PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — It’s the end of an era for La Salle Academy.

Principal Donald Kavanagh is calling it a career after 22 years on the job.

The 70-year-old received the surprise of a lifetime Tuesday afternoon when he walked outside and saw nearly 1,500 students, faculty and staff holding signs and chanting his name.

“I was in shock,” Kavanagh recalled. “It was just a tremendous feeling.”

“It brought my whole career together in a lot of ways,” he continued. “All of those kids I’ve seen on the athletic field, or in shows, or in class, or in my office on occasion.”

It was a moment that Kavanagh will cherish for years to come. He started his career at La Salle in 1972 as an educator, and after two stints at Saint Raphael Academy in Pawtucket and Barrington High School, he returned in 2000 to serve as principal.

Kavanagh’s retirement isn’t going to be exactly as he’d imagined.

His wife, Christine Kavanagh, passed away back in January. She was the longtime director of the performing arts program at St. Mary Academy – Bay View.

“She was always putting on a show,” he said with a smile. “She was very creative.”

Kavanagh said he still thinks about his wife every single day, adding that he planned on spending his retirement traveling the world with her.

“The house is very quiet,” he said. “I’m not used to that.”

When asked what he’s going to miss most about his job, Kavanagh said “the activity.” His successor, Tim Welsh, officially takes over on July 1.

“I’m going to be going 100 miles an hour until June 10,” he said. “It will all slow down a little bit between June 10 and June 30, but after that, it all goes down to zero … There’s no real planning for me after that.”

Kavanagh said he will also miss the students, who have made his career worthwhile.

“I’ve always considered the students as part of my family,” he said.

And for the vast majority of La Salle students, the feeling is mutual.

As Kavanagh walked down the front steps, one student flashed a sign that read “LSA Legend.”

When asked why he thinks students consider him a legend, Kavanagh believes it’s because he lives and breathes La Salle’s core values.

“I really believe in what we do at La Salle every day,” he said. “One of the reasons I came back to La Salle was because I knew I had the opportunity to work in a place where I believed in the values, and I knew the community, in general, would buy into what we were trying to do … for me, it was a perfect match.”

Following the farewell celebration, Kavanagh was gifted the key to La Salle by Brother Dennis Malloy, who’s served as the school’s president since 2019.