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Strength in Numbers: Opening Day Prayer Service

Strength in Numbers: Opening Day Prayer Service

Above: Freshmen and grade 6 students are clapped into the Leo and Joan Mahoney Wellness Center by the school community to kick off the first day of school.


St. John’s academic year opens with call to honor the School’s culture of “every single person has a place” 

Above: Middle School students make their way from Brother Benjamin Hall to the Leo and Joan Mahoney Wellness Center to kick off the first day of school.

They didn’t speak just prior to this morning’s Opening Prayer Service, but three disparate souls—Head of School Ed Hardiman P’19 ’21 ’26, English teacher Rob O’Chander ’04, and student Carl Monks ’25—all walked in with the same sentiments in mind and exited with the same enthusiasm to take on Day One of academic year number 116 on campus.

After checking in with their first-period class, students made their way to the Leo and Joan Mahoney Wellness Center beneath cloudless skies with temperatures rising into the upper 70s. Then, as the clock struck 8:49 am, returning students, faculty, and staff reveled in a beloved Prep tradition—welcoming this fall’s 329 new students spanning grades 6 through 12 to the service with a standing ovation and cheers that endured more than seven minutes. 

As is customary, the focus of opening day honed in on one of the five Xaverian values. This year, the School will celebrate the ideal of humility. That’s where our trio’s stories converge.

“This ceremony has real meaning,” said O’Chander. “I came here as the only kid in my class from Billerica and I didn’t know anyone. I’m sure a number of kids are in that position today and to get a sense of welcoming, even if it’s momentary, offers a real feeling of belonging. It’s nice to begin the school year knowing you’re part of a community and that we’re all in this together.”

Dr. Hardiman provided a further illustration of the Xaverian spiritual value of humility that is so stunningly aligned with O’Chander’s musings that he may as well have ghost-written the teacher’s remarks. 

“The Xaverian spiritual value of humility is about realizing that we all share a common origin, that we are all created in the image and likeness of God; the God of unconditional love, compassion and mercy” he said. “We need to think of the needs of others, we need to model respect for all and we need to make sure that no one walks alone in hallways, classrooms, locker rooms, art studios, stages, playing fields or wherever it is that we gather. We are in this together.”

Hardiman reinforced the notion for this year’s student body of 1,453 along with all faculty and staff by imploring those assembled to view humility as a constant call to build a school community in which all members are known, valued and loved. To that end, he proclaimed that members of the St. John’s community must model respect by using words and actions that build each other up. “We never use words or actions that disrespect … or in any way put others down,” he said. “They are not funny, not respectful, and not acceptable in the Prep community.”

Now a junior, Monks’ anticipation for and takeaways from the Opening Prayer Service haven’t changed from his first day as a sixth grader back in 2018. And they are cut from the same cloth as those of Hardiman and O’Chander.

Above: Current students clap in the newest Eagles at the Opening Prayer Service on September 6.

“We are such a large community here at the Prep, but every single person has a place,” said Monks. “That first day clap-in is like an out-of-body experience as you walk in. Then you hear Dr. Hardiman speak and his words really resonate. I was determined to keep that feeling throughout my time here.”

Members of the Prep’s Spire Society distributed silicon wristbands as students headed to class which were embossed with the word “humility.” Many Prep students wear multiple bracelets emblazoned with each of the five Xaverian values—simplicity, compassion, humility, trust and zeal—that they collect throughout the course of their time at St. John’s.

Though there was much to absorb, especially for those enjoying their first official day as an Eagle, the critical concept of the prayer service—that students should feel profoundly welcome and discover their individual inspiration to celebrate their common origins—clearly resonated. As the familiar buzz of classmates and peers connecting and reconnecting made its way across campus this morning, the 116th academic year far above the neighboring hilltops was unmistakably underway.


On the eve of opening day, well over 100 families joined live for a virtual, live-streamed prayer service to mark the start of a new academic year on campus. The service underscores the reality that community is the strength of St. John’s and that gathering for prayer deepens our connections.

The Xaverian value of humility carried the night as attendees were urged to explore the margins of the school community, their workplace, and perhaps even their own families to embrace and assuage anyone who feels estranged or disengaged. 

“When we model the spiritual value of humility, we are actively and authentically listening to others, asking questions and (we are) relearning how we and others understand our world and our place in it,” said Dr. Hardiman.

First Day of School Photo Gallery