St. John's Prep: A Brief History
[See two discussions of Br. Ricardo 1 2
Brother Benjamin, as soon as he recognized the early popularity of St. John's, embarked on a building program. In the autumn of 1907, he initiated construction of a wood frame gymnasium which housed the basketball team until 1955 and since then has been used for many other purposes. In the spring of 1908, the present chapel was started as a rear addition to the Administration Building. This was completed in the fall of 1908.
It became evident in those early years that enrollment would continue to rise, so in the spring of 1910 construction began on Xavier Hall. This structure was completed in 1911. Xavier Hall housed 16 classrooms, a library and reading room, a study hall, an assembly hall, 50 private rooms and a dormitory room for about 80 beds.
According to the records, we have a similar Headmaster-Principal model in effect today as was in the early days. Our records tell us that while "Brother Benjamin guided the administrative finances and construction projects, Brother Thomas conducts St. John's toward a path of academic excellence." Needless to say, it was a momentous occasion for the Prep when on June 16, 1911, 21 young men received the first diplomas from St. John's.
The first school newspaper was published in 1912. Records show that alumni steadily increased in a three year period and, according to the school newspaper, 112 alums attended the first Alumni meeting. In addition to the various sports which were in place from the very beginning, other activities slowly began to surface in these early years. A 1914 newspaper reported that the first public debate by the students was held in the Peabody Town Hall before an audience of 700.
In 1914, with the resident population rising to 230 and an additional 100 day students, plans for another new building were put into motion. The Gavitt Farm, purchased the preceding year, became the site of Ryken Hall. The building was named after Theodore James Ryken, founder of the Xaverian Brothers. The cornerstone was laid in 1915 and the four-story structure was opened in September, 1916. The residential section of the building housed 150 students both in private rooms and in an open dormitory. The school wing of the building contained six large classrooms, study halls, club rooms and recreational facilities.
The opening of Ryken Hall completed the building program for Brother Benjamin. A remarkable man with a remarkable vision, along with the other dedicated Xaverian Brothers who labored with him, charted the course of St. John's a course that we are still on, and continually striving to improve upon, today.
Brother Benjamin left St. John's Prep in 1917 and his superiors missioned him to St. Xavier High School, Louisville, KY. Brother Norbert assumed the new Headmaster's role. As mentioned in the Concordia, regarding Brother Norbert. "It did not take long to know him as a Brother but it took less time to love him as a gentle, encouraging leader. He carried on the work of his predecessor in an excellent manner and there was always a working list of students."
New construction continued with Brother Norbert. Due to the increased numbers of students, there was need for additional dining room space. With the energy akin to that of Brother Benjamin, Brother Norbert oversaw the construction of a new dining hall building. Built in the style of an ancient Gothic dining hall, this new building with its beauty added so much to the campus. This building, referred to today as Memorial Dining Hall, contains two separate dining halls decorated to blend with its exterior appearance, a well equipped kitchen, and two additional rooms that serve as rooms for faculty dining and for campus ministry work. The second floor contains rooms that were used by the Brothers up to the middle eighties.
It was during Brother Norbert's tenure that certain campus clubs, which added so much to campus life, came into existence. These clubs supplemented the resident students social and recreational interests. The first two clubs were based on national fraternities: Alpha Delta Phi and Kappa Kappa. The two clubs became "great rivals" as one author phrased it. In 1919, the alpha Delta Phi club was allowed to have a banquet-dance, the first dance under Prep auspices. In 1923, the Sigma Nu club came into existence. Quoting from the 75th Anniversary booklet, The Sigma Nu of the late twenties and early thirties was a proud and powerful organization with membership of over 100. It hosted three club rooms, a gym of its own and a bowling alley in the basement of the former Ryken dormitory building. History recounts a humorous story - due to a conflict with the Headmaster over the use of rooms, the Sigma Nu club members offered to buy the Administration Building.
Needless to say, the offer was refused. To this day it's hard to say whether it was serious or just a bluff. Be we do know that many of the club members were in such a financial position that they could have followed through with their offer.
