about the closing today and got a statement from Terry Donilon at the Archdiocese of Boston.  The article repeats the generic statement from the school, “An attempt to secure solid commitments from parents for the upcoming school year was not sufficient.”   We think the reporters covering this story should ask a few more questions of Terry Donilon and the Boston Archdiocese.

Announcements blaming the closing on the parents or implying the blame rests with the parents do not sit well with the parents. The parents were asked to make a commitment of $1,500 by July 15th, and about 65% of the parents did. Fr. Sepe never specified just how many deposits would have to be turned in to make it “fiscally possible” to open in the fall.  Nor were parents informed of what the consequences would be if the parish didn’t receive a sufficient number of deposits. In addition, during the Annual fund raising drive (to celebrate 60 years of Catholic education with a $60K goal), the parents — who, according to the announcement did not commit to the school — raised about $67,000 to be used for the 2015 -2016 school year.  The latest tally of Annual Fund donations is $85,000, the lion’s share of which came from the parent community.  To BCI, parents, and others close to the school, this should be proof enough of commitment.

One might reasonably ask the question, “What will happen to those funds now that the school is closing?”  When asked about these monies in the parent meeting (which occurred on Thursday), BCI has heard several varying recountings of what Fr. Sepe told the assembled parents, neither of which is good. One source reported that Fr. Sepe told the assembled parents this was a donation and would not be subject to return.  Other sources recall Fr. Sepe equivocating and saying that if it was the “understanding and the stipulation” that Annual Fund monies were intended to benefit the school in the 2015-16 school year, then maybe the money would be returned. This answer did not set well with the donors or lawyers in the audience.

The full-time faculty were given contracts on July 9th. It is now known by those involved in the situation that they were at-will contracts, not the binding contracts that have been used in the past. Faculty were then called to the meeting on July 23rd and told there would not be an opening of the school due to lack of parent commitment to the school as noted above.  During this timeframe, positions which had been posted as open positions at St. John School were filled.  So good luck to the faculty!  In addition the school secretary who had to work at the rectory one day a week for the 2014-15 school year had been offered her regular full-time position at St. Paul school for the 2015-16 year, but was also then  terminated.  When she asked if she could work at the rectory in an open two day position, she was told the position had been offered and accepted and thus was no longer open.  A reasonable person might ask, if the future of the school was this uncertain in June and July, whey were these open positions filled by outsiders rather than kept open so those who would lose jobs could potentially fill them?

BCI is told that these are just some of the “shenanigans” that are surfacing in just the few days after the announcement.  In addition, Father Sepe is also on retreat for two weeks, leaving the school closing in the hands of a teacher at the school who has never handled any responsibilities such as this that would require administrative, legal or leadership expertise.

Here you have it. The downfall of a once great Catholic school largely because of missteps and bungled management by the Archdiocese of Boston, yet blamed on others. Meanwhile,here is a short video interview with new schools superintendent, Kathy Mears, telling Catholic TV how hard she works to help Catholic schools.

The St. Pauls situation and others similar to it suggest that Mrs. Mears has her work cut out for her. BCI is now hearing of other Boston-area Catholic schools in decline because of mismanagement by the RCAB. Drop us an email in confidence to pass along details if this is happening in your area.

