The Xavier Motto: Be A Man

If you are part of the Xavier community, you have an understanding of the meaning of the Xavier motto – Be A Man - that has been here since the school’s opening in 1963.

If not, you are left to your own devices.

Three small words. No context.

To some, the motto may come off as sexist or outdated.

Donna Jaskot has been here full-time since 1989; her three sons each went to school here. Now she is assistant to the headmaster and principal. And, for her, it’s about principles.

“To be a man means to continually strive to be the best human being you can be and to challenge and nurture others to do the same,” Jaskot said.

“I have seen the Xavier school motto in action by witnessing countless young men, including my own sons, and many faculty and staff, male and female, serving others with love and compassion.”

John Guinan, a religion teacher at Xavier, has crafted a lesson on the motto for freshmen as a means of a welcome and introduction to the school.

“When I first came to Xavier I was struck by the motto and moved by how it captured the purpose and essence of a Xavier education and a Catholic education in general,” Guinan said. “I was equally taken by how easily and frequently it is misunderstood.”

Part of what he has written for the class is that at first glance the motto “might be understood to form and cultivate in young men the characteristics that may be associated with manhood by the culture at any given time. Upon further reflection, however, it becomes clear that the founding Xaverian Brother of Xavier High School, Br. Robert Sullivan, C.F.X, seems to have had something else in mind, an educational vision that would promise to transform the lives of students for eternity. In fact, the meaning of the motto, properly understood, speaks to the aims, goals, and the promise of Catholic education in general.”

Guinan goes on to say that man refers not the male gender but to the human species.

“It is no coincidence, then, that in the educational vision he proposed for the school, Br. Robert cites the second century saint St. Irenaeus when he wrote, ‘The glory of God is the human person fully alive.’ The inclusion of this quote might serve to affirm this interpretation of the word ‘man.’ ”

In the 1965 student handbook, there was this: Xavier High School challenges you to be a man … to perfect your mind by studying diligently, your will by doing good, your senses by appreciating things beautiful, your whole being by uniting yourself to God … the one, the true, the good, the beautiful.

Brother Lawrence Harvey, who was leaving Xavier after 12 years, six as principal, had a sense the motto is one that can easily come under attack, when he spoke at the 1998 graduation.

``You have graduated from a school whose motto, `Be a Man,' can be thought of as anachronistic to those unfamiliar with Xavier,” he told the class in a story published in The Hartford Courant. “How outdated that can seem. How sexist that appears at first glance. How politically incorrect that sounds in an age when everything has to be P.C. If you have learned anything during your time at Xavier, however, I hope and pray that you've learned what it is to be a man. Our expectation for you is that you live up to your school motto, for to be a man is to be the person God has created you to be, without excuse, without hesitation. To be a Xavier man is to be a man of service to others, to be a Xavier man is to be a person of compassion, to be a Xavier man is to be a person of integrity. Underlying all this is to be a person of faith . . .''

“At the same time,” Guinan adds, “we must not shy away from the fact that it is also a call to be a real man, as in ‘male.’ But the point is this: the ideal of manhood Br. Sullivan was proposing is not one held by the culture at any given time, past or present. Rather, the motto points to Christ, the perfect human -- and yes, the perfect man. A man who strives to courageously live and speak the truths of the Gospel message even when it is unpopular to do so, and who inspires and leads others to do the same, and one who loves unconditionally is the promise of the motto fulfilled in a Xavier graduate.”

Guinan said he bases the lesson around a section in C.S. Lewis’ classic Mere Christianity.

“In it, Lewis likens man to a statue and explains that the offer which Christianity makes is that man can come to life.’ That is to say, he can become Christ-like, fully human and fully alive,” Guinan said. “This is the promise to which Xavier’s motto speaks, and, consequently, which the education aims to make a reality in a student’s life.”

There also is a danger in our culture dictating definitions.

“Being a man like Christ transcends cultural norms,” said Peter Lyons, Director of Campus Ministry and Faculty Formation. “In a culture that often misrepresents and misunderstands true Christian manhood, Xavier is faced with the challenge of identifying, promoting, and upholding that standard. The alternative is to compromise by allowing the culture to define manhood and then, as a school, living up to that cultural standard.

“The danger in the latter approach is that, although less controversial and more politically correct, it removes God from his original design and forces us to continually change to meet societal norms. Our mission as a Catholic school is to uphold truth, not conform to society. While some things, such as styles, etc., change, truth does not. “

Rich Magner has been a student, teacher, coach and guidance counselor here. To him the motto means, “We want young men to grow up and be accountable for their actions. We hope they are good Christians and appreciate the gifts and talents that they have and share with those less fortunate.”

Three small words. One life lesson.

“It is meant to stretch the student, to be a man in fullest sense of what that means,” former Headmaster Brother Brian Davis said. “You are created in God’s image … the school would grow you spiritually, academically and physically to really be a man in all senses of the word.”

He goes on to say that no matter your religious background, there would be more of a presence of God in your life. And that it calls you to share your talents with others.

Three small words. So much to think about.