A blessing from God and an answer to prayers is what the president of St. Mary's High School is calling an unprecedented gift of $2.5 million.
The gift came from the estate of a man who apparently had no connection to the all-boys archdiocesan high school in south St. Louis. It is the largest single donation in the school's 86-year history.
The donor, Harry B. Sieker, is a former engineer from Walnut Creek, Calif. Raised in Maplewood and a graduate of Washington University in St. Louis, Sieker did not attend St. Mary's High School. He never married and had no children.
"We spoke with his niece, who was his only surviving relative and lives in North Carolina," said Mike England, St. Mary's president. "She didn't know what the connection was to St. Mary's, why he had an affinity for the school, but she was happy the gift was going to do something very special for the school."
Sieker, whose gift seemed to drop from the sky, "is definitely an angel" for helping to continue the school's renaissance, England said. "It makes it even more important that we take advantage of the energy of the gift. A gift like this needs to be used to make as big a difference as we can make with it."
St. Mary's will take some time to decide how to be the best stewards of the funds, but it is seeking to make significant upgrades to its academic facilities in the areas of science, technology, engineering and mathematics, as well as other campus improvements.
St. Mary's began a plan in 2014 with several renovation projects, which included the addition of air conditioning systems for all classrooms, renovations to the cafeteria and locker rooms, and new administrative offices. In 2016, the school added a new $1.3 million turf field in addition to various stadium improvements.
At the top of the list right now is an overdue renovation of bathrooms at the school.
England said though the funds will help with physical upgrades, the money also could help with programs, scholarships and operations. St. Mary's board and the archdiocese are part of the consultation and approval process.
St. Mary's High School is an archdiocesan high school rooted in the Marianist tradition. Its comprehensive college preparatory curriculum is designed to prepare students for college and post-secondary life as well as address the development of the total student — intellectually, emotionally, physically and spiritually.
England said the 27-acre campus has potential for even more upgrades and for being a place for community engagement. "Just saying St. Mary's is an anchor in the neighborhood isn't enough. We have to be an active agent for change. That's what we've been doing and we look forward to doing more in the future," he said.