Friday, June 29, 2012

The Boys School at St Patrick Parish, Pt 2

Lowell Sun, 1900
Success can have its drawbacks.  The first year ended with over 400 students in attendance, and more enrolling for the next fall.  At the close of school an exhibition was held at Huntington Hall to demonstrate the work of the Brothers and students.  There were those who publically doubted the success of such a school for boys.  Even the city fathers unexpectedly visited the boys’ school to look at the premises and to test the students.  They left “very impressed.”  The Brothers had to move out of their third floor dormitory in order to make space for more students.  They moved into a house on the corner of Varney and Fletcher Streets.  Older Acre residents recalled seeing the Brothers marching in line through the North Common with their black habits, rosaries hanging at their sides, and cloaks flowing in the winter winds with their hands holding their broad brimmed hats on their way to classes and then home again.
At 12:15, shortly after midnight, on March 9, 1899, Officer James F. Hurley was walking his beat on Suffolk Street.  There was a lot of smoke which wasn’t unusual with all the homes and businesses using word as fuel.  Upon further investigation the smoke was seen coming out of the windows of the Boys School.  He ran to Fire Alarm Box 125 at the corner of Lewis and Market Streets.  By the time the firemen arrived flames were shooting out of the windows of the second floor.  The wide stairways made a perfect avenue for the flames to spread.  On top of that low water pressure made fighting the fire difficult.  The firemen tried using the canal to pump water from, but it was all in vain.  It was a stubborn blaze, causing extensive damage to the building and the fire crews were not recalled until 3:56 A.M, almost four hours after the first alarm.  The cause of the blaze was attributed to a “rats nest in the partition”.
 Within days rumors spread that the school would close.  They were true.  Fr. O'Brien immediately announced the closing of the school.  What was to be done with the students? City officials were notified and at a meeting of Brother Pius, principal of the school, and Superintendent of Schools A.K. Whitcomb, it was agreed that the students would attend the public schools.
The Xaverian Brothers did return about a year later, but with changes.  When the school reopened in September of 1900 there were not enough Brothers to keep the same amount of classes going.  The Sisters of Notre Dame had gotten permission to teach the younger boys in the first four grades in their classroom, separate from the girls of course.  Because of this new arrangement a new entrance was to be made at the rear of the school so as to be accessible from Fenwick Street.  The Boys School became well known throughout the city for their Cadet Band.  The Catholic Young men’s Lyceum (CYML) took up space on the top floor.  The CYML had meetings and offices along with a lending library.  The Brothers moved once again to take up residence on Wilder Street, near Pawtucket, making the trek over a mile each way.  
In 1939, Fr. John F. Meheran, pastor of St. Patrick's announced that with the sale of the school, the parish would spend about $30,000 to provide new quarters for the boys.  In 1939, the boys were moved to some of the classrooms in the former Notre Dame Academy, which had moved to Tyngsboro, closing the aging Boys School and making way for the housing development. Cardinal O’Connell opened up the two Keith schools, one each for males and females.  The number of Brothers could no longer man the Boys School and Keith Academy.  When the school closed many were saddened, but others looked at what had been accomplished.  The Boys School had fostered dozens of dozens of vocations to the Xaverian Order and to the priesthood.  The number of firemen, policemen and politicians also gave credence to the tutelage of the Brothers and their mission of service.
Undated Class Photo, Archives of St Patrick Parish
When the school first opened in 1882, the first principal noted that the Brothers teaching style was to be built “by gentleness, rather than the birch rod.”  Those who attended might have a different story.   Brother Benedict had a trick of dropping a coin near a guilty boy.  When he bent to pick it up would “sweep down the rattan.”  The students of Brother Marcus knew when the teacher closed his book with his finger in it, he was about to tell a parable that could go on and on..  An early written account of the Brothers to their Superior states that the Lowell boys “were the worst of the worst.”  An aged graduate said the Brothers did what they had to do, and he was glad of it.

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