Brother Norbert served nine years as Headmaster. The normal term for Headmaster in those days was six years. In order for Brother Norbert to remain an extra term, His Eminence, William Cardinal O'Connell made a special request to Rome to secure a dispensation for Brother Norbert to serve another term. It certainly was evident that all were very pleased with Brother Norbert's efforts and this vote of confidence is just another indication of how people appreciated the work that was done by this wonderful person. Brother Norbert left St. John's in 1926 and assumed the position of Headmaster of Keith Academy in Lowell.
Brother Edmund has the distinction of being the first alumnus and former faculty member to become Headmaster. His term of office was not marked by great material expansion but as our seventy-fifth anniversary booklet describes him, "Brother Edmund was a kindly and zealous religious who labored unceasingly for a greater St. John's. To the students he was not so much a director, but a friend who knew them personally and intimately." Not only was Brother Edmund loved and respected by his students, his Brothers recognized his leadership skills and later appointed him President of Xaverian College, Principal of Mount St. Joseph's Baltimore and finally Provincial. Brother Ambrose succeeded Brother Edmund in 1929 and, during his tenure, expansion at St. John's continued. Through his leadership and foresight, the development of our present football stadium surrounded by our quarter-mile track became a reality. In 1930 St. John's was blessed by the addition of the Sisters of the Holy Redeemer to the staff. These sisters served as the dietitians and cooks for the students and the Brothers for the next twenty-one years. A remarkable group of women, all were born in Germany and had a wonderful spirit that permeated all aspects of campus life.
Brother Ambrose, through his constant encouragement, initiated new extracurricular activities, fraternities, and scholastic societies that carried St. John's up another rung on the ladder of success. Brother Ambrose had the facade of a very stern manner but he was innately a very kind and considerate person. In addition to the previously mentioned additions to campus, Brother Ambrose was responsible for the erection of the tennis court, the enlargement of the library, the renovation of the chapel, and the beatification of campus by way of landscaping.
Brother Ambrose left the Prep in 1934 and later went on to serve the Brothers first as Provincial and later as Superior General. Brother Aubert succeeded Brother Ambrose as Headmaster and held the post until 1940. Brother Aubert was a man with a generous heart and showed great concern for the students. He held fast to the mission statement handed down to him by his predecessors and held true to the religious devotion to which St. John's had long been dedicated. In 1937, under the direction of Brother Cuthbert, the Glee Club came into existence and their first performance was at the 30th Anniversary celebration.
Brother Aloysius succeeded Brother Aubert in 1940 and guided St. Johh's Prep through the trying years of World War II. Brother Aloysius was assisted by a very capable administrator, Brother Ricardo, who later became the eleventh Headmaster. During the war years it was common practice to allow students to complete their academic requirements in three years and one summer. We must remember that in those years, once a young man turned 18, he was required to enter the military. The term Prep School was always associated with a five-year program. In the 1940's, a large segment of the total enrollment consisted of five-year students, hence enrollment declined considerablly during the war years. In order to alleviate this problem, Brother aloysius and his administrator took two major steps in 1944: (1) established a 7th and 8th grade program which continued through the end of the war and (2) discontinued post-graduate studies in order to strenghthen the regular four-year program. For sports enthusiasts, it was during the summers of 1945-1946 that the Boston Yankee professional football team practiced on the St. John's Prep fields.
Brother William (for whom the Guild of St. William is named) became Headmaster in 1946. His term lasted only three years because, at the end of his first term, Brother William was appointed the Provincial of the American Province (at that time there was only one Province).
The first year of the post-war era showed a large increase in applications to the high school and as a result the administration terminated the junior high school program in 1947. At this time, Brother William began laying the ground work for the construction of Memorial Gymnasium. Brother Benjamin, the first Headmaster at St. John's Prep, assisted in this project as much as his health would allow.