10 Responses to The Inside Story of the Closing of St. Paul School in Wellesley, MA: Part 2

  1. Church Mouse says:

    Included in the Catholic School Office’s (CSO) inept, incompetent and dishonest management (definition of mismanagement) of the Archdiocese of Boston (RCAB) Catholic Schools is the complete lack of vision. There is no fresh thinking at the CSO. Mary Moran was Superintendent of Catholic schools in Manchester, New Hampshire before she was interim RCAB Superintendent and now school consultant. Kathleen Mears, current RCAB Superintendent hails from the National Catholic Education Association in DC. Martha McCook was the principal of a Catholic elementary school in Marlborough before she landed as a CSO assistant superintendent. The CSO is part of a club.
    CSO officials think that they alone should determine which schools are viable, which should be supported. They know what is best. CSO officials come into a school community with their assessment of the school already made. There is no assessment with input from the school community. Under the guise of assistance, and pretense of collaboration, the CSO officials work to accomplish their plan for the school. Nothing will get in the way. There is no transparency (so much for the CSO’s June 2014 State of the School report stating an “increased demand for school transparency”).
    St. Paul School parents actualized a plan in collaboration with their principal to increase the enrollment for the 2015-2016 school year and increase financial support of the school. As these initiatives became successful. The principal was fired. Given how RCAB and the CSO operate, it is unlikely that this action was related to the principal’s credentials but rather to the successful campaign to increase enrollment and thus meet the CSO and St. Paul Administrator/Pastor’s requirement (more students) in order for the school to remain open. Losing a principal during the school year is destabilizing. It causes concern, unrest among current parents never mind parents desiring to enroll their child for the upcoming school year. Replacing the principal with an individual well established with the CSO (several years ago she was the principal of St. Mary’s Brookline) who had no interest in the permanent position only adds further uncertainty.
    Requiring current St. Paul school parents and new parents to pay a $1500. registration fee to guarantee a student’s seat for the upcoming school year added to the destabilization.
    Any parent, particularly new parents would want to be certain of a school’s future before paying a $1500. non-refundable registration fee. Private elementary schools, particularly RCAB elementary schools do not require a $1500. registration fee to guarantee a student’s seat for the upcoming school year. The non-refundable fee is usually between $50. and $200. St. John School in Wellesley requires a $500. non-refundable registration fee.
    Fr. Fitzgerald, a previous pastor of St. Paul Parish moved as pastor to St. Columbkille’s in Brighton, where the school has a significant amount of support from Boston College’s Lynch School of Education. This unique support was a result of the previous pastor asking BC’s president Fr. Leahy for assistance in sustaining St. Columbkille’s school.
    St. Paul School had the support of the parents and of course financial support from St. Paul Parishioners, but it doesn’t look like parishioners were asked to participate in/support decisions regarding the school for 2015-2016. Likewise the CSO could have been asked to provide support. After the school’s longtime principal moved to St. John’s in the North End, the CSO could have asked the Center for Catholic Education at BC’s Lynch School of Education to help St. Paul School in the myriad ways the center assists other RCAB schools, recruiting its graduates as principals, teachers, providing professional development, etc.
    As part of the preparation/implementation of the Disciples in Mission program a three part training session on pastoral councils, finance councils and school boards was developed and presented in October of 2013. One part, a session on “School boards – Leadership, Governance and Tools for Planning” was presented by CSO assistant superintendent Jim Walsh. This session describes how things are supposed to work, who should be involved, what are their roles, how finances should be evaluated and provides other useful info for school planning. The PDF for this presentation is no longer on the internet (it was there in March 2015), but can be found on YouTube.
    The information contained in these training sessions would have been useful during the last three school years. It is not clear that anyone at St. Paul Parish/School community was a participant or aware of the material in Jim Walsh’s presentation.
    In September of 2014 Disciples in Mission Phase III announced that St. Paul Parish and St. John Parish would become parish collaboratives. It is ironic that Disciples in Mission seeks to join parishes together for collaboration. Both parishes have schools. It doesn’t appear that the two parishes have collaborated and worked together regarding each of their schools.
    Declining enrollment is not unique to St. Paul School. Many RCAB Catholic schools struggle with declining enrollments. CSO’s solution has been to “encourage” the elementary schools to eliminate 7th and 8th grade, focus on the primary grades and in particular focus on toddler, pre-K, K1 and K2 programs. In these earlier programs, parents pay a premium. However the tuition is tax-deductible, vouchers may be available, and it is “cheaper than daycare”.
    At the Catholic high school level BC High recently hired Maguire Associates to survey its alumni for input on attracting students to its 9th grade. Declining enrollment is projected at the high school level in coming years and the school wants to be proactive.

    Fr. Sepe was named pastor in February of 2015 and officially began this role in June of 2015. It is not believable that he was not apprised of and concurred with the mid year firing of the school principal. His judgment regarding matters related to the school principal is not admirable. He recommended someone not fully qualified for the position of principal and then acquiesced with her firing. In neither case he didn’t contribute to a strengthening of St. Paul school, nor have his actions since he officially became pastor. The St. Paul School community is special. In the past the parish administration was supportive of the school and its constituents. The parish had a very active high school youth group, comprised of many graduates of the school, whose education in the faith had been nurtured at St. Paul school.

