St. John’s annual Mass of the Holy Spirit, a gathering of the Prep community to formally observe the outset of the academic year, took on deeper meaning in more ways than one on Wednesday morning. A Prep tradition that brings together students, trustees, members of the Xaverian Brothers community, faculty, and staff, the Mass marked its 116th year today. It was also a moment for Fr. Tony Penna to use his homily to plumb the depths of this centuries-old religious custom by using a scuba diving analogy.
All beginner divers, Penna noted, learn a potentially lifesaving lesson early on in their training: If there’s ever any doubt about which way is up, the bubbles of each exhale will always lead you back to the surface.
“All the religions (of the world) have their own bubble test,” said Penna, the Associate Vice President and Director of Campus Ministry at Boston College and a former campus minister at St. John’s. “Sometimes, when life isn’t going as we planned, we say, ‘I feel lost.’ But our bubble test is the word of God. And if we just follow what God is asking us to be, we will come to a good place eventually.”
In so doing, Penna intimated, the Prep community needs to embrace the Xaverian value of trust. Throughout the 2022-23 academic year, St. John’s is especially focused upon the Xaverian Brothers spiritual values of trust and zeal, among five such qualities that inspire the community to live lives of faith and service.
Head of School Edward P. Hardiman, Ph.D. P’19 ’21 ’26, opened the Mass by framing the gathering as a shared experience of both blessings and challenges. A place where all could draw support from being part of a community.
“In our liturgy, we listen to prayer and scripture and reflect on how God has been present in the world,” he said. “The ritual that transforms the bread into the eucharist is one which includes blessing, breaking, and sharing. I ask each of you to reflect on these themes. Each of us has many blessings in our lives. Each of us has also experienced brokenness, moments of challenge. But to be fully human, this ritual calls us to share our blessings and our challenges with others. Through this sharing, we build each other up with the support of community.”
In his remarks, Dr. Hardiman publicly thanked two members of the Xaverian Brothers community—Br. Robert Green, C.F.X and Br. Jim Connolly, C.F.X.—for their attendance. He went on to explain that Catholic institutions of education have been celebrating Masses of the Holy Spirit since the Middle Ages. In fact, what is now the University of Messina in Italy celebrated the first Mass of the Holy Spirit in 1548. Wednesday’s Mass was accompanied by the voices of the St. John’s Prep Liturgical Choir.
In closing, Dr. Hardiman and Principal Dr. Keith Crowley congratulated the 2022 National Merit Semi-Finalists from the senior class: Matthew Dunn ’23, Brian Nguyen ’23, Jonathan Rodriguez ’23, and Leyad Zavriyev ’23. About 1.5 million juniors from more than 22,000 high schools entered the 2021 National Merit Scholarship Program by taking a qualifying test. This year’s pool of semifinalists represents less than one percent of Massachusetts high school seniors who took the exam.