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Monday, May 14, 2007

Which parish?

A stranger entered my classroom just before my Algebra II class was about to start. He was wearing a visitor’s pass but didn’t introduce himself. So I went up to him, introduced myself, and of course he responded in kind. Maybe late sixties, obviously Irish-American, said he was a retired teacher. Anyway, something came up in class (in connection with an algebra problem) that caused me to mention that I’m on the board of the Dorchester Historical Society. After class, the visitor said, “Oh, so you’re from Dorchester. Which parish?”

It’s been a long time since I’ve heard that question. When I moved to Dorchester, 22 years ago, it was the standard inquiry, but now it seems painfully out-of-date. “St. Mark’s,” I replied. No need to let him know that I’m not Catholic. In his world, Dorchester meant Catholic.

Actually, my neighborhood is still heavily Catholic, but it’s no longer predominantly Irish. Now it’s mostly Haitian and Vietnamese. The people are poorer, the prices of homes have shot through the roof (how’s that for an ironic pairing?), the church is smaller and no longer the focal point of the community. But our civic association is still called the St. Mark’s Area Civic Association, and too many people in the neighborhood refuse to join because they think it has something to do with the church. It doesn’t. Not officially, not even unofficially. The name needs to be changed; I like the sound of Shawmut Valley, but your mileage may vary.

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