PAWTUCKET — Shawn Nassaney was never the type to sit still. A 1994 graduate of St. Raphael Academy, Pawtucket, Shawn was known for his track ability and love of travel, attributes family members say suited him well at school and in the workplace and went along with a constant friendliness to everyone he met.
“He was the type of individual that if you gave him three minutes, he’d find something constructive to do,” said Patrick Nassaney, Shawn’s father, following a dedication ceremony at the school on Monday.
It was this adventurous spirit that led Shawn and his girlfriend, Lynn Goodchild, to board a flight bound for California from Logan Airport on the morning of September 11, 2001. United Airlines Flight 175 was flying over northern New Jersey when it was hijacked by terrorists and crashed into the South Tower of the World Trade Center at 9:03 a.m.
“It was 18 months before I looked at pictures from 9/11,” said Patrick, recalling the grief that overcame his family that morning.
On Monday, family members, administrators and alumni gathered to honor Shawn’s memory at the dedication of the Shawn Nassaney ’94 Cafeteria, a newly-renovated space that will bear his name and maintain his legacy for generations of future students. Principal Daniel Richard led the dedication ceremony on the lawn outside the West building, where the new cafeteria is housed.
“I know that he was an avid member of the Saints community who exemplified the Saints values of learning, leadership and service,” said Richard, who added that though he never met Shawn, he would have liked to go for a run with the young man he had heard so much about.
“Shawn figured out at a very early age what characteristics mattered and he set an example for others to follow,” he said.
Patrick Nassaney, a graduate of the class of 1964, expressed his admiration for the school where Shawn’s memory would now be memorialized, praising the merits of the Lasallian education that had benefitted both him and his son.
“In high school education, teaching is more than just imparting knowledge. Good grades are not the sole predicator of success and good self-esteem,” he said. “When freshmen come to St. Ray’s, they don’t find teachers, they find mentors.”
Following the dedication and ribbon-cutting, those in attendance made their way into the cafeteria, where school Chaplain Father Carl Fisette blessed the new space. Family members joined Patrick and Margaret Nassaney in touring the renovations, including the entryway outside the cafeteria, where a plaque bearing Shawn’s photo reminds all those who enter of the young man with the wide smile and outgoing personality.
Speaking with Rhode Island Catholic outside the cafeteria, Patrick said his son was known for that personality and made friends everywhere he went, even in other countries. Following his graduation from St. Ray’s, Shawn had attended Bryant University, where he ran cross-country and track, though he took greater pride in his academic accomplishments.
“He was more proud of his cum laude graduation than he was of his track achievements,” said Patrick.
After graduation, Shawn went on to work for American Power Conversion, now Schneider Electric, in West Kingston. He was eventually offered a position working for the company abroad and spent a year in Sydney, Australia, before returning to Rhode Island, a move that signaled both his success in the workplace and his desire to travel. At the age of 25, the young professional had already visited 25 countries and shared his love of travel with Lynn, whom he’d met at Bryant. The couple had been headed for a vacation in Hawaii when their plane was hijacked.
“Prior to 9/11, Margaret and I knew Shawn as a son,” said Patrick. “After 9/11, it’s like the coin flipped. We were getting phone calls from South Africa, people he met in Singapore. They’re telling us things and stories about him that we would have never known had 9/11 not happened.”
In the outpouring of grief and support following Shawn’s death, Patrick said they came to know their son as a coworker, classmate, fellow traveler and friend. The stories helped fill in the gaps of Shawn’s life but could never replace his presence for his family and those who had come to depend on his energy and personality in their daily lives.
“We would give up all the stories to have him back in a heartbeat,” said Patrick.
Shawn’s photo and his legacy are now memorialized at his high school alma mater, where future generations of St. Ray’s students will hear the stories and see the infectious smile of the young man for whom their cafeteria is named.