Rev. Daniel J. Finn, pastor extraordinaire of St. Mark’s Parish in Dorchester and a persistent advocate for immigrant rights and causes, especially Irish affairs, is now in the real estate business.
Four score and seven years after it was founded, his parish’s grammar school will be closing its doors this month, a casualty, like so many other urban Catholic parochial schools, of a dramatic decline in attendance as memories of full-to-overflowing classrooms and streets chock full of involved parishioners fade into the far distance.
St. Mark’s founding pastor, Rev. John A. Daly, opened the school in 1923, at a cost of about $160,000, to accommodate the children of his rapidly growing flock of parishioners. In its school-week heyday, perhaps the 1940s and 1950s, when an addition was built, St. Mark’s Grammar School was a Monday-Friday learning place for up to 1,000 students, mostly Irish Catholic, all led in lessons and prayer by the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur.
But that was then and this is now, a time of retrenchment and consolidation for the once-broad school system of the archdiocese of Boston. As student numbers, and any sight of a teaching nun, dwindled to a precious few over the last few decades, it became clear that something had to give, and it did.
Dorchester now has the Pope John Paul II Academy, its resources spread over five neighborhood campuses. St. Mark’s was to have been the sixth campus, “but the numbers didn’t work for us,” said Father Finn. “Five campuses made sense, six was one too many.”
While most of the students who are leaving St. Mark’s and not going into high school have found seats in other Academy schools, Father Finn has moved into the real estate business.
“I’m supposed to find a buyer or a renter for the school building,” he said in an interview last month. ”Thank God I have some help from parishioners and friends who work in development and rehabilitation. It’s just not clear to me at this point what will come of things. It’s not easy to market a large building built for specific educational purposes.”
Possibilities hardly abound for a building with aging ramps and stairs, floors of classrooms and a few offices. Affordable housing? That’s what’s happening in Dorchester on the old St. Kevin’s parish grounds in Uphams Corner and on the St. Peter’s property on Meetinghouse Hill. A charter school? “We had one in the convent years back, but that would be unlikely for the school building given the presence of Pope JP II Academy schools nearby,” said the pastor. A home for a non-profit like the College Bound Dorchester program that now rents the convent and the downstairs church space for its operations? “That would be a nice thing to happen for us,” he said, “but I don’t really have a sense of their overall hopes and needs and if a space like the school is right for them. Right now is a time of exploration for me and the parish; we’ll just have to see what we can do. When we were thinking we would be the sixth campus, we had all sorts of plans drawn up for the building and the property and a new traffic flow, but that’s all moot now and we have to move on.”
Meanwhile the parish keeps on keeping on. “This is a vibrant place with an ethnic mix that is exciting to me and, in their attention to church activities, good for the parish,” said the pastor. “I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.”
The archdiocese is respecting Father Finn’s wishes and then some. He’ll be staying in Dorchester at St. Mark’s but Cardinal Sean O’Malley has asked him to help the cause by taking on the pastorate of St. Ambrose Parish, which is situated a mile north of St. Mark’s in the Fields Corner neighborhood. He is now on the case.
Be it pastoral care. immigrant advocacy, real estate brokering, fund-raising, Dan Finn is an energetic, 24/7 man and priest, no doubt about it.
Bono’s back injury delays US tour dates – U2 has been forced to postpone 16 North American shows and cancel this month’s Glastonbury appearance as leader of the band Bono has been told to rest and recuperate for the next eight weeks following back surgery last week. It emerged late last month that emergency surgery carried out in Munich saved the singer from possible paralysis after he injured his back during rehearsals for the second leg of the U2 360 tour.
A piloting family: Aer Lingus pilot Captain Grainne Cronin made her final flight to Boston on Mon., May 24, en route to retirement after 33 years of service. Cronin was just 22 when she became an Aer Lingus pilot in 1977, following in the footsteps of her father Felim, who was among her final passengers on the Boston flight. Aer Lingus was the second airline in Europe to employ female pilots after SAS. From Malahide in Dublin, Cronin and her father are not the only family members to become high fliers: Her sister Caroline is a pilot with Ryanair; her husband, Neil Johnston, is also a pilot; her daughters, Alana and Louisa, both hold private pilot’s licences while Louisa has recently completed her training as a commercial pilot.
Dublin quality hailed – Dublin has been ranked ahead of London and Paris in a world-wide survey measuring quality of life. The 2010 Mercer Quality of Living city rankings report ranks the Irish capital as No. 26 in its listing of best cities in the world in which to live. Vienna remains at the top of the pile, followed by Zurich, Geneva, Vancouver, and Auckland. It came as no surprise that Baghdad ranked at the very bottom.
