MAGNOLIA – For several years as St. Thomas More Academy struggled to find its footing as the newest Catholic high school in the diocese, and the only one in Delaware south of the canal, Bishop Michael A. Saltarelli stood firmly in the school’s corner. On Oct. 17, the school honored the memory of the late bishop during its Founders Day observances.
Joined by some of the school’s founders, leaders from the diocesan schools office and priests from around the diocese, Bishop Malooly blessed and renamed various areas of the school, most notably the Bishop Michael A. Saltarelli Gymnasium.
“He enjoyed attending sports events,” the bishop said of Bishop Saltarelli at Mass before the dedication.
More than that, Bishop Malooly said, Bishop Saltarelli had a special affinity for St. Thomas More Academy and for the saint himself.
Father James Lentini, the principal, noted on the school’s blog the support Bishop Saltarelli showed for the school during its formative years when prospects weren’t always bright.
“Early on, when the initial plan to open STM was faltering, Bishop Saltarelli stepped up and took the project under the wings of the diocese,” Father Lentini wrote. “He then committed many years of significant — and, indeed, unprecedented — financial support to STM to allow it time to grow and develop.”
John Grady, a lawyer who was among the school’s founders in attendance Monday, echoed Father Lentini’s thoughts.
“We had a few shaky days there in the very beginning, and he was the one who really committed to it,” he said.
Another founder in attendance was Brian Lessard, the president of Lessard Builders Inc., which helped with the design and construction of St. Thomas More. He said the Holy Spirit directed him and the others to work toward opening the school, “and then we got going and I was like, ‘How are we going to continue to do this?’”
Both Lessard and Grady continued to work at St. Thomas More after it opened, volunteering as the volleyball and tennis coach, respectively. Grady also was the volunteer athletic director. Lessard’s daughter, Katie, and Grady’s daughter, Mary, were in the first class at St. Thomas More.
Other areas of the school have been named for the parishes that send students to St. Thomas More, and they were blessed as well. Students and a priest from each of those parishes participated in Bishop Malooly’s blessing of each area.
Accordng to the school, 15 parishes are represented among the student population, from Our Lady of Fatima in New Castle to St. Luke’s-St. Andrew’s in Ocean City, Md. The largest number of students waited at the Holy Cross Circle, the center of the academic wing of the school. The Dover parish is the closest to Magnolia.
The lettering to mark each section of the school building was paid for and installed by junior Greg Manhard for his Eagle Scout project. He was recognized by the St. Thomas More community with a plaque presented to him by Bishop Malooly.
For Grady, the ceremony meant more than dedications. He said he was at a college reunion recently, and on the ride home, he said he wondered that he had done with his life, “and one of the things I’ve done is spent a lot of energy getting Thomas More started. It was a real accomplishment for all of us.”