Congregation of the Holy Cross brothers ending a more than 50-year presence at the boys’ school
WILMINGTON — St. Edmond’s Academy has been educating boys since 1959, and for all but a few of those years, brothers from the Congregation of the Holy Cross have been part of the school. That era came to an end with the Class of 2016, as the three remaining brothers will be leaving Wilmington on July 27.
Brothers Michael Smith, Thomas Meany and Joseph Ash have spent a combined 114 years on the north Wilmington campus as teachers, administrators, mentors and more. They, along with the Holy Cross leadership, decided it was time to make a change.
“They’ve been talking about it for a number of years, just to prepare us. Every year, the provincial visits, so he asks us what’s our five-year plan, or what do you plan in the future, or whatever,” Brother Tom said. He was at St. Edmond’s for 52 years, arriving a year and a half after the school moved to its current location on Veale Road.
“We’re all going to miss being here,” said Brother Michael, who served twice as headmaster for a combined 20 years. “As I always said, St. Edmond’s Academy is a special school. The students here are fantastic, the families are fantastic. The faculty is fantastic. We’re going to miss that.
“I personally am going to miss the Wilmington area. I have a lot of friends around here.”
Brother Joe originally came to St. Edmond’s for a year, “and I stayed for 37.” He said he never wanted to go elsewhere.
“These kids grow on you, and it’s just a wonderful relationship that you have with these kids. I miss teaching, but I know I can’t do it any more,” he said.
Brothers Joe and Tom are moving to the congregation’s property in Valatie, N.Y., about 20 miles south of Albany. It was once the site of the Holy Cross novitiate and is now a retreat center and home for retired brothers.
Brother Michael will be moving to South Bend, Ind., living at the seminary at the University of Notre Dame, which also is run by the Holy Cross fathers and brothers.
None of the three will lack for things to do. Brother Tom, the longtime transportation coordinator at St. Edmond’s, will be driving others from his congregation to doctors’ and other appointments. Brother Joe has lined up a job in pastoral care at St. Peter’s Hospital in Albany, similar to what he has done at St. Francis Hospital in Wilmington since retiring from full-time teaching.
At Valatie, there is plenty of land for activities such as gardening and horseback riding, and Brother Tom has already started moving his extensive model train collection to a barn on the property.
Brother Michael will teach freshmen at Notre Dame. He is also looking forward to attending Fighting Irish football games and catching up with Irish basketball coach Mike Brey, whose son attended St. Edmond’s while Brey was coaching at the University of Delaware.
“I’ve been out there before,” Brother Michael said. “I like the university and everything that it stands for.”
The men are spending this month packing up. Brother Tom is “packing for 52 years. He throws nothing away, so he has a lot to pack,” Brother Michael said.
“Because people usually come to ask me, ‘Do you have this? Do you have that?’” Brother Tom explained.
School in ‘good hands’
While there will be no Holy Cross brothers on campus, St. Edmond’s will remain a committed part of the congregation’s network of schools. Brian Ray, the headmaster, said a Holy Cross brother is assigned to work with and visit all the schools. St. Edmond’s representatives attend the Holy Cross Institute each year in Austin, Texas, where the institutions come together. Three Holy Cross brothers serve on the school’s corporate board.
The influence all the Holy Cross brothers have made on the school over the years will not go away, Ray said.
“The thumbprint they’ve left on this school is incredible. It permeates everything we do here. We have a lot of faculty and staff who’ve worked alongside these three men for almost their whole careers. They know what it means to be a Holy Cross school, they know what it means to continue in that,” Ray said.
“It’s never easy making that transition, but more and more Catholic schools are faced with that now. That’s just the reality of where we are.”
It’s up to the school staff — “I point to me, our leadership, all of our faculty and staff — to own that Holy Cross piece,” he continued.
Brother Michael said the brothers believe St. Edmond’s is in good hands. “They’ve been doing this for years already … in the spirit of Holy Cross.”
Ray said the school has built up a lot of momentum over the past few years, and enrollment last year was strong. St. Edmond’s is adding more busing options this year and has more summer camps this year. Attendance at theater productions has never been higher.
“I feel very good about the school where we are. We’ve got a good team here,” he said.
Brother Michael said a lot of the credit belongs to the board of directors. St. Edmond’s went through a period several years ago when enrollment declined precipitously, and the board steered the school through that period.
Brothers Tom and Joe said they look forward to visits from alumni, a group of whom already have a trip planned for August. Nick Sanna, a member of the Class of 1994, said he visits every summer. The brothers’ influence remains strong to this day.
“They were the foundation of the school, really. They set traditions and precedents that you see in these kids today,” said Sanna, now a teacher and the boys’ basketball coach at St. Mark’s High School. He was at St. Edmond’s in mid-June for a basketball camp.
“Their influences go way beyond the school setting here at St. Edmond’s. You see it with the alums in the community. You bring up Brother Joe’s name, or Brother David, or Brother Thomas, Brother Edward, those guys are legends. I think people will keep coming back just because of the education they got from those guys.”
One of Sanna’s former players at St. Mark’s, Andrew Spencer, attended St. Edmond’s for two years, graduating in 2012. He transferred in from a public school near his home in Pike Creek and said the daily commute and the tuition were worth the investment.
“The Holy Cross brothers instilled their faith and values into the school. They brought us up with that in teaching and athletics and theater and all that stuff. It made for a well-rounded group of boys who could bond together,” he said.