PROVIDENCE — Five core principles make up the Lasallian school tradition. An alumnus who has exemplified these principles and maintained strong ties to La Salle Academy in Providence can be nominated for induction into their Hall of Fame. On Nov. 9, nine alumni received this honor, two of whom embraced the principle of quality education within their chosen careers.
Both men claim 48 years in the field of education, with many of those served at their alma mater of La Salle Academy. Brother Frederick C. Mueller, FSC, Ed.D., and Donald Kavanagh even worked together at the school for several years as coordinator of faculty/staff professional development and Lasallian Formation and school principal, respectively.
Brother Mueller’s path to education coincided in a great way with his vocational story. Even in his younger years, he had considered a vocation to religious life, originally as a priest prior to attending La Salle. That school played an integral role in his vocation to a religious vocation.
When I-95 construction condemned his childhood home, his family’s forced relocation gave him the option of attending either Bishop Hendricken High School or La Salle Academy. His principal at the time, Sister Dominica, told him he would go to La Salle. During his time there, one of the brothers asked if he would like to spend a weekend at the novitiate, which he enjoyed enough to give religious life a try.
On the day he took his habit, Brother Mueller invited Sister Dominica to the ceremony and asked why she had encouraged him to go to La Salle. He said she was something of a “matchmaker” for his vocation. “She saw me as a religious brother.”
While studying at La Salle, he became interested in teaching and though he spent very little of his career in the classroom, he knows the enormous benefits of education.
“I think education is a key that unlocks doors,” Brother Mueller said.
In looking back at his formative years at La Salle, he notes how the brothers and teachers there took a “shy, quiet, bright” student and “helped me see my worth,” forming him into a leader.
When he became a Lasallian brother, he never expected to return to La Salle, but a brother remains obedient to his superiors, and in July 1987 was asked to return to serve as principal there until 1995, when he moved on to other educational work.
While serving as assistant superintendendent in the diocesan Catholic Schools Office, Brother Mueller was called back to La Salle, doing a job that he himself had declared needed to be added to the faculty: coordinator of faculty/staff professional development and Lasallian formation. There he worked with fellow inductee Kavanagh, principal at that time.
“Mine was a ministry of the hallways,” Brother Mueller remarked. During school days, he would stand outside his office and greet students during the school day, enjoying the opportunity to engage with young people.
Being nominated for the Hall of Fame came as a surprise for him. He said that he had never expected to be honored in this way and is humbled by it.
“I see my life dedicated to education to help young people become the persons they should be,” he said. “Education prepares young people for salvation in eternity, yes, but also to live a full life now.”
Being chosen for this accolade so soon after leaving La Salle – retiring last year – came as a surprise for Kavanagh.
“The Hall of Fame committee gets a lot of nominees, so for them to choose me, it was truly an honor,” he said. “It speaks to my entire career. I’ve had 53 years associated with the Christian Brothers.”
The highlight of his professional career, Kavanagh said, was being named an Affiliate Brother of the Christian Schools, an honor that must go to Rome for confirmation. Only one other person in the state of Rhode Island can claim that title.
However, he is not the first Kavanagh to be inducted in the La Salle Academy Hall of Fame, as his older brother Jim received that honor several years ago, and he professed his hope that he would follow in his brother’s footsteps in that way.
All through his career, he found high school students to be “fascinating” and said that changing schools and roles taught him that despite their different surroundings, students share much in common.
“The one constant is that kids of that age are not any different from school to school,” he noted.
He said that all students generally need someone to talk to about their interests and dreams. He has always enjoyed having conversations with students, listening to them and offering guidance when needed.
His listening ability, in fact, is what he considers his greatest contribution to the La Salle community. Through this charism, he demonstrated two of the other Lasallian principles during his time there: inclusive community and respect for all persons. As principal, he set up “safety nets” for students who needed extra assistance. Whether a teacher recommended a student or if they sought help on their own, they could always receive free tutoring through the academic resource program. He also began a student group based on diversity, where young people can talk about the issues facing them and share aspects of their culture with others, which has “led to deep conversations.”
As a college student, Kavanagh had wanted to teach history and coach track; he accomplished the latter. After graduation, no one seemed to be hiring history teachers, but when the vice principal at La Salle called with an offer in physical education, Kavanagh began his teaching career at his alma mater. Eventually he was called to teach anatomy and physiology, spending hours each night studying the subject just to stay ahead of the kids. “I ended up loving it; I spent 13 years teaching it.”
Brother Dennis Malloy, FSC, president of La Salle Academy commented on these two inductees, saying: “Brother Fred Mueller and Donald Kavanagh, former La Salle Academy principals, have demonstrated an unwavering dedication to the Lasallian mission. Through their selfless service and leadership, they have embodied the core values of our institution, inspiring countless individuals to live lives of faith, service, and community.”
He noted that as head administrators, Brother Mueller and Kavanagh played pivotal roles in providing a strong Catholic education to thousands of students.
“Their commitment to academic excellence and the spiritual growth of our students has left an indelible mark on our institution, shaping the minds and touching the hearts of generations who have walked through our doors,” Principal Tim Welsh added.
Other inductees for the evening were no less distinguished: Dr. Patrick T. Conley, Colonel Gerald F. Dillon, USA (Ret.), Robert A. DiMuccio, Barbara Cottam Garrahy, Wanda M. McLaughlin, David T. Miele, Esq. and W. Tyler Smith. All gave of themselves to the benefit of others and La Salle Academy.