St. Ray’s hon­or­ing grad, 9/11 vic­tim School ded­i­cat­ing re­fur­bished West cafe­te­ria in Shawn Nas­saney’s name

Pawtucket Times - - FRONT PAGE - By JONATHAN BISSONNETTE jbis­son­nette@paw­tuck­et­

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.”


Pho­tos by Ernest A. Brown

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.

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