Grieving the Saint Kevin’s Property

By Robert Gillis
Published in the Boston City Paper 7/2012 and the Foxboro Reporter 8/2012

ived my first 25 years in Dorchester, and while I have moved away, I am still OFD down to my DNA and wanted to share some thoughts about the Saint Kevin property.

As an overview: The church and school were created in the 1940s or so and were kept alive and flourishing by its most famous pastor, the late Father J. Joseph Kierce. Father Kierce was a legend in Uphams Corner, and the school and church meant (and continue to mean) so much to the tens of thousands of former students and parishioners. The school closed its doors in 2008 as part of the Archdiocese of Boston changes.

I was baptized in that church, made all of my sacraments, and graduated class of 1979. And I attended church there until I moved to Foxboro in 1989.

I have been following the outstanding coverage of the Saint Kevin property process on Uphams Corner News (http://www.uphamscornernews.com). I can say there are only two things everyone can agree on – the issue is a powder keg, and the property, now boarded up, remains in limbo. I will not address any of that here – the current residents, businesses and leaders living and working in Uphams Corner should make the decisions about what will happen to Saint Kevin’s – not someone who USED to live there two decades ago.

Still – I would like to share some thoughts.

June, 2012: In the old Saint Kevin School yard yesterday… School closed in 2008. Thirty-three years since graduation and about 20-25 since mass there…. I could not believe actually standing in the school yard. Do you remember, “The Rocks?” We were NOT allowed on the rocks. So of course, I had to do it — and may Sister Paula Rest in Peace, but I climbed up the rocks and called out, “I’m climbing the rocks, Sister Paula!”

There is a new house or two by the school yards so it’s a little smaller but you can still clearly see where we played, some of it is a little overgrown but it is recognizable.

My God it’s so small — it seemed so big as a kid. I have not stood there since 1979 and not driven through in 10 years. The school and church are all boarded up and look secure and someone has cleaned up — except for the graffiti it everything actually looks the same.

But it’s not the same – the building needed to be professionally boarded up because people were breaking in and squatting there. The property looks – what? Abandoned? Lifeless?

I was only there 10 minutes or so — I could have stayed for hours. So many memories of a lifetime ago in one small place. Those thoughts stayed with me for weeks.

And then over the next few weeks I kept staring at my pictures, and the memories kept coming back. Another visit was in order.

July 2012: Back in Dorchester this afternoon; walked around Sawyer Avenue, Saint Margaret’s (security guard was a sweetheart when I explained that I was just soaking up memories — lovely lady, really) Standing in Uphams Corner, a few more pictures at Saint Kevin School (God, its condition bothers me), Stoughton Street, Cushing, Everett Ave… Everything is so familiar and yet I know no one.

Scared? NO.

Sad? Yep. But it’s not where I live anymore.

At Saint Margaret’s, I’m reminded me of all the late shifts in the nursery, leaving there at midnight. Houses on Sawyer look well maintained. Standing at Sawyer Ave — an entire childhood on this corner.  Cushing Ave, how many times did I play here, walk here?

Looking at my old three decker on Rowell and amazed how good it looks. Nana’s house on Trull – it will always be “Nana’s house” even twenty years after her passing — has a new back porch, wish I could walk around it without scaring the residents or invading their privacy.

Guys still sitting on the stoop of the old A&M market to beat the oppressive heat and humidity. Saint Kevin is calling me… To Hancock, to Bird. Past the convent. Everything so familiar but not. BEANO sign on Saint Kevin School! Virginia Street all tree lined.

And I keep thinking about Saint Kevin. I am not that child at that school anymore; graduation was over three decades ago; last mass there for me two decades ago… Still…

I finally figured out (beyond the galactically obvious) the real reason Saint Kevin’s present state bothers me so much — it’s because it’s just rotting there, boarded up. If the school or church were OPEN, that would be different…

But this is worse — this is something that has died, and was not buried.

Something that lived and was so vibrantly alive and meant so much to so many, so much energy, so many dreams, so many classes of kids, so many dramas and masses and sacraments and funerals and weddings and playground fights and teachers and books and now… DEAD. Boarded up. And slowly decomposing, forgotten. Abandoned. In flux.

Forgive me, this isn’t poetry, it’s from the heart – Saint Kevin Church and school died in 2008 and no one took the time to bury it. How can you mourn the loss of something that hasn’t been buried or recycled back into nature? Does anyone else “get me” on this? I am not being disrespectful — it has taken weeks to realize the exact reason WHY this bothers me so much.

I am OFD — down to my DNA. And Saint Kevin? Permanently imprinted on my heart of hearts.

Judging by what I am reading, it may take many years for the Saint Kevin property to again be useful. I am not qualified to say what Uphams Corner needs from those buildings. You live here now, you work here now. It is your decision, not mine. Housing, community center, library, medical building, I have no idea what Uphams Corner needs there today, but I pray what you decide upon will serve the people well.

I, and thousands of others who have so much love for my our church and school – hope and pray that someday soon, the Saint Kevin property — in some form — will serve the community well, and once again be a place that means something and makes people’s lives better.

And on that day, I will know that my old church and school are truly buried properly and “resting in peace,” and new hopes and dreams will again be alive and flourish on what (to many of us) will always be sacred ground.


Here are pictures I took during those two 2012 visits…

{Click on each picture for a much larger image}


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2 thoughts on “Grieving the Saint Kevin’s Property

  1. Thank you Robert Gillis for your touching, emotional tribute to St.Kevin. My 2 brothers and I grew up on the corner of Rowell and Cushing and we also received all our sacraments(including Matrimony for me) at St.Kevin. It was chilling to see your photographs. I don’t live far from Uphams Corner now and I occasionally will drive by my old house and school just to feel the memories. I graduated from St.Kevin in 1968, and we never met, but the connection to St.Kevin Church, school and Fr.Kierce is strong and one that I will always keep with me. Even though, I didn’t find your article until today, thank you again for writing it.
    Pam Hamilton

  2. Thank you Robert Gillis for your touch, emotional tribute to St.Kevin. My 2 brothers and I grew up on the corner of Rowell and Cushing and also received all my sacraments (including Matrimony for me) at St.Kevin. It was chilling to see your photographs. I don’t live far from Uphams Corner now and I occasionally will drive by my old house and school just to feel the memories. I was about 11 years ahead of you, so I don’t think we ever met, but the connection formed by St.Kevin Church, school and Fr.Kierce is strong and one that I will always keep with me. Even though, I didn’t find your article until today, thank you again for writing it.
    Pam Hamilton

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