    • Little Red Hen says:

      Church Mouse, you are very well informed and I know that everything you say here is true. I’m responding to your post in order to put in a well-deserved good word for the ex-principal of St. Paul School. You mention that she was not “fully qualified” and others have done so, too. I acknowledge that her experience was as a guidance counselor, and that she lacked the credentials that one normally associates with a school principal. However, the individual who preceded her as principal of SPS did have all the right credentials, and lots of experience, but in the final six or seven years of her tenture at SPS seemed bored, was disengaged, ran the school on auto-pilot and generally let the place drift. The principal who was fired had the support, trust and good will of all the teachers, as well as the respect of the students, and morale was high among the faculty. It was an enormous blow to the morale of the St. Paul School when the principal was fired.

  2. Chris Whittle says:

    I watched the video and one should ask the following:

    Do any of the schools run by the Archdiocese actually teach the Faith from the Baltimore Catechism?

    Is there any serious efforts to convert non-Catholic students (and their families)?

    Is any Catholic student provided an authentic Catholic education regardless of the family’s ability to pay in full?

    Are fish and chips served for lunch on every Friday?

    Are the school liturgies (when they take place) in the received and approved rites of the Church?

    I can answer 4 out of 5 with an affirmative “NO.” If you want an authentic Catholic education for your kids in a structured environment it’s time for parents to get together and start a private one from the ground up controlled by a board of parent trustees, answerable to no other governing body.

  3. D Paul says:

    One has to ask oneself, is there a pattern here? One story after another has the same modus vivendi. Every issue goes back to the RCAB. The same holds true for RCANY and almost every other diocese. Through the website “Rorate Caeli”, you can label the entire mess as the proclamation of the “Social Gospel”. If you want a great deal of insight, go to you tube and an interview of Walter Cardinal Kasper on Communion for the remarried. Raymond Arroyo of EWTN does a more than a fantastic job of interviewing the controversial cardinal. There is then a round robin with Robert Royal of “The Catholic Thing” and the Rev. Gerry Murray of Holy Family Parish in New York. This will set your feet on the ground on what is the “real story”.

  4. Sunny Skies says:

    As a long-time St. Paul parishioner, I read this story with interest. It seems that the archdiocese has an unfortunate talent for mishandling difficult situations. Encouraging a fundraising campaign for a school year that will never happen is just awful. The funds should have been held in an escrow account and returned when the school year folded.

    There have been years when parishioners were asked to make up a shortfall for the school, which I felt was wrong. Parishioners are generous, but we cannot carry a school. It was especially wrong because St. Paul School consistently undercharged for tuition. The tuition was ridiculously below the fair cost of any education. Currently, the Town of Wellesley allots around $17,000 per student per year. It is my understanding, and I may be off a bit, that St. Paul School’s most recent yearly tuition was around $6,500 per student.

    Why was the tuition kept artificially low? The school could not support its expenses. Was it the school’s purpose to be a charitable mission or a quality private school? I don’t ask facetiously, I ask genuinely. And I don’t know what salaries were, but they must have been low. What teacher or administrator will take a low paying position when they are qualified to earn more elsewhere? Teacher salaries must be competitive in order to have a quality school. Prospective student families easily see when a school is struggling. They choose a higher quality school, and then enrollments are in trouble.

    To see a superior, well-run private Catholic school, just look at the Jackson – Walnut Park School in Newton. Their recent annual fund yielded more than $200,000, not including grants and scholarships. All in, they raised more than $400,000 for 2013-2014. The tuition is more than double that of the St. Paul School, and it’s a tremendous bargain in the world of private education. This school offers financial aid as well. Jackson students go on to excellent private schools after grade 6. The school is sponsored by the Sisters of St. Joseph. Maybe that’s why it’s so well run and well attended…

    Chris Whittle questions whether ‘any Catholic student is provided an authentic Catholic education regardless of the family’s ability to pay in full.’ The money has to come from somewhere. Private schooling is a privilege, Catholic or non-sectarian. Desiring private Catholic education and valuing private Catholic education doesn’t remove the cost of private Catholic education. The advice for parents to band together to create a school of their own is unrealistic at best. Those unhappy people should home-school because nothing will please them!

