Each March, student leaders from across the Xaverian Brothers Sponsored Schools are invited to participate in a national retreat. For four days, they reflect on what it means to attend an XBSS School, deepen their personal relationship with God, and develop community with peers from across the network. The retreat concludes with a commissioning of students to return to campus and develop a plan to better their school community. Due to COVID-19, most of these student leaders did not return to campus as our nation entered lockdown shortly after the retreat last March. Seven months later, the Sponsorship Office hosted a reunion prayer service to regather student leaders, remind them of their experience in March, and challenge them to give back to their school communities in new ways. Of the original 105 students on the retreat, 92 joined together online for an evening of prayer, reflection, and community building.
Deacon Greg Thompson, a longtime favorite of the XBSS retreat, dropped in on the virtual gathering to offer his words of encouragement. After the program ended, students stayed on the call for an additional 90 minutes sharing stories, laughing, and reconnecting with the close friends they had made back in March.
“With challenges of isolation following the move to virtual schooling, one would understand if these students would move past their experience,” said Benjamin Horgan, XBSS Formation Director. “It was clear from this gathering, however, that these students are moved by the fire of the Holy Spirit and are adapting their leadership in new ways to meet the current needs of their school communities.”
In an effort to strengthen relationships and as part of the XBSS New Teacher program, the planning team put together a guided meditation for “tired ministers.” With prayer, scripture, and guided meditations, the video served as an encouragement to XBSS campus ministers and served to build unity among them.
In Massachusetts, the annual Xaverian Brothers High School and St. John’s Prep Thanksgiving football rivalry turned into a big score for charity. Despite the cancelled season, the schools kept their competition going by raising money for local food banks through a competition they dubbed “Touchdowns for Turkeys.” Combined, they raised nearly $30,000.00.
In Bungoma, Kenya, St. Xavier High School re-opened despite the government’s lack of support for private schools, after meticulous planning to properly implement the Ministry of Education’s health guidelines. Brother Dan Ongeso reported that despite social distancing and mask wearing, students were pleased to be among each other once again.
COVID-19 had a difficult time silencing Saint Bernard School’s Concert Choir. With a proud tradition of performances and concerts, the Connecticut school’s choir was unable to sing due to restrictions. Their collective voice was largely hushed, until students found a new way to sing a little louder without making a sound. Emma Lemire ’21, taught her peers how to sign the lyrics to the song “Say Something” by ‘A Great Big World.’
“We’re in such a time where you can’t communicate as well, and I think sign language really helped everyone with the thought process and to connect emotions to music which is so important,” said Emma, who was inspired by the relationships that were strengthened and built through the unique experience.
Director of Music Anne Tortora said when she came up with the idea, she didn’t picture it being professionally produced as a sort of music video, but when she ran into Headmaster Don Macrino’s office and urged him to come witness the choir practicing, he felt the performance deserved more recognition. The school’s multitalented musicians had found a new, beautiful way to express themselves and earned national acknowledgement from the National Association for Music Education.
In lieu of Lowell Catholic’s traditional Veterans Day Prayer Service, the Massachusetts school created a video which was viewed by all students while in their classrooms. The school also released a ‘Salute to Veterans’ video in which several students participated during the event that honored each branch of the U.S. military. Meanwhile, Xaverian High School’s Deacon, Kevin McCormack shared an important video message that received over 30K views.
“COVID has taken so much from us this year, and there are many well-intentioned folks who say that snow days are unnecessary,” he spoke into the camera outside amid what was soon to be the first winter snowfall. “Snow days aren’t a gift. They’re a right. You see, on a snow day, God gives you the ability to change the schedule, to see things differently.” Despite online learning, the school declared a snow day to the enjoyment of all.
Schools found new ways to adapt to challenges with virtual self-guided tours and open houses, complete with 360-degree views of campus facilities including classrooms, performance spaces, athletic facilities, community hubs, and more. Photo galleries helped bring schools to life and some provided opportunities for prospective students and families to meet virtually with headmasters, presidents, and principals, all in an effort to keep a focus on building authentic personal relationships.
“Xaverian Brothers Sponsored Schools are communities that create opportunities and set young people down paths to discover their gifts and talents,” said Dr. Patrick Slattery, XBSS Executive Director. “We seek to challenge students academically and spiritually as they pursue their passions.”
Founder’s Week celebration’s annually invite Xaverian educators to, as the Fundamental Principles state, “prayerfully reflect on the past, assess the present, and ponder the future with one another.” While the celebrations looked different this year, XBSS communities came together to remember the rich history of the Xaverian Brothers and continued to build enduring personal relationships across the network. Through prayer services, panel conversations, and a student leader keynote, encouragement and vision were offered.
Across the network, traditions carried on in new ways. Schools took their seasonal events virtual via Zoom so students, families, faculty and staff could celebrate the spirit of the season together, albeit virtually. Campus ministers led online discussions as students were given the opportunity to bond, reflect, and share over the meaning of Christmas.
“Not unlike the Magis who followed the Christmas star to find their way to the Christ child, Xaverian Brothers Sponsored Schools have continued to turn to mission as their guiding light, helping them navigate their way during this challenging time,” said Benjamin Horgan.