La Jollans Daniel and Mary McSweeney give $1.5 million to help fund new engineering building at Cathedral Catholic High School

Cathedral Catholic High School (CCHS), 5555 Del Mar Heights Road, dedicated its new Daniel and Mary McSweeney Engineering Building at a ceremony Jan. 9.

The complex will support the growing pre-engineering program at the school, which provides students with the skills needed to succeed in classes such as AP computer science, engineering design, AP physics and robotics.

“I’m always interested in how we make college preparatory education unique and meaningful for our students and certainly this building is an opportunity for our students to explore engineering in a real and meaningful way,” said CCHS principal Kevin Calkins.

La Jolla residents, and grandparents of current and alumni students of CCHS, the McSweeneys generously donated $1.5 million as the lead gift on the $2.5 million project. Six members of the McSweeney family have gone through CCHS and five have graduated so far — their grandson is a senior this year.

“I was an engineer by education and I felt very strongly that engineering provided me with an unusual background,” said Daniel McSweeney. “I understood math and that problem-solving, analytical mindset helped me in my business career my entire life. I figured if that helped me, maybe we could do the same thing and help other people.”

At the Jan. 9 ceremony, the McSweeneys received a commendation from the City of San Diego and District 1 City Council member Barbara Bry for their service to the community and dedication toward furthering academic excellence at the private school in Carmel Valley.

The new facility consists of three classrooms, a CAD (Computer Aided Design) lab, an electronics lab and a large indoor robotics arena with roll-up doors to take activities and explorations outside. Rancho Santa Fe residents Sarah and Jay Flatley sponsored the arena.

As the building is tucked in next to the visitors’ bleachers near the stadium field, the complex also includes new restrooms and a snack bar for visiting athletic teams.

Cathedral Catholic broke ground on the building just six months ago. Michael Trunzo, director of planned giving, said the school was blessed to get through the City process and build within that six-month period and the quick timeline was made possible with help from partners Gilliland Construction Management, W.E. O’ Neil Construction and Domusstudio Architecture.

“This building fits right in, it looks like it’s been part of the campus forever,” said Trunzo.

The vision behind the building began five years ago when CCHS president Stevan Laaperi was invited to check out a robot built by the school’s new robotics club. After seeing what students created and their success in competition, he realized the school might need to start putting money toward a robotics program. McSweeney was one of the original donors to get the robotics program started, and it operated out of a classroom for the first year and a half.

McSweeney invited Laaperi and others to visit the St. Edward High School in Cleveland, Ohio to see the kind of engineering and entrepreneur program he envisioned for CCHS. They came back from the trip armed with a dream to emulate the program — they built a curriculum around a pre-engineering program and moved into a small classroom and workshop space toward the back of campus, making use of the tight space available.

As the program continued to grow, Laaperi said they knew they had to do something more and explored the options of portables and modular buildings until McSweeney came forward.

“When I became president seven years ago, I had no idea if we were going to do any more building, but it’s driven by the programs ... by the donors,” Laaperi said. “We’re willing to take the risks to make sure that we’re becoming the very best possible school there is, particularly in Catholic education here in San Diego.”

Standing in front of the building that bears his and his wife’s names, McSweeney said he had always hoped to do something of this nature when looking at estate planning and exploring the possibilities of leaving a legacy.

“It’s so much nicer to be able to do something while you’re still living and be able to see what your work has provided and to participate in that,” McSweeney said.

Following the ceremony, Fr. Martin Latiff blessed the building with holy water and the McSweeneys were able to go inside and visit with students, who were making use of the classrooms for the first time.