New president coming home to helm De La Salle

By: Cortney Casey | Warren Weekly | Published February 4, 2011


There’s one thing Brother Thomas Lackey will definitely be penciling into his schedule when he returns to Michigan after 17 years living out of state.

“I’m finally going to be able to spend some Saturdays in Ann Arbor,” quipped Lackey, an avid University of Michigan football fan who earned a master’s degree from the school.

In truth, Lackey’s looking forward to much more than just Wolverine football. Come July, he’ll take over the presidency at De La Salle Collegiate High School in Warren, the all-boys Catholic school where he earned his diploma and previously served as a teacher and administrator.

Brother Robert Carnaghi, the president of nine years, recently announced his plans to step down, effective at the end of the school year, and DLS’ Board of Trustees tapped Lackey to take his place.

Lackey, who grew up in the shadow of the Denby High School smokestack, still calls himself an “eastsider.” His father used to drop him off at DLS, located then in Detroit, on his way to work, and Lackey would, he admitted sheepishly, hitchhike home, a safer prospect in those days.

He graduated from DLS in 1965 and returned 10 years later to join the faculty as a teacher. He was there 17 of the subsequent 19 years, absent only while he attended U-M.

After obtaining a master’s degree, he returned as the academic assistant principal, then assistant principal for student affairs, a role he “really loved … because you can be stern, but at the same time, you can really help the kids in that position,” he said.

A year later, he became the principal. He remained there for nine years before leaving in 1994. In the period that followed, he took a sabbatical, earned a second master’s degree at the University of San Francisco, became principal and then president of St. Joe’s in Buffalo, N.Y.,and served as assistant provincial of the N.Y. District of the De La Salle Christian Brothers.

Currently, he’s director of Lasallian Formation for the United States Toronto Region. Based in Washington, D.C., he coordinates programs emphasizing the Lasallian philosophy at the Christian Brothers’ approximately 110 schools and ministries across the U.S. and in Canada.

“I love my job in Washington, I really do,” he said. “But I was approached by people in Michigan when they knew Brother Robert was going to retire, and they asked me to apply for the job. I thought that was rather nice that they did.”

Returning to DLS will represent a significant shift for Lackey, who was an administrator when the school relocated to Warren and as its population swelled by around 200 students in the post-Detroit years.

“I must admit, not having been in a school for nine years, it’s been difficult, because I was pretty good in my relationships with kids,” he said. “So although I’m not going to be teaching, at least I’m going to be in the school with kids.”

The president’s role, said Lackey, is to serve as “the public face of the school.”

“The principal is in charge of the day-to-day workings of the school,” he explained. “The real function of the president is to get to know alumni, get to tell the story of the school to parents, alumni, and then also fundraise.”
He cites DLS’ range of opportunities, from academic to extracurricular, as the basis of its uniqueness.

“For me, I think it’s the way … it’s not an elitist-type place,” he said. “There should be something for every student.”

Carnaghi, meanwhile, led the school through a $7-million renovation and oversaw the growth of the school’s Planned Giving Program to more then $4 million in “known expectancies.”

He identified the school’s new academic wing and the establishment of DLS’ Brother Robert Activity Center in the former YMCA facility a few miles from the school grounds as highlights during his tenure.

The rare availability of a Christian Brother — Lackey — to take his place was a driving factor behind the decision to move on, said Carnaghi.

“After nine years, too, I think it’s time for someone with fresh ideas to come in,” he said.

But he won’t be going far. He plans to remain closely involved with the school, increasing the number of full-time Christian Brothers among DLS’ ranks to five. He said he looks forward to dealing more directly with students, a role he said he prefers.

“I’m sure I’ll assist the new president, in certain ways … but mainly, I will be available in some guidance and tutoring of a special group of students who might struggle with their studies and might need a little extra time,” he said.

Principal Patrick Adams said he’s glad Carnaghi intends to maintain close ties to DLS.

“Brother Bob has touched the lives of countless young men here at De La Salle,” he said. “He is the heart and soul of the school, and I am very pleased that he will continue to work with students next year.”