The Pro-Abortion Legacy of a Prestigious Catholic Prep School

In what is becoming yet another scandal for the Catholic Church, Rhode Island’s governor, Gina Raimondo, joined a growing list of Catholic lawmakers embracing a woman’s access to late-term abortion. A graduate of Providence’s Catholic college prep school La Salle Academy, an institution that describes itself as “rich in history and grounded in the tradition of Catholic education,” Raimondo has the dubious distinction of being the most pro-abortion governor the State has ever elected. Pledging her support for House Bill 5127, the Reproductive Health Care Act, which would eliminate any constitutional restrictions on late-term abortion, and remove any constitutional restrictions on methods of abortion for the future, Raimondo has shown herself to be in favor of abortion up until the moment of birth—by any methods necessary to terminate the life of the unborn child.

To its credit, in an effort to distance the school from Raimondo’s pro-abortion politics, La Salle Academy had already removed the large framed photograph of their infamous graduate from their walls in 2014 when she began her pro-abortion crusade. But, in some ways, the damage has been done. We now know that La Salle’s own description as a school that is “grounded in the tradition of Catholic education” reveals that the school appears ambivalent about its mission. Like the dozens of Catholic colleges and universities who now describe themselves as “shaped” in the heritage of their Catholic founding, or “rooted” in the Catholic university tradition, La Salle chose its words carefully in order to reassure prospective students that its “rich history” will not get in the way of free and open inquiry.

Fr. Richard Neuhaus, the late editor of First Things, wrote in 2009: “When a school is haggling over its mission statement, it is a sure sign that it has already lost its way.” Identifying the strategies that some Catholic schools have used to redefine themselves, Fr. Neuhaus wrote that describing themselves as having been “shaped” by their “Catholic heritage” or, as La Salle does, by their “Catholic tradition” was a sign that the institutions were already distancing themselves from the Church.

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And, whether this is true in the case of La Salle we really cannot know. What we can know is that although the school is well-known for its academic excellence, La Salle has also become known for producing some of the most radical pro-abortion lawmakers in the country—including the notorious Rhode Island pro-abortion United States Senator Jack Reed (D-RI).

Indeed, as one of LaSalle’s most infamous graduates, Reed can always be relied upon to provide the pro-abortion votes on even the most extreme issues. Reed has a 100 percent pro-abortion voting record as rated by NARAL Pro-Choice America. To list just a few of his more notorious votes: on March 12, 2003, Reed voted NO on banning partial-birth abortion; on June 4, 2004, Reed voted to expand embryonic stem cell research; on March 13, 2008, Reed voted NO on prohibiting minors crossing state lines for abortion; and, a day later, Reed voted NO on defining the unborn child as eligible for SCHIP which would have provided medical insurance for the unborn child.

In September, 2014, La Salle not only removed Raimondo’s photo from the “Wall of Notables” in an attempt to distance itself from its most dishonorable graduates, but they also removed photographs of Senator Reed. However, it is difficult to understand why Reed’s photograph was still in place among the notable graduates in 2014 after his decade-long pro-abortion voting record.

The removal of the photographs has not stopped La Salle from touting the achievements of their graduates, and occasionally even inviting some of these graduates back to campus to help guide a new generation of students. On her own website, Governor Raimondo proudly lists her service on the Board of La Salle Academy—where she helped to shape its mission.

Even today, on the La Salle Academy website there remains a flattering profile of Tom Donilon, a 1973 graduate of La Salle Academy who, along with his brother Michael C. Donilon, also a graduate, has helped to elect and provide counsel to some of Washington, DC’s most notorious pro-abortion politicians. While it cannot be said that Donilon personally promoted the pro-abortion policies, he must be credited with promoting the pro-abortion politicians who did. A Democratic operative, Tom Donilon has worked closely as an advisor to Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, Joe Biden, and President Obama. Tom Donilon’s wife, Cathy Russell, was Jill Biden’s chief of staff, and Michael Donilon was a counselor to Vice President Biden.

In 1999, after a career in Democratic politics, Tom Donilon left government and became chief lobbyist for Fannie Mae where—the Washington Post points out—“he received millions over the next six years to advise the company and lobby Congress.” The Washington Post adds that “Donilon’s critics say he bears some of the blame for the company’s role in the economically disastrous mortgage fiasco.”

In addition to Donilon, La Salle graduates include Tad Devine, a Democratic political consultant and senior advisor for Al Gore’s 2000 presidential campaign and John Kerry’s 2004 presidential campaign.  Nicholas Mattiello, another La Salle graduate, and the current Democratic Speaker of the Rhode Island House of Representatives, unsuccessfully attempted to stay out of the fray over Governor Raimondo’s abortion push by claiming that he would not comment on the legislation until it had gone through committee process. To his credit, he has attempted in the past to keep the pro-abortion measures from coming to a vote and was quoted saying that a vote concerning reproductive rights would “utilize all the oxygen in the room.” While he identifies himself as “pro-life,” he was described by local media reporters last week as having “acknowledged the wide support for codifying current abortion protections into Rhode Island law.”

It is no wonder why, in 2014, a week after La Salle Academy removed the photo of then-candidate Gina Raimondo from its “Wall of Notables” following her support for abortion rights, the school decided to remove all photographs of notable graduates on display. La Salle’s President, Brother Thomas Gerrow, told reporters at The Providence Journal that all 25 photos were taken down “after the school’s board of trustees voted to remove them, believing they had become a distraction, rather than an inspiration, to learning… We’re running a school. We don’t need this kind of distraction.”

No school needs that kind of distraction. It would be unfair to dismiss the entire school because some of their most notable graduates are pro-abortion politicians. It is certainly possible that some of the “less notable” graduates are indeed pro-life faithful Catholics. Still, the fact remains—Rhode Island’s premier Catholic preparatory school has produced a disproportionate number of pro-abortion politicians. Even Pat Toomey, the pro-life Republican Senator from Pennsylvania and a graduate of La Salle Academy, was pro-choice before he ran for Congress. It seems the school was not even responsible for his decision to oppose abortion. Of course, it must be noted that even the “pro-life” Toomey rejects Catholic teachings that require us to respect and protect all life from conception until natural death because the Pennsylvania Senator has consistently qualified his “pro-life” stance with the statement that he is pro-life “except in particularly excruciating circumstances” like rape or endangering the life of the mother.

It is especially disheartening for Rhode Island’s faithful Catholics to see their once proudly Catholic state become one of the most pro-abortion states in the country—and to see their premier Catholic prep school produce some of the most pro-abortion politicians in the country. To his credit, Rhode Island Catholic Speaker of the House Mattiello has attempted to moderate the pro-abortion push in his State House. But his is a lonely voice in a state that is more and more rejecting any appeals to moderation.

At a pro-abortion rally in Rhode Island last July, the words “Bishop Tobin does not speak for Rhode Island” were projected onto the façade of the Rhode Island State House—a House that is filled with Catholic lawmakers like Raimondo who have obstinately rejected Catholic teachings on the sacredness of all life. Looking closely at the voting records of the Catholic lawmakers in the state, it seems that the message was superfluous. It is becoming increasingly clear that a majority of Rhode Island Catholic lawmakers no longer care what their own Church teaches about the sacredness of life. Whether the voters agree with them remains to be seen as the pro-life side has begun to gain ground—even in Rhode Island—and the pro-life generation comes of age.

(Photo credit: John Phelan / Wikimedia)


  • Anne Hendershott

    Anne Hendershott is Professor of Sociology and Director of the Veritas Center for Ethics in Public Life at Franciscan University of Steubenville, OH. She is the author of The Politics of Envy (Crisis Publications, 2020).

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