St. Andrew’s time capsule stirs memories

November 16, 2007
By

JOHN RUCH

FOREST HILLS—“Buried here are the treasures of our parish to be opened in 50 years and celebrated by generations of the future.”

So reads the plaque marking the spot of a time capsule buried in 2001 on the front lawn of St. Andrew the Apostle Church.

But St. Andrew’s is now a former Catholic church in the process of being sold to a still-unnamed buyer who may well dig up the capsule much earlier than expected.

The good memories preserved in the capsule and their possible displacement continue to affect former parishioners, who have rarely had public forums for their grief since the demise of St. Andrew’s parish about seven years ago.

That includes local resident and former parish council member Donna O’Connor, who organized the time capsule, and her husband Mike.

“We’re anxious and concerned about what’s going in there,” Mike O’Connor said of the church complex at Walk Hill and Wachusett streets.

“Over time, you learn to accept it,” Donna O’Connor said of the church closing. “At the beginning, it was hard to let go. It’s hard to deal with.”

“It was simple, but it was beautiful,” she said of the church interior. “It really felt like home.”

The capsule—a large plastic storage container sealed up and wrapped in a bag—was intended to preserve those memories. Donna O’Connor said items included photographs, notes from former ushers and a church school uniform. Former parishioners privately funded the granite marker on the capsule site, which sits next to a large bell that, Mike O’Connor confirmed, is from the church’s long-lost steeple.

About 25 former parishioners attended the capsule dedication ceremony, which also served as a farewell to the closed parish.

“The day we did it was very emotional,” Mike O’Connor said. The former parishioners have remained in contact, he added, still holding an annual fund-raiser for the local Italian Home for Children.

“It meant a lot to everybody who participated,” Donna O’Connor said.

Even at the time, Donna O’Connor said, it was known that St. Andrew’s might be redeveloped. An idea was raised that if necessary, the capsule would be transplanted to Roslindale’s Sacred Heart Church, the parish that absorbed St. Andrew’s, though nothing was definite or specific, she said.

The fate of the capsule memorial already on the site has been overlooked in a historic preservation effort so far led by a proposal for another memorial: one to victims of child-molesting priests. St. Andrew’s was home to the infamous molester John Geoghan in the 1970s and ’80s.

Former parishioner Maryetta Dussourd, whose children and nephews were molested by Geoghan, is seeking to get the site named an official Boston landmark. Geoghan’s crimes at St. Andrew’s eventually were key in revealing the extent of archdiocese cover-up of child sexual abuse. Dussourd is advocating for some type of memorial on the site, with ideas ranging from a monument to a museum.

While agreeing generally with preservation, the O’Connors are among local residents who object to a sexual abuse memorial. Other residents have spoken in favor of the idea.

“I really would not like it to be the site of a memorial for abused children,” Donna O’Connor said. “To make a mark on a specific church…isn’t fair to the memories we had there, and there were some great ones.”

“I don’t want to dishonor anyone who had abused children,” she said, adding that Geoghan’s crimes were only a piece of the church’s 75-year history.

“It’s unfortunate what happened there,” said Mike O’Connor. But, he added, “A lot of good things came out of there, and a lot of good people.”

It is tougher to say what should go into a redevelopment that, in any case, will be painful to many former parishioners.

“I wanted to see housing go in there,” Mike O’Connor said, adding that his view may be in the minority.

Housing for senior citizens, especially with “first dibs” to former
parishioners, might have been appealing, Donna O’Connor said, adding that it appears to be infeasible. Otherwise, she would like to see reuse by another church.

“It might bring some life into that building,” she said.

Likely virtually everyone keeping an eye on St. Andrew’s, Mike O’Connor expressed displeasure with the lack of information and community input about its future.

Previously, the Jackson Square community development corporation Urban Edge and the adjacent Young Achievers Science and Mathematics School held a series of meetings about their plans for housing and school re-uses. But Urban Edge was not the winning bidder. The winner remains unnamed and their plans unknown.

The Urban Edge/Young Achievers meetings were public, but largely focused on presenting specific plans. City Councilor John Tobin said he saw older residents at those meetings whom he presumed were former parishioners, but who did not speak much.

“You can see it on their faces, though,” he said.

The situation was very different two years ago with the former Blessed Sacrament Church complex in Hyde Square. Even before the bidding process, the Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Development Corporation (JPNDC), a local non-profit developer, held extensive community meetings. While the meetings were part of a successful strategy to becoming the winning bidder on the site, they also served as a forum for former parishioners to grieve and get their thoughts about the site on the record.

So did similar meetings held by the Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Council (JPNC). While some bitter community tensions were revealed in those meetings, virtually everyone had a chance to express ideas and emotions.

The JPNDC was not a St. Andrew’s bidder and held no meetings about it. The JPNC earlier decided not to hold St. Andrew’s meetings, but, “I’m not convinced about that yet,” JPNC Chair Jesús Gerena told the Gazette this week, pledging further internal consideration.

Tobin met this week with Dussourd and said his door is open to other former parishioners as well. He has said he understands both the pain of the child abuse scandal and the love for the site.

“I know how strongly I’d feel if this was Holy Name [in West Roxbury], where I grew up,” Tobin said. “It’s kind of like seeing the house you grew up in being sold.”

The unnamed developer will have to pay attention to the complexities of the site, he said.

“I caution people, in their zeal to buy and acquire and develop and change this former house of worship, they should have some bedside manner and sensitivity,” he said.