    If a school cannot support itself it is not viable. This is the big picture of what happened. Of course, the Catholic Hierarchy has a true knack for mishandling unpleasant business, so parents were led to believe there would be another academic year, and the school accepted their money. That part is reprehensible.

    Father Rafferty is not the villain. He lacked the power to ‘decimate’ the school, as was claimed in the article. The school was already in trouble when Father Rafferty arrived at St. Paul Parish. Refusing to meet with parents hardly qualifies him as a destroyer. He had to take his marching orders from the archdiocese, just like every other priest. It is easy to blame Father Rafferty for the woes of the school. Father Rafferty was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. He was forced to be the hatchet man. The whole dirty business was set up without Father Rafferty’s involvement, I believe.

    Of course, the diocesan overseers who orchestrated this mess are relieved to see you parents focus your anger and indignation on the parish priest and the principal. This lets them off the hook. Press to get your tuition refunds, parents!

    And shame on you, Kathleen Mears. It’s an abomination that you should assign blame to the sisters in any way. After giving every working day of their lives to education, they were supposed to go out and wave a flag of self-promotion? The failure to promote the excellence of Catholic education lies with the archdiocesan overseers, who never gave the sisters their due praise. And what about the hundreds of thousands of products of those schools, the former pupils? Don’t invent some pretext for pinning the failures of others on the good sisters.

  5. Miss Sally says:

    Having had children in a local Catholic school in Weymouth, MA, we experienced similar misfortune in the 2000s when an incredibly incompetent principal was put at the helm of Sacred Heart School. School correspondence became a platform for a liberal agenda. The school parent-teacher correspondence was renamed “It Takes a Village” given this principal’s well-known admiration of Hillary Clinton. Following this principal’s tenure at the school, she was shockingly promoted to a position in the Archdiocese, and received awards for “outstanding performance” in spite of driving the school into the ground. Thankfully, SHS is actually doing better now under different leadership. I only mention this because the Archdiocese has a long history of appointments based not on competence or rewards for a job well done, but because they feel they somehow “owe” these administrators something. Because I can go back 15-20 years in my own region’s history and see these patterns, it strikes me that this is nothing particularly new. Could it be that the Cardinal himself is an incredibly poor judge of character?

    • Miss Kathy says:

      Sounds like a pattern at these Catholic Schools. The same thing has happened at St.Jerome in Weymouth. In 2011 the Archdiocese Catholic Schools Office Superintendent at the time, Mary Grassa O’Neill along with the principal at St. Jerome at that time, hired an incredibly incompetent principal with no experience to take over. She is driving the school to closure. As Miss Sally said it’s the Archdiocese rewarding faculty for service, regardless of whether they are qualified. Just because you work at a school for 20-30 years, it doesn’t mean you should be in charge. One might ask why that person didn’t improve their skill set in those years as opposed to teaching in a self contained classroom year after year. Certainly being responsible for poor management and closing a school is not a good on a resume. Another feather in Mary Grassa O’Neill an the other useless superintendents cap!

  6. D Kelly says:

    I truly feel for these parents and students losing their school. It does seem that there is a pattern more or less when it comes to parish schools. Here in Hudson we had a Catholic elementary school and high school. I’m not saying there weren’t problems. We had 2 priests removed from ministry due to abuse allegations and the 2 school principals really could have done better. But there was still a great deal of support from parents and students who loved the schools and put a lot of time and effort and money into them. But all it took was one new pastor who was disinterested in the schools and the next one who was not only disengaged but actively opposed to the schools, along with the Rel. Ed. director he brought in and less than 10 years later both schools were gone. A new principal at the surviving elementary school was very good and could have made positive changes, but she was facing an uphill battle with no support from the pastor. Now all the buildings are torn down and they are building a Rite-Aid on the site. Even the Preschool building in another part of town is gone, too, for more parking. At least we got to say good-bye and have a final Mass. These folks in Wellesley won’t even have that. What a terrible way to end things.

