Barbara Doty on a recent afternoon at St. Columbkille's School with her K-2 class. All items in the classroom, including rugs, furnishings and educational materials, were donated by Boston College through its partnership with the school. (Photo by Lee Pellegrini)
Partnership with Catholic School Paying Dividends
By Reid Oslin
Boston College's newly minted partnership with St.
Columbkille's School in Brighton and the Archdiocese
of Boston has produced some immediate dividends as
a revitalized student body returned this fall to the
105-year-old urban Catholic school to find improved
facilities, an updated curriculum and financial stability.
University administrators predict that the unique partnership
will produce even greater rewards as the BC-St. Columbkille's
alliance establishes a model for the survival and growth
of urban Catholic schools across America.
"What we are doing and what we will do in the future
benefits the children of St. Columbkille's today,"
notes Lynch School of Education Dean Joseph O'Keefe,
SJ, "and as a University, it is going to provide
us with insights and a better understanding of what
can really work effectively in urban elementary schools."
To commemorate the partnership, on Sunday, Oct. 22,
Boston Archbishop Cardinal Sean O'Malley, OFM Cap.,
will join University President William P. Leahy, SJ,
Fr. O'Keefe and St. Columbkille's Church pastor William
P. Fay in a concelebrated Mass of Celebration at St.
Columbkille's at 11:15 a.m.
The Mass is open to all members of St. Columbkille's
Parish, the Boston College community and the general
Three years ago, said Vice President for Governmental
and Community Affairs Thomas Keady, St. Columbkille's
desperate situation was evident: a large financial
deficit, a shrinking student body and facilities badly
in need of major repairs.
The grim outlook went beyond St. Columbkille's, he adds:
Two other Catholic elementary schools in adjoining
neighborhoods facing similar problems were forced to
"St. Columbkille's is the last remaining Catholic
school in the Allston-Brighton community," Keady
says. "Fr. Leahy stepped in at that time and helped
financially and with some other BC resources. He then
made a proposal to the Archdiocese that resulted in
the partnership that we have today. Without him, this
does not happen."
The partnership, which was announced in the spring and
formally signed on Sept. 8, brought experts from the
Lynch School and a number of other Boston College departments
to St. Columbkille's throughout the summer to join
with parish, diocesan and community representatives
to address the elementary school's critical needs.
"We did some serious renovations for the pre-school
and kindergarten grades, like new lighting, carpeting,
new equipment and furnishings," Keady says, "We
purchased a new security system, did some needed cleaning,
got new computers and helped put in a new curriculum."
As important as the physical improvements were, the
infusion of people and resources via BC has been critical
say administrators. BC students are teaching, tutoring
and volunteering in the school, and the University
has established a program in which current St. Columbkille's
teachers can take graduate level courses at BC tuition-free
in exchange for an extended teaching commitment at
the elementary school.
"We also hosted two open houses that were well-attended
by the students, their families and parishioners. There
are 282 students enrolled this year - a significant
increase over previous enrollment figures," Keady
"What's really positive here is that the pre-kindergarten
and kindergarten classes have 82 students. That's a
very encouraging sign for the future."
Boston College contributions are not limited to traditional
classroom activities. After-school recreation and enrichment
programs, SAT enhancement classes and English as a
Second Language classes for adults have been established.
University administrators have assisted in applying
for Catholic School Foundation grants and the Brighton
school can now join BC in soliciting bids for such
services as snow plowing and trash removal, Keady says.
"It's the laboratory model, really, that I think
is important," says Fr. O'Keefe. "We will
work with the local community and build that school
around best practices and best possible education and
then find ways to disseminate that information through
"It is for the children at St. Columbkille's,"
adds Fr. O'Keefe, "but it is also for the bigger
world, both Catholic schools and public schools."
Michael James, executive director of Boston College's
Center for Catholic Education says the St. Columbkille's
partnership could have national ramifications, given
the rash of Catholic elementary school closings - more
than 250 throughout the US in the last two years alone.
"One of the critical contributions that Catholic
universities can provide nationally is reaching out
to the needs of the local diocese," he says. "The
best way to be a 'church' in our contemporary society
is to work together.
"We hold that this will become a model nationally.
In the long term we are looking at the success of how
we implement the partnership, how we design the collaboration
between the diocese, the parish and the university,
how we are able to provide resources that both develop
curriculum and look at facilities, how we do that in
a way that can be transportable to other dioceses and
how we can provide leadership and consultation to other
Catholic universities who are looking for these opportunities."