PROVIDENCE — For 97 years, the two-story red brick building on Gordon Avenue across from St. Michael Church has served as a place of learning, first as a parish school, and now as the home of Bishop McVinney School for the last 50 years.
Its classrooms have been filled with all the implements of learning — maps and globes, lab equipment and modern white boards. But in all that time, one thing has been missing, something that is a hallmark of most schools.
While thousands of students have recited the Pledge of Allegiance beneath the American flags mounted on the walls of their individual classrooms, Old Glory has never flown outside above the McVinney campus because the school, throughout its history, has never had a flagpole. Until now.
Thanks to the generosity of the statewide Knights of Columbus, a gleaming white, 35-foot maintenance free fiberglass flagpole now stands sentinel over the grounds of Bishop McVinney School.
It was during a meeting of the school’s board more than two years ago that the idea to finally install a flagpole was raised. But the school, which has had a long tradition of serving the families of the South Providence area with an affordable, quality Catholic education, didn’t have the extra $2,500 it would cost to have one installed.
Michael Benson, who serves as the supreme director on the Council Board of Directors of the Knights of Columbus, which oversees the Knights worldwide, is also a member of the Bishop McVinney School Board. He offered to help make the dream a reality, enlisting a great deal of support from his fellow Rhode Island Knights council members.
“We raised the money over a couple of years, and through small donations, $25 or $50 dollars at a time, it all added up and finally we were able to have enough funds to purchase the flagpole and have it installed properly,” Benson said.
Principal Lou Hebert told Benson how important it was for Bishop McVinney School — which draws students from a diverse neighborhood whose demographics encompass more than 30 different ethnicities, to have the American flag waving proudly over the school.
“Now, the American flag will signal that we’re all Americans now and we’re in this together,” Hebert said, describing the main objective of the mission to install a flagpole.
The principal also wanted the school flag, which represents its motto of producing peacemakers, to be flown on the new flagpole along with the American flag.
And thanks to the Knights, who raised the funds to install the pole and purchase the American flag, along with the Bishop McVinney School Board, which purchased the school flag, the dream has become a reality.
Providence College, which has a strong relationship with the school, this semester sent seven of its teaching program students to Bishop McVinney to assist and lead classes as needed. Hebert said that PC has also donated many computers to the school, along with the
large banner adorning the front of the school paying tribute to its 50th anniversary.
Father James Ruggieri, the pastor of St. Michael Parish, blessed and then dedicated the new flagpole following a schoolwide Mass for all ceremony attendees.
“We ask that you bless this flagpole that will raise for us the American flag, which is a sign of liberty and justice for all born and unborn. We also pray that the Bishop McVinney flag be a reminder to us of everyone’s mission here to be peacemakers,” Father Ruggieri said in leading the prayer.
“Bishop McVinney School is a community that has a firm foundation, a firm foundation of tradition — we’ll be celebrating soon 50 years — as a place of learning, a place of faith, a place of peacemaking. Jesus is also your foundation as a Catholic school, and that is very important. But you are also part of that foundation. Your very presence and your very being is another level of that foundation.”
Today, more than 170 students attend Bishop McVinney.
Earl Mahar, 84, was one of the many Knights of Columbus in attendance for the dedication.
Mahar was baptized at St. Michael the Archangel Church, across the street, and attended the former St. Michael School, the predecessor to what is now the diocesan Bishop McVinney School.
“There were 1,400 kids in there when I attended,” he recalled.
“This is just an honor, an honor and a privilege. As soon as they asked if I was going to be at the flag raising, I said, ‘I’ll be there.’ This is absolutely beautiful, it’s good to see the kids and everybody. It’s really great.”
Mahar, father of diocesan priest Father Christopher Mahar, said he started crying as the memories resurfaced as he walked around St. Michael Church for the Mass beforehand.
“I walked around the church today and I started crying. It was beautiful, absolutely beautiful. It’s been many years since I’ve been here. I walked all through the vestry and all the memories came back. I served solemn high Masses here all the way through high school.”
David Bebyn, the state deputy and an officer for the RI Knights of Columbus State Council, said the flagpole was partially funded through the Knights’ annual Charity Ball.
“We earmarked direct money to the flagpole project,” Bebyn said.
Immediate Past State Deputy David Quinn, who was baptized at nearby St. Michael Church, was pleased to see the long project come to fruition.
“I have a sense of relief that we finally got this project done and the flag is up,” he said.
Bob Gallant, a former master of the fourth degree, shared Quinn’s relief.
“This started just before I became master,” he said. “The two years I was master was spent trying to get this project done also. It’s finally here.”
Gallant said the flagpole is secured in a deep cement base and is meant to withstand winds of 135-m.p.h.
Hebert extended his appreciation to the Knights of Columbus, and the school’s generous benefactors, asking all gathered on behalf of the whole organization to give them a round of applause. He also thanked the Knights for donating 200 Pledge of Allegiance cards, each containing an American flag pin with the history of the Pledge of Allegiance, as well as the words to the national anthem, “The Star Bangled Banner.”
“They did a beautiful job,” he said.
Mallory Dunphy, who teaches art to grade K-8 and who also works in the school office, said this is a project that benefits everyone.
“It’s just a dream come true,” she said. “I think the flagpole has been a dream of Mr. Hebert for a long time and just to display the flags and even have the 50th anniversary banner up, it means a lot. The kids being out here gathering with everyone together is so special.”
Julianna Rojas was one of the two eighth-graders who had the honor of unfolding the American flag before it was hoisted to the top of the new flagpole for the first time.
“I think it was a good opportunity to be a part of the unfolding of the American flag,” she said.
The second eighth-grader, Dara Agramonte, said it was a special moment for her.
“It felt amazing. It was a great opportunity to be more a part of the community, so I really enjoyed it,” Agramonte said.