St. John Neumann donor makes historic gift

Lydia Melli’s generosity will allow for a middle school expansion with state-of-the-art technology 

By Dan McWilliams

St. John Neumann Church and School in Farragut have received a historic gift to build a middle school expansion, which will include state-of-the-art educational spaces and resources for current students and accommodate the school’s growing student population. Additionally, the new expansion will provide space for parish youth and adult ministries to use.

The donor, Lydia Melli, has always been passionate about the lasting impact education can make on one’s life, as it did for her, according to a St. John Neumann statement. In 2022, Mrs. Melli initiated a conversation with SJN School leadership staff about how she could support students and teachers. This led to an endowment she established to provide student tuition assistance as well as resources for teachers’ salaries and professional development. In recognition of this endowment, the school leadership suite was named in honor of Mrs. Melli’s husband, Claude, who passed away in 2021.

“Lydia’s previous contributions to our parish and school will make a lifelong impact on our students, teachers, and parishioners. This new gift from Lydia is truly awe-inspiring,” said St. John Neumann pastor Father Joe Reed. “Lydia and Claude have established a remarkable legacy of sacrificial giving, service to others, and a commitment to the mission of our school and parish. I can’t overstate our gratitude for the Mellis’ generosity and the countless blessings this middle school expansion will bestow on generations of St. John Neumann students and parishioners.”

The 6,000-square-foot academic expansion will entail the creation of innovative learning spaces that accommodate evolving education needs. It will include a state-of-the-art classroom, collaborative study areas, a research STEM lab, and student gathering spaces. The expansion will seamlessly integrate with the existing campus architecture while embracing sustainable and energy-efficient design principles.

Ultimately, the expansion aims to enhance the overall educational experience, foster a dynamic learning environment for students and faculty, and create flexible spaces for parish youth and adult ministries and student before-and-after care. Most importantly, thanks to the gift, the expansion will be built without the parish and school taking on any debt, the parish statement said.

Community Tectonics is the architectural firm assigned to the expansion. Paola Martinez, a St. John Neumann parishioner and school parent, is serving as the lead architect. The planning phase will begin soon, with a goal of completing the expansion within the next two years.

In recognition of the Mellis’ gift, the middle school will be named the Lydia and Claude Melli Middle School Wing.

“I can’t overstate how great of an impact this gift will have on both the school and the parish,” Father Reed said. “Providing 6,000 square feet of new construction, including flexible spaces that can be used for a variety of purposes, enables us to significantly enhance our students’ educational experiences. Additionally, many of our parish ministries use the school throughout the year, so this benefits them tremendously as well.”

Rising middle school enrollment with more expected makes the gift timely, Father Reed said.

“Our school has experienced exponential growth in almost all grades over the last few years, so this provides space and resources we need now, and it enables us to accommodate the additional growth we expect to see over the next several years,” he said.

A “state-of-the-art classroom” means that “for design purposes . . . we will be incorporating the newest technology and products,” Father Reed said. “In a school classroom context, that means smart boards, occupancy sensors, safety features, movable furniture for different types of learning, LED lighting, and proper connections for telecom.”

The project will help not only STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) students, Father Reed added.

“The expansion will benefit all students as well as parishioners who use the space. It will include the STEM lab as one of the key resources, but many additional spaces to be used for a variety of purposes,” he said.

For more information on supporting St. John Neumann Church and School, contact Patrick Wade, director of development, at or 865-777-3410. To give online, visit

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