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$10M donated to St. Dominic school

Denise Smith and Cecilia St. John, principals at

Denise Smith and Cecilia St. John, principals at St. Dominic School in Oyster Bay, stand outside the school's convent building. (March 17, 2011) Credit: Danielle Finkelstein

For a parochial school system with 630 students, the new donation of $10 million -- a size usually reserved for colleges and universities -- was breathtaking.

"It was very humbling, especially this level, which is transformative," said Vincent Torti, parish development director for the Church of St. Dominic in Oyster Bay hamlet.

A parish family that wishes to remain anonymous recently agreed to donate $7.5 million to convert a deteriorating and mostly vacant convent building on the Anstice Street campus into a Science & Technology Center for St. Dominic students from elementary grades through high school. The rest of the donated money is earmarked for matching funds for scholarships and other programs.

"It's great to not be able to put the burden on the parish to redevelop this piece of property," said the Rev. Kevin M. Smith, pastor of St. Dominic. Besides vastly upgrading the schools' teaching capability, "it frees up classrooms for increased enrollment."

Torti said the gift is the largest the parish has received and might be the largest ever made to the Diocese of Rockville Centre.

"We are very grateful for this most generous of donations to St. Dominic's parish," said diocese spokesman Sean Dolan. "Bishop [William] Murphy personally thanked the donor and looks forward to working with the donor on the projects he'd like it to fund."

St. Dominic High School Principal Denise Smith said that after the three-story brick building is refurbished and reopens in the fall of 2012, it will contain six laboratories and two virtual-learning classrooms, one of which will include a theater and television studio. There also will be a general science lab for elementary school students and a mini-classroom for hands-on learning for the youngest students.

Space now used for science labs in the high school will be converted into computer and foreign language labs and used for other purposes.

The parish built the convent in 1942 after it invited nuns to create and run its schools, Smith said. After the nuns left in the late 1970s, the Vincentian Order used the building for priesthood students until two years ago. Then most of the building was closed because of continuing deterioration.

Now the convent houses only a teachers' lounge on the first floor and a development office on the second. Smith said the stained-glass windows in the closed chapel will be refurbished and used somewhere in the rehabilitated building.

When the order left, Smith said, "we resurrected an idea from 10 years ago to use this building as another one of our school buildings for science and technology." Trustee Anthony Nastasi approached the donor family.

"They wanted to do something big for the parish," Smith said. "They've been very generous over the years. They are businesspeople and they have been part of the Oyster Bay landscape for many years."

He said they did not want to be identified because "they want to keep the focus on the parish, not themselves."

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