Video: Catholic Archdiocese of Boston settles into new Braintree digs

Lane Lambert

Cardinal Sean O’Malley isn’t in his office this week at the Archdiocese of Boston’s new headquarters in Braintree. He’s been on the other side of the Pacific Ocean, for World Youth Day activities in Australia and a visit with fellow Franciscan monks in New Guinea. But in his absence, the archdiocese’s administrative operations and staff are settling into the spacious new headquarters building they didn’t imagine they would have just a year ago.

Thanks to what amounted to a giveaway by the late real estate developer Thomas Flatley of Milton, the Catholic archdiocese has traded its 80-year-old chancery in Brighton for a sleek, four-story corporate building in the Blue Hill Commerce Center off Route 37 and Route 128 in Braintree.

A month after the move, construction crews are still putting the finishing touches on some areas. The priests, nuns and 225 lay workers look like they’re getting used to such amenities as an in-house cafeteria. But even in the unfamiliar space, the ministries that control everything from parish education to clergy screening and placement are already making use of the roomier offices and up-to-date technology.

“We’re into the 21st century now,” the archdiocese’s planning director Kevin Kiley said.

Even the name has changed. With the move, the chancery has become a “pastoral center.” The new moniker is everywhere, from the main entrance to coffee cups.

‘A big change’

As the archdiocese celebrates its bicentennial this year, Boston College history professor Thomas O’Connor of Milton said the move of the chancery from Boston to Braintree is “a big change” for many Catholics, emotionally as well as historically.

“It will take some getting used to,” he said.

Even so, O’Connor noted that this isn’t the first time the diocesan offices have moved.

In the 1800s and early 20th century, the offices were in Boston in the Back Bay, South End and adjacent to the Cathedral of the Holy Cross. That was before Cardinal William O’Connell built the Italian-style “Little Rome” off Commonwealth Avenue in Brighton in the late 1920s.

Though there’s lingering nostalgia for Brighton, spokesman Terrence Donilon said the archdiocese’s 292 parishes and 144 communities are better served from Braintree, with programs from six locations consolidated into one.

Donilon said the Braintree site has Cardinal O’Malley’s enthusiastic blessing, in part because “it mattered to him that Tom Flatley made this possible.”

Last year, the archdiocese was struggling to cover years of deficit spending as well as pay settlements for scores of clergy sex-abuse lawsuits. Then the billionaire developer and devout Catholic offered the 140,000-square-foot building on Brooks Drive in Braintree to the cardinal, and the archdiocese’s financial challenge got a lot easier.

Word of the deal surfaced last summer, when Flatley was in declining health from Lou Gehrig’s disease. Flatley declined to say whether he would sell the property, or give the archdiocese a cheap lease.

“I would never charge the House of the Lord the market rate,” he said.

Cubicles out, stained glass in

And he didn’t. In November 2007, Flatley sold the building to the archdiocese for less than $100. Three months earlier, Boston College had purchased the chancery and adjoining property in Brighton for $65 million, in the last round of BC’s five-year, $172 million acquisition of 65 acres and buildings from the archdiocese.

The previous tenant of the Braintree building, Boston Financial Data Services, had yet to move to its new building in Canton when Kiley, the archdiocese’s planning director, and others first surveyed it last summer. Donilon said Flatley kept in close touch with the project until shortly before he died in May.

In the spring, one of Flatley’s friends drove him to the front entrance. Flatley waited in the car while his friend went inside to get an update on the work.

The move from Brighton took four hectic days. For first-time visitors, the most noticeable new features are the 10-foot metal cross on the brick facade above the main entrance, framed photos of Pope Benedict and Cardinal O’Malley, and a large, circular rug with the archdiocesan crest on the lobby’s marble floor.

Photos of all 292 parish churches are being hung in the building’s hallways. Stained glass and other sacred pieces from closed parishes will decorate a first-floor chapel that’s now under construction in what used to be a “Dilbert space” of cubicles, as Kiley put it.

“It will be a jewel,” Kiley said of the chapel.

In the main lobby, visitors can offer written prayer requests in a register that was on display in the old chancery lobby. On a recent day the list included the parishioners of St. Casimir Church in Brockton, one of two parishes the archdiocese closed on June 29 – the day before the Braintree offices opened.

Lane Lambert may be reached at