From the 1850s through 1871 the bishops who oversaw Rhode Island (the Diocese of Providence was not formally created until 1872) begged the Christian Brothers to start a school in the state. Repeated requests by Bishop O’Reilly were politely turned down because the Brothers simply did not have enough manpower to start a new school in Rhode Island. The requests continued under O’Reilly’s successor Bishop Francis McFarland. Finally, in 1866, the American Provincial of the Christian Brothers promised that as soon as he could spare them, he would send some Brothers to open a school in Providence sponsored by the Diocese. Filled with hope for the future, Bishop McFarland struggled to raise revenue to purchase property that would be the site of a new school for the Brothers once they arrived. By 1870, McFarland had purchased and renovated a building on Fountain Street and had one of his priests, Fr. Henry Kinnerney, along with a lay faculty begin instruction at this building. But it was a school without identity or direction, an institution treading water until someone could provide it with an identity and mission.
In 1871, three brothers arrived in Providence to operate the school and instill it with the values of their order’s founder, St. John Baptist de La Salle. Brother Ptolemy (Dandurand) became the school’s first principal. The Brothers gave the school direction and purpose and a set of core values that the school still holds dear today. A school, our school, was born.
With the Brothers’ arrival in the fall of 1871 a new era was about to begin for Catholic education in the state. In 1876, Bishop Thomas Hendricken, who like his predecessors was deeply impressed by the devotion and dedication of the Christian Brothers, gave the school its official name, La Salle Academy, in honor of the founder of the Christian Brothers.