Celebrating 150 years of La Salle Academy history


PROVIDENCE — La Salle Academy has come quite a long way over the past 150 years, from its humble beginnings in a building on Fountain Street known as “The Brothers’ School,” in recognition of the three Christian Brothers who arrived in Providence in 1871 to operate a school under the values of St. John Baptist de la Salle. One of those founders, Brother Ptolemy (Dandurand), became the school’s first principal.
Five years later, in 1876, deeply impressed by the Brothers’ commitment to provide local young men with a high quality Lasallian education, Bishop Thomas Hendricken, the first bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Providence, honored that commitment by naming the school La Salle Academy.
Over the next 45 years the student population continued to grow to the point where then-Bishop William Hickey decided in 1921 to purchase several acres of land at Hazard Farm in the northwest corner of Providence to begin construction of a larger building to house La Salle Academy.
The eventual dedication and opening of that building on the present school site, on Sept. 21, 1925, by Bishop Hickey, was a monumental event with 40,000 people in attendance.
Over the next six decades, La Salle Academy would continue to grow and inspire young minds to greatness. Graduates included future priests and bishops, Christian Brothers, judges, mayors, governors, U.S. senators, a U.S. attorney general, advisers to U.S. presidents, Pulitzer Prize-winning authors, TV hosts and professional athletes.
In 1983, the school entered a new dimension. Then-Bishop Louis E. Gelineau announced that two nearby all-girls schools — St. Mary’s of the Visitation and St. Patrick’s High School, would be merged into La Salle Academy, making it a coeducational school.
Three years later, La Salle adopted the president-principal model of leadership that continues to this day, with Brother Jerome Corrigan becoming La Salle’s first president and Brother Frederick Mueller taking the helm of day-to-day operations as principal. In 1989, the De la Salle Christian Brothers were given governance over La Salle by the Diocese of Providence.
Entering the new millennium, the school saw expansion beginning in 2002 with the opening of the McLaughlin Athletic Center and the Brother Michael McKenery Arts Center with the goals of expanding the horizons of La Salle students both physically and artistically.
In 2004, the Shea Science and Student Center was opened to keep the curriculum on the cutting edge of science education.
The last major renovation to the campus was 10 years ago, in 2011, when the Cronin Fields and Cimini Stadium were completely renovated and a competition track and synthetic surface field were installed.
Today, La Salle Academy boasts an enrollment of 1,465, including about 200 students in the school’s Middle School program. The male/female ratio of students is evenly split at 50/50. Of these students, 83% are Catholic while 17% are non-Catholic. The student/teacher ratio is 12:1 and the average class size is 21. Ninety-nine percent of La Salle students go on to pursue higher education.
The school features 64 athletic teams competing in 18 sports and offers 50 extracurricular clubs and activities.
The large campus, and all it has to offer, can be daunting to some students, especially if they’ve come to La Salle from a smaller elementary school.
Such was the case for sophomores Hailey Easton and Christina Day, who have known each other since they attended St. Rose of Lima School in Warwick.
“It was kind of scary,” Easton remembers of those early freshman days at La Salle. “We came from a class of 13 and it is so much bigger here.”
“We made friends pretty quickly though,” said Day, who aspires to be a criminal profiler.
“It’s an amazing community here, especially the teachers. I’ve been getting straight A’s.”
David DeMello, a sophomore who came to La Salle from Blessed Sacrament School, said he enjoys the many options available for classes in the arts, especially those in the areas of drama and visual arts.
All three say they are proud to be studying at La Salle as it marks its 150th anniversary, a milestone celebration which has been hampered by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The opening of the school’s sesquicentennial celebration was supposed to take place in October 2020 and conclude in 2021.
So far, according to Vice President of Institutional Advancement Tom Glavin, a La Salle Class of ‘70 alum, the school has so far hosted a series of athletic games in honor of the milestone anniversary, with a few additional events planned for the coming months.
On Thursday, Oct. 21, Bishop Thomas J. Tobin will celebrate Holy Mass for the La Salle community in honor of its 150th anniversary at the Cathedral of SS. Peter and Paul.
“We hope to have in excess of 100 students there,” Glavin said.
In November, La Salle will host sports Hall of Fame inductions.
The final event will be a gala dinner to close the celebration in April 2022.
Don Kavanagh, Class of ’69, who has served as principal of La Salle since 2000, said the school is “healthy, fiscally sound and populated by exceptional teachers, students and families.”
“It is a joyful place, sound in its values and mission, and is guided by a committed president and board of trustees. There is strong enrollment, with a campus that is beautiful, with highly functional facilities second to none. La Salle Academy has never been in better shape,” Kavanagh said.
For nearly 22 years he said he has been blessed to serve the La Salle community, even in the heart of the pandemic, whose challenges to education were immeasurable.
He said he found it deeply gratifying to see the unity of purpose and mission shared by all as they prepared to reopen both the high school and middle school and to keep them open.
“Trusting in the grace of God and supporting one another in an unprecedented way, I believe we did everything possible to serve our students and families,” Kavanagh said.
“Catholic education is stronger because of the faculty’s work and it will continue to be strong; I am simply thankful I could take a small part in that.”
Brother Dennis Malloy, FSC, succeeded Brother Thomas Gerrow, FSC, as president of La Salle on July 1, 2019.
“I have met so many alums in the last two years and five months and these men and women have really been the stalwarts of La Salle, which is as successful as it is today because of alums who are very committed and dedicated to their school and are very supportive of it financially,” Brother Malloy said.
He noted that 45 percent of students at La Salle receive significant high school tuition assistance, which the school is able to provide through its endowments.
“We’ve got kids here from families that are poor, that are working poor, that are working class and middle class, all those families need help,” he said.
La Salle is currently running a fundraising initiative to help support student aid called Generations: The Campaign for La Sale Students.
“It’s been very resonant with our alums,” Brother Malloy said.
Glavin said that beginning in 2012-2013 there was a renewed focus on building endowments, especially class endowments, as a way of making a high-quality La Salle education available to more students from across Rhode Island.
“It’s a great way for classes to leave a legacy for future generations,” he said.