PROVIDENCE – More than 2000 proud graduates of La Salle Academy returned to their alma mater last weekend to mark the school’s 140th anniversary and show their gratitude for the solid academic and spiritual foundation upon which they have built successful and happy lives.
Since its founding, more than 25,000 students have graduated from the school, which became co-educational in 1984 with the merger of La Salle with St. Mary of the Visitation Academy and St. Patrick High School.
The anniversary celebration included tours of the school, rededication of the John Cronin Athletic Field and Lou Cimini Athletic Complex, Anniversary Dinner, Anniversary Mass and brunch, and a school play that chronicled La Salle’s colorful history.
For Christian Brother Michael Mc Kenery, school president, the celebration was especially meaningful as he prepares to step down next July after serving as leader of the school for the past 14 years. Once his term ends next summer, Brother Mc Kenery will take a sabbatical and will then assume a new ministry.
Christian Brother Thomas Gerrow will become the school’s new president.
“I grew up in this neighborhood,” said Brother Mc Kenery, a 1957 La Salle graduate. “When I came back, it was like coming home.”
He emphasized that La Salle is “just not the brothers’ school,” but one where the entire Lasallian community – administration, faculty and staff – strive to develop a faith life in the tradition of the Catholic Church and in the vision and charism of St. John Baptist de La Salle, founder of the De La Salle Christian brothers.
“First and foremost we are a Catholic school,” Brother Mc Kenery said. “It’s not just one thing – it’s everything that makes La Salle Academy so special.”
La Salle Academy began in 1871 as a boy’s elementary school in downtown Providence, serving young men who belonged to the Cathedral and St. John parishes. Initially known as the “Brother’s School,” it was renamed La Salle Academy when its status changed from an elementary school to a high school.
As the academy’s reputation grew, the building located at the corner of Fountain Street and Broadway could no longer accommodate the school’s burgeoning population. Bishop William Hickey granted approval for a new facility on Academy Avenue, which was dedicated in 1925.
In 1989, the governance of the school was transferred from the Diocese of Providence to a newly formed nonprofit corporation comprised of six De La Salle Christian Brothers, which has jurisdiction over the management and operation of the academy.
Last weekend, alumni from all parts of the country returned to their alma mater to meet good friends and reminisce about their experience at the beloved school.
Rhode Island Supreme Court Justice William P. Robinson, a member of the La Salle Class of ’56, said returning to the school for the anniversary celebration and seeing classmates and friends brought back many memories.
“I have a lot to be thankful for,” Justice Robinson said, after attending the Anniversary Mass. “Today is a day of thanksgiving.”
Reflecting on his experience at La Salle, the justice noted that his education was intellectually challenging, built character and helped him to develop good study habits that served him well as he pursued collegiate and legal studies.
Stephen Lepre, Class of ’67, recalled La Salle’s “spirit of faith, hope, charity and goodness”– as well as a football injury during his sophomore year which inspired him to pursue a life of service to others as a physical therapist.
He added that the values taught at the academy reinforced the principles taught at home.
Lepre, a member of the school’s Hall of Fame, and a former member of the academy’s Board of Regents, has also served on several fundraising committees.
“I want to give back what they have given me,” he emphasized. Lepre said he was always inspired by the Christian Brothers’ commitment to providing a solid, values-based education to students from less affluent families who might otherwise not be able to afford the cost of a private school education.
David Lucas, Class of ’58, who served as chairman of the celebration, added that he made many lifelong friends at La Salle.
“Without this as the basis of my education, I would not have gone as far as I have,” Lucas said, adding that his father George was a member of the Class of 1927, his son John graduated in 1982, and his granddaughter Nicole Almeida will become the family’s fourth generation to graduate from La Salle when she completes her studies next May.
David Lucus added that his granddaughter has mixed feelings as her graduation approaches.
“She keeps telling me, ‘I want to graduate and go to college, but I don’t want to leave La Salle,’” Lucas shared.
Tim Welch,’93, the academy’s vice president for advancement, said that during the anniversary weekend, he was often told that “it was never just about the buildings”— although many of the structures are impressive, but rather about the people – the brothers, teachers, coaches and other staff members who have made a significant impact on their students’ lives.
Rebecca Ricci Simon, Class of ’91, said, “first and foremost, La Salle made me a leader.”
She recalled arriving at La Salle as a shy freshman, and over time, developing important leadership and speaking skills taught by caring, dedicated teachers.
“That changed the person who I was,” she recalled, adding that the influence of the Christian Brothers led to her choice to attend a Catholic college, Stonehill College.
The mother of three added that she married a classmate Louis Simon, and that she still enjoys the friendship of many La Salle graduates.
Bishop Francis X. Roque, a member of the Class of 1948, was main celebrant of the Anniversary Mass, celebrated in the Mc Kenery Arts Center Theater. In his homily, Father Michael Najim, school chaplain and director of vocations for the Diocese of Providence, told worshippers that it was “providential” that in the day’s Gospel reading, Jesus presented the greatest commandment – love of God and love of neighbor.
“For 140 years, La Salle Academy has been doing just that – inspiring young people to grow in their love of God and their love of their fellow human beings,” Father Najim said.
“Love of God and neighbor is at the heart of La Salle Academy, “ he continued. “St. La Salle embodied it in his own life, and we see the vision of St. La Salle lived out in all the ways that La Salle Academy has nurtured faith, promoted Christian service, and built community.”
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