Saint Mary's School News

Saint Mary’s School Receives Transformational $1 Million Anonymous Challenge Grant

Gift will make a major impact at all-girls college preparatory high school by helping eliminate debt

Raleigh, N.C., March 30, 2021 – Saint Mary’s School is pleased to announce the receipt of a $1 million challenge gift made by an anonymous donor as a way to inspire others to support the all-girls college preparatory high school and help eliminate debt incurred from past strategic growth initiatives.

"We are thrilled and humbled by this generous challenge gift to Saint Mary's School," says Frank B. Holding, Jr. and Ruth E. Perry Holding '81C, chairs of the school's Saint Mary's Forever campaign. "By making a $1 million challenge during the quiet leadership phase of our campaign, this anonymous donor hopes to inspire others to give. All new gifts and pledges designated for debt reduction and secured by December 31, 2021, will count in this challenge and could mean a total gift of $2 million toward our goal of total debt elimination."

In 1998, under the leadership of former Board of Trustees Chair Aurelia Fulton Stafford '48HS '50C, Saint Mary's transitioned from a two-year high school and junior college program to a four-year college preparatory high school. Ten years later, Saint Mary's celebrated its 10th anniversary as an all-girls boarding and day school. At the time, the school's iconic Smedes Hall was in dire need of renovation. To ensure the building would stay online and to help attract boarding and day students, a commitment to renovate the central structure became key to growing enrollment.

"Through that intentional decision, the school accrued debt associated with the Smedes Hall renovation project – just as the recession hit in 2008 and Saint Mary's had launched its previous Beyond Imagination Capital Campaign,” explains Brendan O’Shea, Saint Mary’s head of school. "The school's strategic enrollment growth plans have led to our record enrollment since the school's transition to a boarding/day school for girls in grades 9-12 nearly 23 years ago. That success confirms those early and intentional decisions, and Saint Mary’s has demonstrated incredible focus in paying its debt down over the last decade. The school continues to be steadfast in this effort, which is why it became one of the top priorities of the Saint Mary's Forever campaign."

After learning about the three pillars of the campaign – financial sustainability, growing the endowment, and academic integration and innovation – an anonymous donor stepped forward to make this challenge gift in honor of Saint Mary’s alumna and Hollins University president, Mary Dana Hinton ’88HS.

"We knew choosing debt as a pillar of a campaign was a bold move," says Julie Ricciardi, Saint Mary's director of development. "Not many institutions do that; however, financial sustainability was a priority, and thus, the decision to include the elimination of our debt. Our anonymous donor appreciated its inclusion and felt inspired to challenge others in this important facet of the campaign. But the challenge grant also has parameters: we must raise a total of $1 million to debt elimination by the December 31 deadline. Otherwise, we will not receive the matching grant."

While the Saint Mary's Forever campaign has not been publicly launched, the anonymous $1 million challenge grant marks the eighth seven-figure gift to the campaign during its quiet phase, brings the total raised to more than $31 million since 2019, and puts the institution halfway to its aspirational campaign goal, which is yet to be announced.

"Ruth E. and I are proud to lead the Saint Mary's Forever campaign and to work with leadership donors like our anonymous friend who understands the importance of all-girls education and knows the impact a transformational gift like this can have on a small campus," Holding says. "By December 31, should we raise $1 million and this donor matches it with their own $1 million, the impact on our debt principal will have a significant effect on the campaign and in securing Saint Mary's forever."

Under the leadership of Frank B. Holding, Jr. and Ruth E. Perry Holding ’81C, William and Aurelia Monk, Nancy Kerr Thomason ’73HS ’75C, and Anna Zevenhuizen ’07, the Saint Mary’s Forever campaign steering committee is devising a campaign strategy to ensure the realization of Saint Mary's campus master plan and the sustainability of Saint Mary’s mission and vision for future generations. 

With the help of Raleigh-based campaign counsel Armstrong McGuire, campaign planning is focused on strategies to provide the resources to meet the objectives of the campus master plan. While details of the campaign plan continue to be refined, the steering committee’s initial work has had enormous success.

“We know the impact of an all-girls education can change the world," says incoming Interim Head of School Carol Killebrew. "We see it every day in our alumnae, and the power of the Saint Mary’s Forever campaign ensures we can continue to be a thought leader in all-girls education.”

To learn more about the Saint Mary's Forever campaign, click here.

For questions regarding the Saint Mary's Forever campaign, contact Julie Ricciardi, CFRE, Director of Development at or 919.424.4114.

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About Saint Mary’s School: Saint Mary's School in Raleigh, North Carolina, is an independent, Episcopal, college-preparatory, boarding and day school dedicated to academic excellence and personal achievement for girls in grades 9-12. Founded in 1842, the historic, residential 23-acre campus is located in the heart of North Carolina's capital city of Raleigh. With a mission to prepare girls for college and life, Saint Mary’s immerses girls in a dynamic learning environment offering both hands-on classroom learning and opportunities for real-world experiences. Graduates leave Saint Mary’s prepared to flourish in college, continue a path of servant leadership, take on future challenges, and lead with purpose. Saint Mary's School inspires girls to step outside their comfort zones, engage their minds, amplify their voices, and discover who they are and who they want to become. For more information, visit