  7. Church Mouse says:

    This is in reply to a few of long time St. Paul Parishioner “Sunny Skies” August 2nd comments.

    A.” St. Paul “parishioners in some years asked to make up a shortfall in the school’s operating budget, …was wrong. … the school’s purpose to be a charitable mission or a quality private school?…

    The RCAB Catholic elementary school was established to provide an excellent academic education with the focus on the Catholic faith. Pastors supported their parish schools and expected their parishioners to help support the parish school. A portion of a parish’s operating budget included financial support for its school. The financial support increased as the number of Religious sisters ministering in the schools declined and were replaced by lay teachers. Particularly after the sexual abuse scandal, RCAB encouraged pastors to reduce the amount of financial support from the parish and eventually eliminate it. At the same time some pastors with increased parish financial struggles welcomed the “advice” of the CSO regarding the future of their parish school, e.g. closing the school and ease the parish budget.

    The complaint about a request for an extra contribution for the parish school seems more like a resident complaining that a portion of his/her taxes support public schools which he/she is not utilizing. It does not represent the view of the need to assist one’s parish in its mission of educating the young in the faith.

    B.“St. Paul School consistently undercharged for tuition”.

    Many of the RCAB Catholic elementary schools charge tuition in line with what St. Paul School was charging.
    2015-2016 Tuition rates (not rates for their pre-schools) *some of these schools provide a break for more than one child in a family
    1. St. John’s Wellesley $6600
    2. St. Joseph Elementary, Needham $6,830 (In Parish),
    $7, 490 (Out of Parish)
    3. St. Bridget, Framingham $6150
    4. St. Catherine of Siena, Norwood $6,200
    (attended by children of a CSO superintendent)
    5. St. Theresa of Avila, West Roxbury $5,575 (In Parish),
    $6050 (Out of Parish)
    6. Blessed Sacrament, Walpole $6050.

    C. The Jackson School and Walnut Park Montessori are “well run, successful” in contrast to St. Paul School. Moreover that JWP’s tuition is “a tremendous bargain in the world of private education”.

    The Jackson School and Walnut Park Montessori (JWP) is one of six sponsored ministries of the Sisters of St. Joseph. The schools are configured as a collaborative with a shared lay staff – President, Director of Development and Director of Admissions, in addition to a principal, head of school for each.
    The two schools should not be compared together against St. Paul School. If a comparison is to be made, it should be between Jackson and St. Paul School. Walnut Park Montessori is an authentic Montessori school and offers toddler programs thru Kindergarten. While it has been positioned as a feeder school to Jackson, many students do not move onto Jackson.
    Jackson is a K-Gr 6 school. Jackson’s footprint is larger than St. Paul School. Jackson does not have a gym or auditorium. The tuition for 2015-2016 is $13,500. Financial Aid is approximately 1% of the budget. Jackson employs a full time Director of Admission. Since 2009-2010 the school’s enrollment has declined. In the last four years the school has had two Directors of Admission, each for two years. A new person has been appointed for the 2015-2016. Local newspapers currently advertise openings in K-Gr3.

    “Sunny Skies” stated that Jackson’s recent annual fund raised “more than $200,000”(gross, not net). The Sisters of St. Joseph make a substantial yearly financial contribution to Jackson’s annual fund. The school draws from a wide suburban area as well as from sections of the City of Boston, which means there is a larger student population and base to draw upon for an annual fund. This base includes a number of extremely wealthy families. In addition Jackson employs a full time Director of Development and until a year ago also a Director of the Annual Fund/Mission Advancement.

    It is not correct to imply because St. Paul School’s tuition (or for that matter other RCAB Catholic elementary schools) is much less than Jackson that the education is not as good. Yes Jackson students go on to “excellent private schools”, but St. Paul School students go on to the same schools with the exception of Boston Latin School, a school you can’t attend unless you live in Boston. Many families could not afford Jackson’s tuition even with financial aid. Other families do not see “added value” in a Jackson education at an increased cost and choose to send their student to an RCAB Catholic elementary school.

