St. Ray’s honoring grad, 9/11 victim School dedicating refurbished West cafeteria in Shawn Nassaney’s name
PAWTUCKET — Without email, smartphones, or social media at the time, the news came delayed to Michael Santilli, chair of the science department at Saint Raphael Academy. One of his former students, Shawn Nassaney, was one of the 2,996 victims who perished in the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
Santilli said that he learned of the terrorist attacks that morning via the school’s Channel One news and communication system. It wasn’t until the following morning when he learned that Nassaney was on United flight 175, bound for Hawaii with his girlfriend Lynn Goodchild, which was crashed into the South Tower of the World Trade Center in New York City.
“Unfortunately, that morning began with the prayer and it was explained that Shawn was on the plane,” Santilli recalled of coming to school on Sept. 12, 2001. “I was shocked, I think I was mostly sad. Of course it was a huge, shocking event but then it personalizes it.”
Nassaney, who was remembered by Santilli and other Saint Rays educators as an energetic yet gentle presence at the academy, will be commemorated by his alma mater on Monday when the school
dedicates its refurbished West cafeteria in his memory.
The cafeteria renovations took two months, from when summer vacation began in June until orientation in August. New floors were installed, a new dividing wall with tabletops and stools was added, a serving area was erected, and the interior of the dining hall was given new windows, lighting, and paint. Additionally, lockers once inside the cafeteria were moved to an exterior hallway.
Santilli taught Nassaney twice – once as a freshman and once as a senior – and he recalled that he had a large presence at the school while acting as a gentle leader among his friends and peers.
“He had a lot of gifts and talents,” Santilli remembered of the star cross-country runner. “He was confident, maybe because of the running, he certainly had a lot of family support, but he certainly added that to his community. He was never angry, never down, always upbeat. He had a wonderful, dynamic personality.”
Sister Regina Brennan, a religion teacher and guidance counselor who has been at Saint Rays since the fall of 1978, recalled Nassaney as a kind, warm, gentle presence in the school.
“You could see it in his face, in his person,” she said. “If you had many people gathered together, I don’t think any would be able to say a bad thing about him. He was just a very positive person, he definitely stands out.”
During a freshman year religion course, Brennan posed the question to Nassaney of what his favorite childhood memory was. Nassaney answered that it was when his two older brothers, Patrick and Ryan, put him inside a trash barrel, placed the cover on top, and rolled the barrel downhill.
“I don’t know if it was his happiest, but it was his most vivid one,” Brennan said with a smile. “I’m sure they did it lovingly.”
One of the trademarks of Brennan’s classes was for her to pose a series of questions to her students about their personalities, characteristics, and goals for the future. She wrote their answers down on index cards and as she held the index card from her question-andanswer session with Nassaney from more than 20 years ago, she began to reminisce about the Class of 1994 graduate and cross-country phenom.
“What he loved was to meet people from all over,” she said. “He said he was a doer, a saver versus a spender, an optimist, a talker, a leader. He’s careful, poised, outgoing, warm. It was important for him to be a good friend and cheer others up. He ran in all weather, he was an umpire for Little League baseball. He was an ambassador.”
In realizing she’d lost a former student in the 9/11 attacks, Brennan said it was a difficult time emotionally.
“He was just a solid citizen, a really fine young man,” she said. “He was kind, funny, light and easy. He was a quietly present person, but not so quiet that he was not known.”
In addition to the cafeteria dedication, a senior class award was named in Nassaney’s memory. The Shawn Nassaney Award is presented yearly to a graduate who, through his or her actions and spirit, consistently embodies the values of fellowship, tolerance, and respect for all, Saint Rays officials said.
Dedicating the cafeteria in Nassaney’s honor, Brennan says, shows that Saint Rays is proud to call him a graduate. Santilli added that it was indicative of who he was as a person.
“He was a big presence, this would be great for him and for the family,” Santilli said. “The family is also very humble, gentle, and kind and that’s obviously where he got his characteristics from.”
Santilli added: “There are some kids that very much blend in, he was not in that category really, but in a positive way.”
Above, Saint Raphael Academy students, passing outside of the West Building, head to their classes in Pawtucket Wednesday morning. Below, the recently-renovated cafeteria in the basement of the West Building on the campus of Saint Raphael Academy.