MONTVILLE, Conn. — Even from outside in the chilly late-winter air, it is the familiar and unmistakable symbol of Catholic education in New England.
Pale brown brick exterior adorned with an aluminum religious cross.
Earnest high school kids inside learning the teachings of Moses and Jesus as well as the intricacies of the Pythagorean theorem and Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation.
Algebra and English. Chemistry and history. The din of the lunchroom. Friday night football and basketball heroics on the hardwood as the grip of winter supplants autumn.
And then there is this:
A plan to sell this place, St. Bernard School, to a group of alumni for $6.2 million as part of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Norwich’s effort to help pay for a proposed bankruptcy.
It comes after as many as 142 people alleged they had been sexually assaulted by priests and other diocesan employees.
Some $29 million would be distributed among the victims of that abuse.
“The school was on the chopping block,’’ attorney Jeffrey Londregan, a member of the St. Bernard class of 1989, told me the other day. “It seemed like they were just punishing the kids. It seemed that way. And I just thought, well, there must be a better way.”
Londregan and about 10 other alumni earlier this year formed Saints Country LLC, a limited liability company, an entity that could be the school’s life raft.
It is now the preferred buyer for the school.
“We are the recommended buyer, which in bankruptcy parlance is called the stalking horse. I don’t know why,” Londregan told me in his New London office the other day. “We are currently exchanging drafts of a purchase-and-sale contract back and forth. Our offer was $6.2 million.”
Londregan and other members of Saints Country LLC are motivated by their love of the school and an unalloyed indignation that the clergy abuse crisis could rob modern-day high school students of what they had found so precious at St. Bernard.
That experience — often the foundation of lifetime friendships — is what they are determined to preserve.
“What (abusive priests) did to the kids was just horrific,” said Kyle Klewin, a St. Bernard alumni who graduated from the school in 1995. “That forced them to file bankruptcy. And their solution was to take that from them to raise money for what they did. It is like another pattern of victimizing the kids again.
“That’s just morally wrong.”
Against the backdrop of courtroom motions and legal maneuvering, the essential work of St. Bernard School continues. Its student population, once 1,300, has dwindled to 400. Tuition is about $14,000 a year, and some 60 percent of the kids receive some form of financial aid.
Just half of the student body worship as Catholics.
“We’re at about a 49 percent minority population here,” Don Macrino, the head of school at St. Bernard, told me. “That would include students with Asian heritage and Hispanic heritage and students of color.”
He said his school is not some kind of an elite academy.
“It’s representative of our community,” Macrino said. “And I think that’s very important. About 98 percent of our kids go on to higher education. And we’re very proud of that.”
Who wouldn’t be?
It is an impressive statistic. And it’s part of an impressive legacy that largely fuels efforts by the alumni to preserve the place.
“I think the school’s survival matters,” Londregan said. “I think the school’s survival has some intrinsic assets associated with it that the bankruptcy court can look at.
“The judge is ultimately going to be the decision-maker.”
And what hangs in the balance is a school with a proud history and a group of alumni who know that the link to those precious high school years does not end with commencement when diplomas are collected and life’s roadmap unspools toward a distant horizon.
Lifetime friendships remain.
Values cemented in those short four years form the foundation for adulthood to come.
There’s a reason that high school reunions have an emotional torque that college gatherings can never match.
Kyle Klewin and his wife have two daughters. Both are at St. Bernard. Mia is a sophomore. Stella is in seventh grade.
He has a stake in this that goes beyond finances and columns of figures.
Jeff Londregan knows the feeling.
“Listen,” Londregan told me. “I cry at everything. Now that I’m a parent? Forget it. I can’t watch a Disney movie without bursting into tears.
“Let me tell you a story. My youngest daughter, Erin, played basketball for the varsity team up at St. Bernard’s. And my dad played basketball at St. Bernard’s. And in 1962 they won the (conference championship).
“There used to be a banner up in the gym for the 1962 basketball team. So, for senior night, my daughter asked if it was OK for my wife and I not to walk her out. She wanted her grandfather to walk her out.
“I’ve got it on my phone. The whole little thing. It was very, very cool. And those experiences become ingrained in your DNA.”
All of it part of a school’s proud history worth preserving.
“I think the school’s better now than it was when I was there,” Londregan said. “Just the one-on-one with the teachers is better. The older kids are like older brothers and sisters to the younger kids. They give them rides. They look out for them.
“When it was 1,200 kids and I was a freshman, no seniors knew my name. But now, all the kids — all 400 kids — know the names of all the other 399 kids in that school.”
There is a lesson there.
Thomas Farragher is a Globe columnist. He can reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.