As we continued to review the history of St. John's, some memorable legends have come to mind. Brother Aloysius directed school operations with a faculty of seventeen Brothers and lay teachers. Lay teachers of that era included Jim Daley, a social studies teacher and an outstanding track coach; Bob McCabe, a multi-sport coach; and Fred Mastrolia, football coach and social studies teacher, who helped out in numerous ways outside the classroom. We also cannot forget to mention Frank Sheehan, whose tenure brought him into the 1990s. In 1946, a young woman began her career at the Prep with Brother William. This woman, Eileen Larkin, retired in 1996 - after 50 years of dedicated service. A loyal and dedicated person, Eileen left a legacy, which will be remembered for a long time to come. In 1949, Brother Bertin became the eighth Headmaster. He surrounded himself with excellent assistants and an extraordinary staff. Names that come to mind during this era are Brothers Paul, Bosco, John Killin, Daniel, Cosmas, Pascal, Norman, Joseph Gerard, Samuel, and Gilbert. Together these giants carried on the excellence of St. John's Prep. Students of this era will undoubtedly remember the care they received from the school doctor, Dr. Cornelius Driscoll, and those who were sent to the infirmary will never forget the school nurse Mary McGauley.
To be assigned to St. John's when it had the boarding component was a difficult, yet very rewarding assignment, for a Brother. It was difficult in the sense that it was very demanding on one's time but rewarding in the sense that administrators affected the lives of those students assigned to them in a very special way. Personally, it was an experience of six years which I will never forget! Brother Bertin describes in a beautiful way the life of the Brothers assigned to the Prep in the 1940s:
"It is well to remember that Brothers assigned to St. John's in those years as active members of the faculty were expected to attend to the regular community exercises, prepare lessons, teach classes, serve as coaches or moderators of athletic teams or other activities, prefect study halls, dormitories, residence floors, dining halls, resident clubs, and various recreational and social activities in a non-stop program which started in September and, except for brief respites during school vacations, went on until mid-June. In addition, the Brothers were supposed to have time to rest, recreate, care for their personal needs, keep their habit collars clean and buttoned, and allow the students to see them in the evening as they were in the morning. No small feat!
"It was rather amazing and certainly a tribute to the dedication of these men that they responded as consistently well as they did!"
When Brother Gilroy became Headmaster, the Prep was emerging from the tightened economy of the early fifties and the need to renovate some of its buildings was urgent. Through the efforts of the parent organizations, these projects were completed. The past Sputnik era forced the administration to strengthen both the math and science curricula - the Prep was ahead of its time with Advanced Placement courses already in place so the students were prepared for these added changes. Brother Gilroy was very fortunate to have veteran administrators assist him with these changes in the curriculum. Some of the names that come to mind are Brothers Paul Francis, Edward Daniel, and Edwin.
The athletic teams of this era - such as the track and baseball teams - got the Prep into newspaper headlines. The talented baseball teams of the late fifties brought many a professional scout to campus.
Under Brother Gilroy's direction, resident life took a different turn. The numbers increased, renovations were made to accommodate the larger student body, and the whole social life of the program took on a new dimension.
In 1960, after five years of wonderful leadership, Brother Gilroy became the first provinicial of the newly formed American North Eastern Province of the Xaverian Brothers.
Brother Climacus (later known as Brother Harold Boyle) succeeded Brother Gilroy as Headmaster. It was during the beginning of Brother Climacus' term as Headmaster that the demographics of the Prep started to change. Resident and day students were becoming equal in number and there was a greater demand to increase the day population. It was then that the decision to add another facility to the campus was made. A new classroom facility as well as an auditorium were prioritized and we embarked upon our first capital campaign. This campaign provided enough money to get the two new buildings started.
Brother Benjamin Hall and Alumni Hall were completed during the 1964-65 school year. When the students returned from Christmas break that year, academics resumed in the new edifice equipped with a new library, three science laboratories, a language lab, thirty classrooms, and abundant office space. On May 22, 1965, Cardinal Cushing dedicated the two new buildings. This was fifty years after the dedication of Ryken Hall.
During Brother Climacus' tenure, the science and math curricula continued to grow, foreign language offerings increased and the Guidance Department was expanded.
I had the privilege of being at St. John's with Brother Climacus and I can attest to the fact that not only was he an excellent administrator but he was a genuine, wholesome human being. He practiced what he preached and, for me, he was one of the saints of that time. He allowed me to get my start in administration and for that I will always be grateful.
