BENNINGTON — With proposed improvements to Spinelli Field at Mount Anthony Union High School in the news, it seems fitting to look back at the man for whom that facility is named — the Rev. Vincent J. Spinelli, who served as principal of Bennington Catholic High School.
And as fate would have it, discussion of the field’s future comes nearly 56 years to the day of the plane crash that took Spinelli’s life and the lives of three other educators, on Sept. 20, 1965, in Mendon.
That crash also killed Mount Anthony Union High School Principal Ralf Kates, Molly Stark Elementary School Principal W. Philip Walker and curriculum consultant James H. Morgan.
Kates, for whom Kates Gym at MAU is named, was an avid pilot and had offered to fly the group to a meeting of the Vermont Headmasters’ Association in Montpelier. As detailed in former Banner reporter Derek Carson’s comprehensive look back at the crash in 2013, the group had at first decided against flying because of weather conditions, but then changed their minds based on an improvement in the forecast.
That improvement that didn’t materialize, and Kates, not accustomed to flying via instruments in low visibility, apparently became disoriented.
It was not until noon the following day that searchers found the wreckage of the single-engine plane.
A native of Scranton, Penn., Spinelli entered the priesthood after studying at the University of Miami, Fla., where he starred for the Hurricanes as a tackle his senior year. After teaching in Florida, he entered the Congregation of the Holy Cross in 1949 and was ordained on June 8, 1956.
He was assigned to Bennington Catholic in 1956, its second year of operation, teaching English and social studies before becoming assistant principal, athletic director, and finally, principal.
But Spinelli’s obituary, which ran on page 12 of the Wednesday, Sept. 22, 1965 Banner, also noted he was “one of the original executive committee of the Ford Foundation Cooperative Project for Curriculum Development,” the project that brought Morgan to Bennington.
As the somber editorial on Page 4 of that day’s paper reported, Spinelli had encouraged his school’s faculty to take part in the Ford Foundation Cooperative Project. He had also taken part in negotiations that led to the founding of Mount Anthony Union High School, winning assurances that Bennington Catholic students could take certain classes at MAU.
Days later, the Sept. 27, 1965, Banner tells us, an overflow crowd gathered at St. Francis de Sales Church for a funeral mass.
The Rev. Gerard Brennan, who had preceded Spinelli as principal at BCHS, said in his eulogy that Spinelli had shown dedication and loyalty to the school, and to Bennington youth, to the end.
“He died as he had lived: In the fulfillment of his duties as a priest and a principal,” Brennan said. “He was dedicated to the improvement of the school and to the service of the youth he loved so deeply. He was a true scholar and Christian. His compassion and heart were as large as his size.”