Kristen L. Byrd, Special to The Catholic Virginian
The iconic Benedictine bell that long towered over the school’s former Richmond city campus is sitting in storage – but not for long. On Friday, April 5, hundreds of past and present cadets converged on Benedictine College Preparatory High School’s campus in Goochland, where the school moved in 2013 from its Sheppard Street campus, to help launch the public phase of its capital campaign.
The Campaign for Benedictine is an endeavor to raise $20 million over the next five years in support of the all-male Catholic military high school. From the funds raised through the campaign, a bell tower will be erected and the tower’s cross will sit 160 feet above Highway 288, visible daily to tens of thousands of drivers.
At the launch event, alumni and students took turns signing the bell that is synonymous with the 108-year-old school. It is those men who are helping raise money for their school.
The campaign has three goals: construction of a state-of-the-art, multi-purpose gymnasium; growth to the existing endowment fund for student scholarships; and an additional endowment fund to assist faculty in pursuing higher education.
A new gymnasium has been a strategic goal of Benedictine for many years. Benedictine has used the gym at its previous location for basketball practices and games, commissioning, graduation and other activities.
In addition to its reputation of exceptional academics, rigorous discipline and focus on faith, Benedictine has a strong athletic presence in the area, with Grapes claiming it is arguably the best in the state. The 65,000-square-foot facility will seat approximately 2,000 guests and have a VIP skybox.
The gym will also honor students who joined the military, as well as students and coaches who made great achievements in Benedictine sports with a Hall of Valor and Hall of Fame. The halls will feature a combination of words and imagery that pay tribute to members’ legacies.
“We’re a really small school. And yet we’ve had almost 900 graduates who have gone on to serve in the military,” said Headmaster Jesse Grapes. “It says something about the appreciation for the values of our country that Benedictine men have identified with over the generations. We felt like we had a great opportunity to carve out a very special space that would honor the service of these men to our country.”
Three million dollars will be dedicated to scholarships for incoming and current students, starting this fall. Once those scholarships are fully funded, $120,000 in scholarships will be awarded each year, which equates to roughly 12-15 full and partial scholarships annually. These would help students who otherwise might not be able to afford tuition.
“It is the alumni who are driving this campaign,” said Benedictine Father Adrian Harmening, who has worked at Benedictine for 64 years. After serving in the Navy during World War II, Father Adrian studied to become a Benedictine and was ordained in 1955 — the year he came to teach at the school. He taught Latin, religious studies, history and chemistry before serving as principal for a quarter century. He is serving as honorary co-chair of the campaign, which he sees as vital to continuing Benedictine’s mission of instilling Catholic values in young men.
“Nothing makes me prouder than to see my former students appreciating the impact of Benedictine on their own lives and supporting the education of today’s generation of young men,” he said.
The campaign has already privately raised more than $14 million, largely through one-on-one conversations. Benedictine staff, alumni and volunteers have been meeting face-to-face with individuals and companies, explaining Benedictine’s mission and the impact donors could have on students.
“Through their charity, alumni are showing gratitude for the education they received and the fellowship and brotherhood that they formed while they were here,” said Grapes.
Instead of writing a blank check, donors have the opportunity to talk with Benedictine staff about the school and indicate the type of student they wish to support, e.g., a student with a high GPA or one who shows great promise in the leadership program.
The $1 million endowment for teachers will give them the opportunity to continue their education and pursue advanced degrees in their chosen fields.
“This will be an incentive to help us attract and retain the best teachers in all of Richmond,” Grapes said.
Three national campaign co-chairs have strong ties to Benedictine.
Joseph Swedish, former CEO of Anthem, graduated from Benedictine in 1969. Scott Carreras, CEO of Automatic Leasing Services, Inc., graduated in 1988 and has two sons who are students at Benedictine. Smithfield Foods CEO Ken Sullivan’s son graduated from Benedictine in 2015. They are among those supporting Benedictine by donating their time, money and connections to the campaign.
“The military leadership and spiritual guidance at the heart of Benedictine’s core values helped me prosper both religiously and professionally by focusing on discipline and lifelong learning,” Swedish said. “The Campaign for Benedictine will have a transformational impact on Catholic education for generations to come.”
Grapes explained that though the school is building a gym, it’s not just about sports, and though the school will be offering more scholarships, it’s not just about classes. It’s about faith.
“It’s nice that we have a strong sports program. It’s nice that we have an amazing geometry teacher. But you can get sports and math at any school in America,” he said. “Statistics demonstrate that students who continue in their Catholic education and their participation in ceremonies are more likely to hold on to their faith and continue that beyond high school and into adulthood. And that is the most important thing. That’s the reason the school exists.”
Editor’s note: To learn more about the Campaign for Benedictine, visit www.benedictinecollegeprep.org/the-campaign-for-benedictine.