16th Irish person scales Everest – Vivian Rigney has become the sixteenth Irish person to reach the summit of Mount Everest. The 39-year-old Stepaside, Co Dublin, native conquered the world’s highest mountain on May 23 with his climbing team and in doing so completed the Seven Summits challenge by scaling the highest peaks on all seven continents. He is understood to be only the fourth Irish climber to complete the Summits tour. Rigney lives and works in New York where he is an executive coach.
Singing toddler becomes YouTube sensation – Two-year-old Ella O’Brien is set to smash internet records as her rendition of Justin Bieber’s hit Baby has received close to a million hits over five days on YouTube. The toddler’s cousin Maria captured Ella, from Greenmount in Cork, on film singing along to the song while jumping on a bed. The footage was originally posted on Facebook for family members to view but later uploaded to YouTube after a very positive reaction to the youngster’s antics. Ella’s parents are amazed at the complimentary comments posted by the site’s viewers from across the globe. One viewer said he preferred Ella’s version to the original deeming the two-year-old a better singer than Bieber. Her uncle, John O’Brien, said they have a second clip of Ella singing a new Bieber song but will hold off on posting it so as not to take attention away from her first clip.
Births hit 25-year-high –The Irish population has soared to its highest level since 1862, reaching 4.339 million, according to the latest report from the Central Statistics Office (CSO). Ireland has the highest fertility rate in the European Union with an average of 2.05 children per woman, with births soaring to their highest level in over 25 years. Some 71,389 babies were born in Ireland in 2007, almost 6,000 more than the previous year, and higher than at any time since 1981. August is the most popular month for births, with significantly more births in the second half of the year than in the first. France has the highest fertility rate at 1.98 after Ireland, followed by 1.92 in the UK. The statistics also revealed that one third of births are now outside marriage and almost 44 per cent of first-time mothers were unmarried. Nearly one-in-five births were to immigrants, the figures reveal.
June 11-13 – Worcester Irish Music Festival, Hibernian Cultural Centre & Fiddlers’ Green, 19 Temple Street, Worcester. worcesteririshmusicfestival.com.
June 14 – JFK Forum: Time Magazine, Henry Luce and the American Century. John F. Kennedy Presidential Library & Museum Columbia Point, Boston. 5:30 - 7:00 p.m. | Free | Register: 1-866 JFK-1960 | jfklibrary.org.
Columbia University History Professor Alan Brinkley discusses his new biography of Henry Luce with Harvard Professor Jill Lepore.
June 19 – John Boyle O’Reilly Commemoration, Holyhood Cemetery, Brookline. 11 a.m. massaoh.org The Annual John Boyle O’Reilly Commemoration is sponsored by the Mass State Board of the Ancient Order of Hibernians. Reception to follow at Division 14 Watertown, 151 Watertown Street. Robert Bateman, Past State & National Historian and Member of Division 8 in Lawrence will be the guest speaker.
June 19 – Irish Cultural Centre of New England takes a look back with a presentation on the Irish War of Independence. By our board of directors and WROL host Seamus Mulligan. Begins at 5:30 p.m., with cocktails and appetizers followed by the presentation. We will then move to an Irish buffet dinner and a viewing of The Wind That Shakes the Barley, a moving drama that shows two brothers fighting to reconcile clashing ideas with family loyalties.
Tickets: $25 ICC Members/$30 Non-Members. To purchase tickets, please call 781-821-8291. Irish Cultural Centre of New England 200 New Boston Dr, Canton, Massachusetts, 02021
July 17 – 8th annual Blackstone Valley Celtic Festival. Indian Ranch Performance Center, 200 Gore Road, Route 16, Webster. 1-800-841-0919 | blackstonevalleycelticfestival.com. A great one-day festival packed with top bands, step dancers, competitions, and vendors, all in a beautiful setting. Free Parking. Shuttle bus ($2) encouraged please.
July 23-25 – 24th Annual Lowell Summer Music Festival, Boarding House Park, 40 French Street, Lowell. Free. Donations welcome | 978 970-5200 | lowellsummermusic.org. The festival features six stages of traditional ethnic music, authentic crafts demonstrations, ethnic foods, art and children’s activities.
August 2-6 – Children’s Celtic Camp at Irish Cultural Centre of New England. A fun and educational program for children grades 1-8. Experience the fun of Irish tradition and culture through dance, music, literature and more! Please call 781-821-8291 for more information. Space is limited, register early! The camp is still seeking teachers and junior counselors for the 2010 season. For more information and job descriptions please send an e-mail to Louise O’Shea at firstname.lastname@example.org.