NO.saintssteelers02.122418

New Orleans Saints owner Gayle Benson waves to the fans during the pre-game before the game against Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday, Dec. 23, 2018, at Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans, LA.

Gayle Benson, the owner of the New Orleans Saints and Pelicans, will donate $5 million to Jesuit High School, the largest gift in the school's history.

Benson announced the multimillion-dollar gift on Thursday night as part of a kickoff to the school's "Minds & Hearts Enlightened Campaign," a major fundraising effort for the school.

Benson's gift will go toward improving the school's athletic facilities, and Jesuit's basketball arena will be renamed the Gayle and Tom Benson Arena in honor of her and her late husband.

On Friday, the Rev. Christopher Fronk, president of Jesuit, said Benson's donation "makes a tremendous difference" and will provide facilities "whose standards keep us on the forefront of Catholic education."

"We hope that the young men who enter the Gayle and Tom Benson Arena will be inspired by the Bensons’ commitment to the values of caring for others and finding the good in all people," he said. "These values have been a hallmark of the Bensons’ leadership in New Orleans.”

The new gym is one of six components of the school's fundraising campaign, which also includes Jesuit's endowment. Each year the school dispenses more than $700,000 in need-based scholarships to more than 160 families.

Students graduating from Jesuit over the last 10 years have received more than $200 million in college scholarship offers, the school said.

"A broad socioeconomic base within the student body maintains an environment at Jesuit that adequately reflects the world for which the students are being prepared and provides what is sometimes referred to as the education within the education," the school said.

The campaign will also bring lighting improvements, new desks and the addition of raised platforms in the front of each classroom. Selected classrooms will be outfitted for instruction in the arts.

Money will also be used to update the 1926 Residence building and add a new administration building.

Funds will also be used to construct a pedestrian bridge over Banks Street, a project aimed at connecting athletic facilities with the rest of the school that has been controversial with the Mid-City school's neighbors.

Dennis Lauscha, the president of the Saints, Pelicans and Dixie Beer, and Greg Bensel, the senior vice president for communications of both the Saints and Pelicans, are Jesuit graduates.

The $5 million gift is one in a long list of charitable contributions by the family.

In March 2018, The Advocate reported that the Gayle and Tom Benson Charitable Foundation, through which the family has routed much of its charitable work in recent years, has disbursed around $71.5 million since it was formed in 2007, according to its tax returns. 

Perhaps the largest donation by the Bensons came as gifts totaling $25 million to the Ochsner Health System to establish the Gayle and Tom Benson Cancer Center at the hospital’s main campus on Jefferson Highway.

New Orleans' Brother Martin High School — which was formed by the consolidation of Benson’s alma mater, St. Aloysius, and Cor Jesu — has received at least $10 million. Another $5 million went to St. Mary’s Dominican High School.


Follow Della Hasselle on Twitter, @dellahasselle.