Applications up; more students see school as their first choice


St. Raphael Academy

1/24/12 – Pawtucket, RI – Adapted from a story written by staff writer Ethan Shorey for “The Valley Breeze Newspaper.”

There are times in an institution’s history when a fresh perspective can make all the difference.

When Maryann Donohue-Lynch took the helm at St. Raphael Academy in September of 2010, she was assuming control of a school that in some ways was in a state of turmoil, seeing both a decline in enrollment and a drop in revenue in recent years.

The situation at St. Ray’s had become so grim that school officials were forced to fend off rumors that the institution might, like many other private Catholic schools in Rhode Island, be forced to shut down.

Just 16 months later, St. Ray’s is back in a big way, according to staff, who say Donohue-Lynch as president and principal has provided the shot in the arm the school needed for renewed greatness.

St. Ray’s is not only celebrating its second highest number of applicants in the past five years, a total of more than 300 for an anticipated freshman class of 110, according to Donohue-Lynch, but when this year’s process is complete, the school will accept its highest number of applications from students who view the school as their first choice.

“We’re trending very well,” she told The Breeze.

Total enrollment currently stands at less than 400, according to Donohue-Lynch, but she said plans are for that number to expand signficantly over the next few years.

There are many reasons why St. Ray’s overall is now in a healthier place than it’s been in a long time, said Donohue-Lynch, not the least of which has been a consistent effort since she came on board to “get the good word out about this hidden jewel, who we are and what we’re about.”

To go with a concerted advertising campaign, a certain level of economic recovery also appears to be helping to lift the school from its doldrums.

The minute a freshman steps onto St. Ray’s collegiate-style campus, said the principal, he or she can sense the excitement in the classroom, the family-like atmosphere, and the relentless emphasis on the student as a whole.

“The heart of a Lasallian school,” said Donohue-Lynch, is to focus on the “heart of students,” the “entire person, spiritually, intellectually, emotionally.”

“We do that and we do it very well,” she said.

While Donohue-Lynch is hesitant to take too much of the credit for St. Ray’s resurgence, Vice Principal Phil Solomon is eager to sing the praises of a woman he says has “re-energized” the faculty, staff and student body at the Catholic school.

“She should (take the credit),” said Solomon. “When you have a change in leadership there’s a fresh set of eyes to see how the school should be improved. She really reinvigorated the staff with her vision and dedication.”

Donohue-Lynch added that none of the good things that are happening at St. Ray’s would be possible without “the team effort” she’s seen from her first day on the job.

Students at St. Ray’s have also been incredible, she said, responding well to her opening promise that staff will listen if they simply “let us know what you want your school to be.”

A number of new initiatives have gotten off the ground, or are in the process of launching, at St. Ray’s since Donohue-Lynch was hired.

  • A new evaluation system was enacted in strong partnership with the teachers at the school. The level of collaboration with the teachers has been the “highest I’ve seen,” according to Solomon.
  • The curriculum continues to be revised to be more in line with what students will need “to be successful in the 21st century,” according to Donohue-Lynch. An after-school tutoring program has also been added.
  • The school’s international program has been expanded to include initiatives with China, South Korea and Spain.
  • A new hockey co-op with Providence Country Day and Wheeler School has strengthened the school’s hockey program for the long-term. * The school’s inaugural intramural sports program has given rise to new girls and boys volleyball teams. A swim team is also being formed.
  • A “Golden Rule” character development program was instituted last year to promote what a student should be and not necessarily what he or she shouldn’t be. At St. Ray’s it’s not about “anti-bullying,” said Donohue-Lynch, but about promoting “respect and reverence because we are all created in the image of God.”

The school’s Lasallian Catholic identity is “the heart of our success,” said Donohue-Lynch, and it will be that identity that leads St. Ray’s to flourish into the future.

Students who apply to St. Raphael Academy are attracted to a seven-building campus that makes them feel like they’re at a place of higher education, said Donohue-Lynch. Enrollment at the school is kept low to maintain the tremendous level of camaraderie that is on display from the classroom to the lunchroom.

There are few moments she enjoys more, said Donohue-Lynch, than when she looks out the window to see students bustling to their next building, arm-in-arm huddled together against the elements. Said the principal, where else can you find students who look forward to rainy days so they can make a fashion statement with their rain boots?

The diverse student body at St. Ray’s is not divided by race or culture, said Donohue-Lynch, but stand united toward the goal of participating in a diverse global society.

First opened in September of 1924, St. Raphael Academy is located on Walcott Street in Pawtucket’s Quality Hill neighborhood. The school is one of the Brothers of the Christian Schools.

St. Ray’s is the only co-ed secondary Catholic school to offer students the opportunity to participate in the Early Enrollment Program at Rhode Island College in addition to AP courses, according to leaders.

A remarkable 100 percent of students graduated from the college preparatory school last year, with 99 percent going on to higher education. Students are spread among three rigorous academic levels, each meant to cultivate strengths and pinpoint areas that need attention.

Faculty and staff are currently in the process of securing the revenue necessary to keep tuition at St. Ray’s, which stood at $10,400 this year, one of the most affordable in Rhode Island for a Catholic education, said Donohue-Lynch.

Inquiries, contributions to the school’s scholarship, sponsorship, and endowment program should be directed to Donohue-Lynch by e-mail, at, or by phone at 401-723-8100, ext. 114.

St. Ray’s will be accepting a limited number of transfer students for the next school year. For information regarding admission or transfer to the school, contact Shawn McKay, director of admissions, by calling 401-723-8100, ext. 116.