SOUTH KINGSTOWN—Faculty members, students and their families filled the gymnasium of Monsignor Clarke School Wednesday for a special mass to celebrate a successful end to the school year and to honor the school’s principal, John Finnegan, who after this school year will retire. “I’d put another 10 years into this,” Finnegan said following the retirement mass, as children happily greeted him on the lawn of Monsignor Clarke. “This place is great,” he continued. And judging by the explosive and enthusiastic applause for Finnegan that lasted well longer than the time typically allotted for a round of applause, it’s clear that feeling of admiration is mutual. Daniel Ferris, superintendent of Catholic Schools of the Diocese of Providence, addressed the crowd during Wednesday’s mass to express his appreciation of Finnegan. Ferris began with an excerpt from “Children Learn What they Live,” by Dorothy Nolte. “If children live with encouragement,” the poem goes, “they learn confidence. If children live with tolerance, they learn to be patient. If children live with praise, they learn to appreciate. If children live with acceptance, they learn to love. If children live with approval, they learn to like themselves. If children live with honesty, they learn to be truthful. If children live with security, they learn to have faith in themselves and others. If children live with friendliness, they learn the world is a nice place in which to live.” “If you listen really carefully,” Ferris continued, “I’m sure what you heard is a description of how Dr. Finnegan treats each and every one of you in this school.” A resident of Westerly, Finnegan was brought from All Saints Academy in Providence to Monsignor Clarke two years ago to help out with faculty training. He had been at All Saints Academy for eight years, following his 35-year career as a psychologist in the Westerly School District. Of the school’s many positive qualities, Finnegan said he’s especially appreciative of the flexibility of the faculty at Monsignor Clarke. “Catholic schools, like public schools, are experiencing a decline in enrollment,” Finnegan pointed out. The school currently has around 250 students enrolled—Finnegan said he’d like to see that number increase to 300 or 400. Because enrollment serves as a major source of the school’s revenue, the faculty at Monsignor Clarke has come up with clever new ways of generating revenue, Finnegan said. Business sponsorships is one way the school has been able to pull in dollars. “We’ve created vacation camps, summer camps, we rent the facility at night,” Finnegan added. “It’s a very extraordinary way for a school to operate.” Much of the land surrounding the school has also recently been sold and will be developed into four lots for houses. In addition to getting the school back up to capacity, Finnegan said he hopes Monsignor Clarke expands its programming and becomes a magnet school for visual and performing arts—in fact, the school has just hired a music teacher who will introduce theater instruction to the students. “Prout is already doing that,” Finnegan said. “We’re really the partner school of Prout, so if we could have a pre-K through 12 visual and performing arts school, I think that would be great.” Approximately 80 percent of the students who graduate from Monsignor Clarke move onto The Prout School. David Estes, head of school at Prout, took a few minutes during a reception following Wednesday’s mass to give his thanks to Finnegan for his dedication to the school. “John has been a great friend and a good mentor to me,” he said. “It’s great that he’s worked until the very end to make sure that things are set up for Monsignor Clarke for the future—he cares about the kids and wants to leave a great legacy and I think that’s going to happen.” “I’m going to miss him dearly,” he continued. Arthur Lisi, who is currently wrapping up his duties as principal of Alan Shawn Feinstein Middle School in Coventry, has been chosen to pick up the reins. Lisi, a resident of East Greenwich, will officially begin in his position of principal at Monsignor Clarke on July 1. “I think he’s going to be a fabulous fit,” Finnegan said of his replacement. As for Finnegan’s future endeavors, he plans to move to Florida with his wife. But as for actually retiring? Time will tell if that will ever happen. “Retirement isn’t actually in my vocabulary,” Finnegan said. “I’ll find something else to do.”
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