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Timeless Messages to Open a New School Year
Posted 09/12/2018 02:46PM

Celebrating the Mass of the Holy Spirit

Mass of the Holy Spirit

In keeping with a tradition that dates back to 1548 at the University of Messina in Italy, the St. John’s Prep community came together today in the Leo and Joan Mahoney Wellness Center to mark the outset of a new school year with the Mass of the Holy Spirit.

Father John Unni, who serves as pastor at Saint Cecilia parish in Boston, celebrated the Mass. A North Reading native, he also has roots in Danvers, where he served at St. Richard’s Church, “back when coach Brian St. Pierre was still a student here,” he told students with a smile.

Headmaster Hardiman introduced him as “a great friend of St. John’s,” adding, “We are blessed to have Father Unni with us. He is a humble, generous and compassionate man. As we pray, my hope is that our community follows his example of welcoming, embracing, and accepting all people, no matter where they are on their journey of faith and life.”

In his homily, Father Unni offered three messages for students to consider in their own lives—to be strong, to avoid making judgements, and to be open.

Speaking broadly about the challenges everyone faces in their lives as well as the challenges the Catholic Church itself is navigating, he said, “I hope you will hold fast to three things that can carry you through adversity in your lives. They’re lessons from the readings we heard today. They were written 2000 years ago, but they are timeless.”

His first message was to be strong. “Do not fear. You have a voice,” he said before going on to recall the students of Parkland and their collective response to the shooting at their school. “They mesmerized the country. They used their voices to speak up and they were so smart, so articulate. Use your voice to move forward. Avoid becoming cynical.”

His second message was to avoid being judgmental. “Meet everyone you encounter in the same way,” he said. He went on to speak of unconscious biases, how they play out in our everyday lives, and how we can move past them: by recognizing God in each person we encounter.

Father Unni’s final message was to be open. He quoted the Letter of James, where Jesus healed a deaf man with the word “Ephphatha,” meaning, “be open” in Aramaic. He implored students to be open, accepting, and forgiving, and to not walk away when the going gets tough.

Every Mass of the Holy Spirit at St. John’s ends with the recognition of the National Merit Semi-Finalists from the senior class. Caleb Willott and Nathan Brown of the Class of 2018 earned that distinction this year, according to Dr. Keith Crowley.

In a surprise announcement to close the morning program, Dr. Hardiman and Dr. Crowley honored John Boyle—chemistry teacher, cross country and track coach—who is entering his fiftieth year at St. John’s! The room broke out in a sustained, standing ovation as Mr. Boyle made his way, in his inimitable low-key and self-effacing style, to meet Dr. Crowley and Dr. Hardiman on stage. For five decades, Mr. Boyle has been a part of the fabric of Prep life, setting an example of servant leadership for alumni and students.

As students were dismissed, all were given a prayer card to keep with them throughout the year. It reads: 

Loving God, the Xaverian values of trust and zeal call us to mutually help, encourage, and edify one another. To grow as servant leaders, we embrace a contemplative stance, seek to become our best selves, pursue excellence in all endeavors, and open our hearts and minds to transformational encounters with a diversity of people and experiences. Help us in our daily journey to live the core belief of the Xaverian way: Omnia cum Deo, nihil sine Deo—All with God, nothing without God.

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