MILLTOWN — It was a festive atmosphere inside the lobby at Saint Mark’s High School, where diocesan and school officials joined prominent alumni, current students and others as the school unveiled its $8 million capital campaign, “Renewing the Vision: The Campaign for Saint Mark’s High School” on Sept. 28.
School president Tom Fertal outlined the work that will take place as a result of this campaign, including some projects that are already under way. Fertal was accompanied by pulsating music, Saint Mark’s mascot Markus and the cheerleaders during his 25-minute presentation.
His big announcement was that the campaign has already secured pledges totaling $5,477,800 toward the goal, courtesy of 60 individuals. The lead gift came from longtime Saint Mark’s supporters Steve and Lisa Hyde, who committed $2 million. The Hydes were scheduled to attend, but they remained in Florida as Hurricane Ian made landfall earlier in the day.
The crowd included Gov. John Carney, a member of the Class of 1974; his brother Mike is one of the campaign chairs, along with Patricia Curtin-White. Both are alumni and parents of graduates. Carney’s mother, Ann, and Barbara Reilly, who sent a combined 19 children to the school, are honorary co-chairs.
Others in attendance included superintendent of schools Louis De Angelo; state Rep. Mike Ramone, a graduate; former longtime chaplain Father Greg Corrigan; Father Tim Nolan, also an alum; and Bishop Koenig. The bishop said he has learned during his year-plus in the diocese how much people identify with their high school.
“It makes sense,” he said. “A high school is such an important part of who we become as adults.”
Fertal emphasized the importance of the campaign.
“This is game-changing,” Fertal told the crowd. “Everything that we do is an investment in the students. That’s been the Spartan way since the very beginning.”
The work will touch on nearly every aspect of student life at Saint Mark’s. Improvements to innovation and technology will include the creation of a robotics lab and makerspace; the development of a multipurpose media and broadcast studio; an augmented reality learning lab; and an e-sports center. The e-sports center is expected to be finished in October.
The fine and performing arts will receive a renovated theater control room; sound and lighting upgrades; renovation of the lower stagecraft, dressing rooms and orchestra pit; a new art studio; and an upgraded band room. Some of that work has been completed.
Campus ministry will be addressed. A low-ropes/leadership challenge course will be installed, and it will be available to all elementary school students in the Diocese of Wilmington. Saint Mark’s will create an outdoor gathering space with a pavilion where the convent used to stand. There will be the creation of the Shrine of Our Lady of Wilmington outdoors, which is in progress, and the student leadership center will be renovated.
For athletics, a fitness and training center for all students will be built off the back of the school. A wrestling facility and multi-purpose space will be developed, and plans will be developed for outdoor athletic facilities.
In addition, the school will increase its endowment by $2 million, and $900,000 will go into the Fund for Saint Mark’s.
Work will be taking place over the next three years, Fertal said.
Fertal appealed to the rest of the Saint Mark’s community, including some 17,000 alumni, to invest in the school to help make this campaign a success. He noted that some had told him in recent years they wanted to see where the school was headed as enrollment trended downward for several years. It has increased 54 percent since his arrival four years ago.
“I hope we have shown you where things are going. I hope that we have shown you with the enrollment where things are going. I hope that we have shown you with the vision where things are going,” he said. “And now is the time.”
The campaign rollout got high marks from various people in attendance. Gov. Carney, who said his green tie was merely a coincidence, called the effort thus far “amazing. The spirit is back. One of the things that the school always had was an incredible school spirit from the first class. All of those initial Saint Mark’s graduates brought a spirit, developed a spirit here, and it’s obvious that that spirit’s back. It starts right from the president and principal all the way through.”
Ann White, the daughter of the campaign co-chair, graduated in 2015. She said there were approximately 250 students in her class, but she watched from college as the numbers fell. She is helping out as an assistant coach now for several sports, and the positive vibes are everywhere, she said.
“It’s very awesome to come back. Even like tonight, you just walk in and everyone’s really excited about being involved here. It’s really awesome to be a part of it,” White said.
She likes that the campaign touches on so many aspects of student life because it’s important to attract a variety of students.
For former Saint Mark’s teacher and administrator Terre Taylor, Saint Mark’s holds a special place in her heart, and to see it thriving again brings her great joy. Her father Gene Alessandrini, spent decades in administration, and her mother was a teacher and administrator. The family is synonymous with Saint Mark’s.
“On a personal level because of my family’s connection, it’s wonderful,” Taylor said. “I’m so happy. I grew up in this place. I feel like this place raised me. To see it continue to flourish and to see it be prominent is very reassuring.”
She’s also a big believer in Catholic education, and that Saint Mark’s is doing what is necessary to serve future generations makes her very proud.
“It makes me happy that they still see a place where their kids can come and belong and be successful,” said Taylor, who noted that men and women she taught are now sending their children to the school.
All photos by Mike Lang.