WILMINGTON, Del. (The Dialog) - Parents, alumni, students and officials at Archmere Academy are ready to put weeks of controversy and discord behind them after the school’s board of trustees reversed its plans to name a new student center in honor of the parents of developer Louis Capano Jr.
The board’s announcement - after an agreement reached with Capano at a
meeting at the school - came after intense and sustained
protests from a group of parents, alumni, and students who were upset
that the Capano family name would be attached to the Student Life Center.
Archmere officials now move to the task of naming the building, figuring out how to honor Capano’s gift, and repairing relations with parents and alumni.
“The healing has begun,” Thomas Mallon, Archmere’s development director,said.
Capano, a 1969 Archmere graduate, had been granted naming rights after
pledging $1 million to the school’s $6-million capital campaign last
fall. He is a younger brother of Thomas Capano, also an Archmere
graduate and a former high-profile Wilmington attorney who is serving a
life sentence in prison for the murder of Anne Marie Fahey. Archmere’s
announcement came on the eve of the 10th anniversary of the
murder of Fahey, 30, who had broken off a romantic relationship with
Thomas Capano. She was then-Gov. Thomas Carper’s scheduling secretary at the time of her murder.
Thomas Capano was convicted of murdering Fahey after Louis and another
brother, Gerard, cooperated with prosecutors by admitting they helped
their brother cover up the crime. Both Louis and Gerard Capano were
sentenced to probation. The case spawned several books and TV shows, and the Capano name continues to generate strong feelings in and around
In its statement, Archmere said Louis Capano Jr. “offered the
board the opportunity to name the Student Life Center in honor of a
religious figure of historic significance to the school.” Archmere’s board was preparing to meet “to discuss the naming of the new facility and the appropriate means of recognizing, in some other way, Mr. Capano’s gift in honor of his parents,” according to the statement.
Louis Capano Sr., a respected home builder, died in 1980; his wife,
Marguerite, is 82.
In a statement on its Web site (protectarchmereslegacy.com), the
parent-led group that opposed naming the building after the Capanos said it was “extremely gratified” by the announcement. “It is regrettable that Archmere’s reputation has suffered so much as a result of the original decision,” the group said. “We are grateful to the more than 900 people in the Archmere community and beyond who joined our cause and spoke up to protect Archmere’s legacy. … We look forward to hearing more details about the naming of the building, and about how Archmere plans to honor the Capano gift.” Organizers of the group were unavailable or declined to comment further as of press time.
The controversy attracted national media attention. “Forgiveness for
sale?” - the title of a June 19 report on ABC’s “Nightline” program -
was a typical angle of the coverage, which also included stories in The
Wall Street Journal and on CNN.
Some members of the Archmere board had said the decision to grant naming rights to Louis Capano Jr. was done in the Catholic spirit of forgiveness.
Louis Capano Jr. has made a similar $1 million donation to St. Edmond’s
Academy in Wilmington for a new gymnasium that is also to be named for
his parents. Headmaster Michael Marinelli has said the private
elementary school has no plans to revisit that decision. Marinelli could not be reached, but a school spokeswoman said “at this point in
time our headmaster and board of directors have no comment on the
Board ‘failed to get out story’ behind decision
Tony Flynn, a member of Archmere’s board who graduated from the school
the same year as Louis Capano Jr., said that in hindsight the
board did not communicate well enough its original decision to grant the naming rights to Capano.
Despite “unanimous” approval last fall from the board, the capital
campaign committee, and other school groups that included parents and
alumni, “we probably needed to have some better way than to take
soundings and do some research on how this might be received,” Flynn said.
“We also failed to get out the story about why Louis’s parents were
appropriate honorees,” Flynn said. He said Louis Capano Sr. “was a
universally respected businessman in the community. There were 2,000
people at his funeral at St. Anthony’s. He did endless good works for
the church in general and Archmere and St. Edmond’s in particular.” Both parents were close to the Norbertine priests who operate Archmere, he said.
But the parents’ reputation, Flynn said, “could not be taken in
isolation. Unfortunately, the sins of their sons were visited upon them.”
Said Mallon: “We underestimated the passion in the community.”
Capano Jr. “understood that something harmful was coming to our school”
in the form of divisions within the school community, Mallon said. “He
stepped up and opted to eliminate the harm.”
Archmere initially planned to name the building after Delaware Sen.
Joseph Biden, an Archmere graduate and longtime supporter of the school.
That plan was scrapped after Bishop Saltarelli, a member of Archmere’s
corporate board but not its board of trustees, opposed it because of
Biden’s views on keeping abortion legal. The bishop cited a 2004
statement by the U.S. bishops about Catholics in political life, which
says that “Catholic institutions should not honor those who act in
defiance of our fundamental moral principles.”
Archmere”s statement included comments from board chairwoman
Rosalie Mirenda. “In the days ahead,” she said, “we invite everyone in
the Archmere community to help us emerge from this controversy with a
renewed commitment to the school we all love.”
Assistant editor Joseph Ryan and reporter Gary Morton contributed to
This story was made available to Catholic Online by permission of The Dialog (www.cdow.org), the official newspaper of the Diocese of Wilmington, Del.