Home Education and Careers Salesianum School president Brendan Kennealey to step down next year after 10...

Salesianum School president Brendan Kennealey to step down next year after 10 years at his alma mater

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Fred Smith (second from right) holds up his diploma from Salesianum School, which he received on May 31 with the Class of 2019. Smith was supposed to graduate in 1954 but had to leave school before that happened. Smith is joined (from left) Oblate Father Chris Beretta, principal of Salesianum; Jim Owens, Smith’s classmate; and school president Brendan Kennealey.

WILMINGTON — Brendan Kennealey, the first lay president of Salesianum School, will be stepping down at the end of the current academic year, the school has announced. Kennealey has been at the school for 10 years.

According to Nicholas M. Marsini Jr., the chairman of the Salesianum board of trustees, Kennealey approached the board’s executive committee a year and a half ago to initiate the transition. They asked him to remain until the work at Abessinio Stadium was completed. The facility, which is nearing completion, would have hosted its first athletic event on Sept. 11, a soccer game against Brandywine. It will now likely be in late October. Having Kennealey around provided another benefit, Marsini wrote to the school community.

“We were fortunate that this extension coincided with the pandemic, providing additional stability and leadership when the school needed it most,” he said.

In an interview, Kennealey said when he arrived at Salesianum he never thought he would be president for 10 years. He said he felt like “my time had come” to move on.

“I had done a lot of the stuff I was hoping to accomplish. Not everything, but I was just looking for the next phase of my career,” he said.

A 1994 alumnus, Kennealey came to Salesianum from the Archdiocese of Boston, where he was an area superintendent of schools. According to the school, during his tenure he solidified the enrollment, financial position and fundraising while using “the Salesianum values of optimism, patience and gentleness to forge a leading role for Salesianum in the community, while encouraging all stakeholders to elevate their expectations of what was possible for the school.”

The school pointed to the development of Abessinio Stadium as a prime example. Under his leadership, Salesianum spearheaded the public/private partnership for the $25 million project. He helped bring together the school, the city of Wilmington, Delaware State Parks, donors and the community to make the stadium possible. According to Salesianum, it “was a job perfectly suited for Kennealey, who had a vision for its immense potential and the patience and skill to bring everyone to the table for the good of the community.”

Salesianum president Brendan Kennealey (left) and principal Oblate Father Christian Beretta greet students at a drive-through a few days before graduation in June 2020. (The Dialog/Mike Lang)

For the stadium, Kennealey helped secure separate gifts of $10 million and $16 million. Some of that money was earmarked for Salesianum’s endowment fund. Both gifts rank in the top six ever for a Catholic secondary school in the United States, and the school is the only one to appear on the list twice of the list of the 25 largest gifts.

He prioritized accessibility and the school’s mission to serve the working class of the region. According to Salesianum, financial aid awards increased 340 percent and annual giving nearly tripled. The school also has built a culture of inclusion and diversity. The number of students of color has increased threefold, and a review of the curriculum and strategic hirings have brought exposure to a variety of cultures and viewpoints, the school said. He is also credited with attracting quality faculty members and retaining them. The school offers performance-based compensation, 16 weeks of paid maternity leave, a covid fund for employees, and the new schoolhouse to support children of faculty doing virtual learning during the pandemic.

“Leading Salesianum has been a great honor, and I am deeply humbled and immensely grateful to this special school community for their support over the past 10 years,” Kennealey said in a statement. “Salesianum has always been an aspirational place, where students are introduced to opportunities they never imagined possible. I’m proud that we were able to expand upon that great legacy.”

He stressed in an interview that those accomplishments did not happen in a vacuum. From the day he arrived, one of his goals was to assemble the best group of employees he could.

“I was really focused on trying to build a team. In those days, I didn’t think I was going to be here as long,” he said. “I was very fortunate and was able to build a really amazing team, to be sure.

“My goal is that the place keeps going and doesn’t miss a beat and goes on to bigger and better things.”

A Connecticut native, he moved with his family to Wilmington, where he attended Immaculate Heart of Mary School for sixth through eighth grades. After graduating from Salesianum, Kennealey attended Boston College, earning a degree in psychology, and Harvard Business School, where he received an MBA. He began his career in education as a teacher at Nativity Preparatory School in Boston before becoming the founding principal of Nativity Preparatory School in New Bedford, Mass. He helped establish Nativity Prep in Wilmington before founding the Benebikira Sisters Foundation in 2004. The foundation raises awareness and funding for the sisters’ schools and health clinics in Rwanda.

He serves on the boards of the Benebikira Sisters Foundation, Ursuline Academy and DeSales University. He and his wife, Nicole, married just before he came to Salesianum; they have two daughters.

Kennealey said he is not sure of his next move, but he hopes to remain in the area. He is working on an idea for a startup business, but he is keeping his options open.