April 10, 2018

End of an Era: Marian High School to Close

Marian High School in Framingham to close (Metrowest Daily News, April 3, 2018)

My initial reaction as I shared this, on Facebook of course:
Kind of a sad day, my alma mater. Like most everything in the first half of my life, I wandered through my four years there kind of disengaged, but I do have fond memories of the place, the teachers, my classmates.
Maybe the recurring dreams of wandering the halls trying to remember my locker number or combination, or trying to figure out that day’s schedule, will end......
Looking a little closer, the writing has clearly been on the wall, for the better part of  decade:
Marian High was founded in 1956 by Cardinal Richard Cushing, archbishop of the Boston Archdiocese, and guided by the Sisters of St. Joseph. It had gradually moved toward becoming a less religious faculty in recent years, and has been independent of the Boston Archdiocese since the 2004-2005 school year.

The school has an enrollment of 221 students. More than 50 percent of them reside in Framingham. Tuition is now $11,100 per pupil, and would have risen again next year.
Seems like a bit of death spiral underway....compare and contrast - in the late 70s / early 80s when I and two of my siblings attended, tuition was around $800 and total enrollment was around 750. I remember Dad writing tuition checks to "the Archdiocese of Boston" when he realized they were coming back endorsed by the Arch-Diocese, and I suspect taking the payments as a charitable deduction. My first lesson in moral relativism, not exactly legal but since we were paying for the public school system through property taxes but not using that resource, perhaps ethically neutral.

One has to consider the impact of the priest sex abuse scandal (which broke in 2002 in the Boston area) - stepping away from the archdiocese no doubt had some repercussions (perhaps financial, perhaps in terms of attendance) but also was no doubt the fulcrum of a decline in church attendance and catholic enthusiasm.

Marian was not immune from the whole sex abuse thing, although the dynamic (a female teacher / coach and a female student) was atypical of the more typical priest / young man abuse of the greater scandal - Woman sues Catholic Framingham high school, alleging abuse  - the school's response seems to have had a hide your head in the sand aspect to it typical of other forms of abuse.

Although this occurred while I was at Marian, and it seems like the victim might have been a member of my class, I was pretty clueless back in the day. There was a lot of repressed sexuality going down in Catholic land back in the day (not that it has improved much) and so those sexual identities bleeding out in all sorts of inappropriate or sketchy ways was par for the course.

My memories of Marian are some what sketchy - I rolled into 9th grade a recent Massachusetts resident (relocating from York, PA the summer before) so it was all so strange. We said "hoagie", they said "submarine", we said "soda", they said "tonic", we said "water fountain", they said "bubbler". I remember the principal's PA system pronouncements, with her Boston accent and verbiage, it felt like I had moved to a different country. Had we remained in York, PA, I'd have attended York Catholic which felt a lot more mainstream, "catholic prep" vs. "college prep" than Marian.

It was not a bad time to be the new kid - Marian drew from a number of catholic grade schools as well as local public schools, so there were a lot of "new kids", although the core of the class came from local St. Bridget School, and it took a few years to feel less of an outsider.

It was a pretty simple building - three floors plus a basement, U-shape. Classrooms along the long side, plus a single classroom at the base of each "U" leg. The left leg housed a small gym and basement lockers; the right leg an auditorium that seated the entire student body (including a balcony) and a basement cafeteria which we had to use over several lunch periods to get us all served. 

Three stairwells in the main building (center and sides) and smaller stairwells on the inside corners at the gym and auditorium. Ironically, the Kripalu Yoga Center in Lenox MA (a re-purposed Jesuit Seminary of a similar architectural vintage) often reminds me of my high school

I remember hanging out in the stairwells during free periods, you could kind of hide from roaming teachers or staff if you kept moving, there were nooks and corners you could hang out in. There was a smoking area "The Pit" in the parking area which appears to have been thankfully removed. I remember a small chapel on the first floor (facing the inner parking area), and larger library on the second floor (facing Union Avenue). When I was there, a small candy / supply store in the basement, run by Sr. Denisita - who wore the full habit, including a large rosary / cross (which might have doubled as a weapon in other hands), and was a tireless advocate for a Boston homeless shelter as well as finding gainful employment for Marian students. One of my classmates, John Shraven, remembers her here

All in all, I have fond memories of the school, it was a safe enough space for a proto-queer, nerd before it was cool, super smart kid who would have struggled pretty much anywhere, but it sucks to have gone through my four years there donning what feels in retrospect like a protective shell. Like pretty much everything else in the first 20-30 years of my life, there are so many regrets - lost opportunities in terms of music and theater, people I hurt through my armor of acerbic and overly quick wit. Nobody got close enough to figure out what was up with me, and that was probably for the best.

There's a "Save Marian" movement but it seems a little too late, nostalgic and well intended but not so practical. The roots of Marian's demise go back decades, tracking with the struggles of the catholic church, and challenges of private education in a modern, tech savvy world.

So RIP Marian High School. I cannot say I've looked back on my high school days too fondly - bittersweet mostly. So many things in my past are disappearing or transitioning - just kind of piles up in the attic of memories.  

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