Oct. 5, 2006 • Volume 15 Number 3

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
Staff Writer

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 public.

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 close.

"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 says.

"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 publication research.

"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."

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