    Maybe Jackson is “well run” due to its status as a sponsored ministry of the Sisters of St. Joseph. As a sponsored ministry Jackson is provided with financial and moral support. St. Paul School does not have this support from the Sisters of Charity of Halifax. However the school does not forget the order and its founder; each March students star in a theatrical production, written by a teacher, celebrating the life of Elizabeth Seton.

    D. “Catholic hierarchy has a true knack for mishandling unpleasant business”
    Characterizing the closing of St. Paul School as a situation that was mishandled, that St. Paul School had to close but it could have been handled better, is a mischaracterization and lets all those involved in the decision and its implementation off the hook. It wasn’t unpleasant, it was a betrayal of trust. At this point in time, “mishandling” is what RCAB excels at. The truth of their actions is glossed over with the help of Rasky Baerlein and Terry Donilon. The latter worked to ensure that outside observers not know that St. Paul parents were assured in the middle of the 2014-2015 school year that the school would be open for at least the 2015-2016 school year; that teachers and families were notified in the dead of summer 40 days before the start of school in September that their school would not open; or learn of the roadblocks initiated to enable justifying the closing of the school.

    To me use of the word hierarchy, relates to everyone from RCAB who was involved in this matter-the Cardinal, Vicar, CSO Superintendent of Schools, pastor/administrator. The lack of honesty and acceptance of responsibility is appalling and disheartening. (There are two camps involved, priests etc who go along to move up in the hierarchy and those who don’t take a stand because of fear of repercussions.) All of the individuals involved both in the school community and the participants from RCAB’s hierarchy know the decision to close St. Paul School was not determined by a collaborative, transparent, thoughtful, inclusive, honest review of the state of the school and it finances (who was aware of the cost to educate a student at St. Paul and what the operating deficit was?) There was no effort made for all constituents to collaborate and determine whether or not the challenges faced by the school could be addressed and a plan developed to enable the school to grow and prosper.

    In an earlier post I referred to RCAB’s Disciples in Mission initiative with its emphasis on collaboration and evangelization. Who is going to evangelize and be evangelized, with a hierarchy that is so dishonest, purports to operate one way and actually continues to exclude input from its constituents, the laity? I worry about our young people. What are they observing and learning from the way the institution operates? RCAB is an organization without imagination, vision. It lacks faith, hope, and charity, and blames the diminishment of its influence on a secular society.

    RCAB in its action regarding St. Paul School demonstrates its lack of interest in young Catholic families, their needs and the sacrifices they make to ensure their children are being educated in the faith. How sad. To quote a special priest – “RCAB the corporation sole is a corporation without a soul.”

  8. Maria Rodrigues says:

    Why am I not surprised?? Ten years have gone by after the closing of the Our Lady of the Presentation…The entire city of Boston stopped, appalled by the Archdiocese’s treatment of the children of that school AND YET, THE ARCHDIOCESE IS AT IT AGAIN… Seriously?!…

    Here is what I remember from those early days of the Archdiocese’s beloved “reconfiguration” process, which has brought and continue to bring so much pain to so many of us:

    I arrived at the OLP schoolyard on May 25, 2004, at release time and saw my 5-year old son walking out of the building. Clearly there was something wrong. At such a young age, he could not fully understand what was going on, but was fully aware of the intense pain all around him. In that split second, I must confess, there was not one ounce of Christian charity in me! I was almost blinded by the hate I felt against men who had dared to inflict this much pain on my little boy! I struggled for some self-control, and immediately decided to fight back. There had to be a way out! There had to be a way of rescuing that school and, with it, part of my son’s world! I kept repeating it to myself as I looked around and saw the older students crying their hearts out. I kept repeating it to myself as I tried to cheer-up teachers, many of them had worked in the school for over twenty years. I kept repeating it to myself as I looked at speechless and tearful parents, who, beside it all, were stunned by the absurd timing of the Archdiocese: Where will they find a school to enroll their children in the coming year when the current one was three weeks short of ending?

    This all comes back to my mind when I learn from your blog that the Archdiocese dared doing it again, informing families in the middle of the summer that their kids’ school is no more…

    The Archdiocese should keep in mind the disastrous PR it harvested from the OLP closure… Yet, no lessons seem to have been learned…

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