640 Washington Street, Brighton
Graduation ceremonies for Our Lady of Presentation School normally took place inside the Catholic elementary school. On June 9, 2005, however, the one for the kindergarten was held across the street in Brighton’s Oak Square Common. The ceremony was one of both celebration and protest—protest against the Archdiocese of Boston’s abrupt closure of the school the previous day. The Archdiocese had made the move out of fear that parents would occupy the building in order to prevent the shutting down of the school, scheduled for two days later.
The early 2000s was a challenging time for the Catholic Church in Boston. Growing out-migration of Catholics of European descent to Boston’s suburbs and broader changes in churchgoing among Catholics (decades-long processes) brought about a dramatic decline in church attendance within the city. These factors, combined with the revelations of sexual abuse in 2002, led to a sharp decrease in financial support for the Church from area Catholics. Meanwhile, the sexual abuse scandal itself exacted high financial costs: About two years after the revelations, the Archdiocese of Boston had paid $85 million in a settlement involving 500 victims.* In this context, the Archdiocese announced in mid-2004 that it would close 82 parishes (out of a total of 357) in the coming months. It also announced the closure of Our Lady of Presentation School.
Given the strong identification of Boston’s Catholics with their parishes and the associated institutions, parishioners often resisted the closures, and, in some instances, successfully. In the case of Our Lady of Presentation, parents, students and community members occupied and camped out in Oak Square in protest of the lockout, attracting national and international media attention and strong support across Boston in the process. Eventually, in 2006, the Archdiocese agreed to sell the property to the Presentation School Foundation, an organization of parents and community members.
Today, the former school is the home of the multi-service Presentation School Foundation Community Center, which opened in 2012. It houses a range of non-profit organizations that serve children, families, and recent immigrants.
Various MBTA bus lines pass through Oak Square.
To learn more:
John C. Seitz, No Closure: Catholic Practice and Boston’s Parish Shutdowns, Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2011.
* See also the entry on the Cathedral of the Holy Cross in A People’s Guide to Greater Boston.