In 1965, Brother Climacus was elected to the Xaverian Brother General Council and later became our Superior General. As we continue along with our ninety-year history, the next "giant" to highlight is Brother Ricardo. Brother Ricardo became the eleventh Headmaster in July 1965 and remained in that role until June 1971. During this time, St. John's experienced some major changes - an expanded number of course offerings, extensive renovations of existing facilities (particularly in the areas in which our resident students lived), and a radical departure from the traditionally residential nature of St. John's - and all this during those difficult years of the late sixties!
When we speak of expanded course offerings, we are referring to exciting courses in art and dramatic arts as well as the wide spectrum of course offerings made available to our students through our unique Independent Study Program. In the area of facilities expansion, we refer to the remodeling of the original gym into a Student Union for use by the residential students during their off-school hours, extensive work in the Ryken and Xavier buildings for additional living quarters for the resident students, as well as renovations to the football stadium and several other playing fields. To house the art program in those days, a building we referred to as "the Colisseum" behind the tennis courts was converted into an art studio.
The nature of St. John's as a combined residential/day school was questioned during the late '60s. After considerable discussion and consultation, it became more apparent that if St. John's were to operate successfully into the future, it would best serve its clientele by becoming exclusively a day school. Surveys distributed among the Brothers within the province indicated that our manpower would no longer be able to staff the residential program and at the same time staff the strong academic program then in existence. In the late 1960's, the Board of Trustees instructed Brother Ricardo to phase out the program during the next several years - a difficult decision indeed and one that took a lot of faith and courage.
Removing an element that was so essential to the makeup of St. John's for almost seventy years raised a lot of doubt in the minds of people as to the future of the school. But at the time, in the minds of the Trustees, the best interests of St. John's were being served and, as we see today, we have reaped the benefits of this decision by continuing to serve a vibrant student body from a larger demographic area than in the '70s. Alumni reactions at that time were mixed and understandably so because St. John's, for them as resident students, was their home for four years. Also, alumni who resided out of state realized that their sons could not follow in their footsteps.
Not only did Brother Ricardo make extensive changes in the academic life of the school but he abolished the traditional dress code (suit coat and tie) and allowed the students to go to class in less formal attire. However, he still made sure they adhered to a dress code. This indeed caused a certain amount of consternation and in some circles outright indignation, but one must realize at those very difficult times, adapting to any change was very difficult for many people.
Another important change that occurred was increased athletic spirit. The 1967 and 1968 football teams were Class B State Champs. These two championships were certainly the beginning of a new age for Prep athletics, which soon added soccer, swimming and other programs that continue to breed success and pride.
Brother Ricardo had many proud years at the Prep upon which to reflect. When he left the Prep he continued his mark in Catholic education at the national level working at the National Catholic Education Association in Washington, D.C. Though ill health took its toll on Brother Ricardo during the past number of years, it didn't slow him down completely. He still managed to give advice on educational matters, traveled to see former students and teachers, and stayed in touch with his students from St. John's. Brother Ricardo passed away in 1997 and, to the end, served his Brothers admirably.
As we continue to look at ninety years through the tenure of each headmaster, the focus is now on Brother Joseph Smithers, C.F.X., who served as the twelfth Headmaster from 1971 to 1974. Brother Joseph began his term during the most difficult time in the Prep's history. The School was in transition from a resident to a day school and he was faced with the challenge posed by the relaxed culture of the time. Curriculum was adjusted to meet the demand for self-learning and an increased number of students of different religious faiths. While assuring alumni and faculty that core values would remain, he delicately balanced the cultural reality of the time. Facility re-tooling, due to the phase-out of the resident program, was a major issue. It was at this time, as much as any other in the Prep's history, that the Brothers accepted the talent and commitment of our lay men and women as leaders and fellow administrators. This decision, no doubt, has shaped our future in many positive ways.
The most unexpected change at this time occurred when the Prep accepted young women as students in grades eleven and twelve due to the closing of two Catholic schools on the North Shore. A short-term decision, urged by the parents of the male students, turned into a wonderfully enriching six-year program which concluded in 1977 resulting in our nearly seventy-five alumnae. I am proud to announce that we now have two alumnae "legacies" with at least one more young man joining us next year.
It was also during Brother Smither's tenure that the Prep's first official Alumni Office was staffed and the cultivation of alumni began in a more consistent fashion. This led to the establishment of a Development Program, which has grown through the support of alumni, parents and friends.
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