The Pioneers: Our Xaverian Brothers

At the heart of what Xavier is and has been are its Xaverian Brothers, who dedicate their life to the Christian education of youth.

Xavier has been honored to have had among its ranks some of the finest Brothers in the land, and to this day their names and their impact are not forgotten by many of the students they taught. Some were principals of the school, others teachers, all devoted to their life’s work.

In the first school year, 1963-64, there were eight Brothers out of 10 faculty members. Just two years later the faculty had 29 members, of which 16 were Brothers.

For those students here in the early days, they likely would remember Brother Michael Angelus. In 1987 Xavier celebrated his 70th jubilee. Bro. Michael entered the Xaverian Brothers in 1917 and the 70th jubilee program noted that it took Brother three days to travel from Maine to Baltimore to begin his training. He was met at the train station in Baltimore by a Brother who was driving a horse and buggy.

Brother Michael taught from 1918-1971 with his last teaching assignment here at Xavier. When he retired from teaching he made pastoral visits to convalescent homes. To do that he needed to drive so at the age of 71 he got his first driver's license.

Xavier has remembered its Brothers in various ways over the years, from scholarships to awards to the naming of academic levels and honor societies. Here are four examples:

Each year the CELESTINE MEDAL is awarded to students who, upon the completion of the past academic year, have an overall final average of A with no final average grade less than an A- in their major subjects. This prestigious award, which a student can receive only once during his four years at Xavier, is the highest academic tribute that the school bestows.

ABOUT BRO. CELESTINE: The award is named after Brother Celestine Killigrew, who taught history and Religion, coached the freshmen soccer team, and moderated a book club at Xavier in the early 1960s.

Brother Ryan, a Xavier historian and current teacher, has done extensive research on Bro. Celestine and gives a talk to students at the annual XLI retreat, which is held in the summer before a student’s senior year.

From the talk: “One of the founding members of the Brothers community when Xavier opened in 1963; he taught for only a year and a third; and he was killed in an automobile accident on the New England Thruway in Port Chester, N.Y., in late November of 1964, one month after his 25th birthday.”

Bro. Celestine and four other brothers had gone to New York on the day after Thanksgiving and were returning late that night when the station wagon struck a log in the road, the car swerving and then overturning. Bro. Celestine was the lone man in the car to die; the others had a few bruises.

His funeral was Dec. 1 at St. John’s Church in the north end of Middletown. For years his photo has hung in a hallway at Xavier.

In his talk, which he prepared in 2012, Bro. Ryan brought life to that picture.

“By a happy, perhaps providential coincidence, Xavier’s graduating class of 1967 held its 45th class reunion in the school dining hall this past June [2012]. These men had come to Xavier as ninth graders in September of 1963 along with Br. Celestine who was fresh out of college,” Bro. Ryan said. “Of the thirty-five grads at the reunion, many had been taught and/or coached by him.”

Bro. Ryan reached out to them by email and here are a few responses:

“He made sure you achieved success the old-fashioned way; you earned it. And God forbid if you weren’t paying attention to his powerful religion lessons. But that influence has allowed me to live the scriptures to the best of my abilities."

“He was the 1960’s version of the energizer bunny. I’m certain the battery company used him as its human counterpart and model. He did each task with 100 percent effort and expected the same of us.”

“In Brother’s very brief time with us, he taught us so many things that we needed to know to live up to the school motto. I still carry his photo death card with me.”

“His best personal trait -- he was an excellent listener. His advice was practical and to the point and helped us navigate those difficult early teenage years when everything was extremely important and seemingly a matter of life and death.”

THE BROTHER HAROLD PRAY ACCELERATED PROGRAM exists to meet the needs of students who benefit from the flexibility of a well-rounded academic program. The curriculum focuses on the refinement of those core academic skills that nurture the development of students who continue to grow as independent learners at Xavier, in college, and throughout life.

THE BROTHER HAROLD PRAY ACADEMIC SCHOLARSHIP was established by Mr. and Mrs. Bernard Pacholski, uncle and aunt of Brother Harold Pray, to recognize a student at the conclusion of his sophomore year who has excelled in the Accelerated Program.

Brother Harold Pray of Xavier High School in Middletown, CT.

ABOUT BRO. PRAY: A teacher for 18 years at Xaverian Brothers High School in Westwood, Mass., and for 10 years at Xavier, Bro. Pray died in 2001. A 1968 graduate, he came back to Xavier in 1991 to teach English. From the 1991 Yearbook, which was dedicated to Bro. Pray:

“At Xavier he became a fixture in sophomore English classes, known for their humor, the rigor of his teaching, and the high standards he expected of his students. … he became a trusted friend and counselor to many of his students, a relationship that extended into their junior and senior years and beyond.

“He was a valuable presence, a patient listener, and an insightful reactor at each year’s junior retreat and XLI.

“Everything about Brother Harold was big, flamboyant, at times outrageous, usually larger than life. The chair at his teacher’s desk was enormous, and the posters in his classroom featured large animals: lions, tigers, wolves, a black panther and an elephant perched on a beach ball with the caption: ‘The Secret To Life Is Balance.’

He loved to laugh and his laughter was big, booming and infectious. Brother Harold was big in body and spirit. His passing has left a large empty space in the Xaverian Brothers’ community, as well as in the life of Xavier High School. May Brother Harold rest in peace.”

THE BROTHER J. ROBERT HOULIHAN COLLEGE PREP PROGRAM exists to meet the needs of students who benefit from the support of a highly structured academic program. The curriculum focuses on the acquisition of those core academic skills that foster the development of students who become independent learners capable of success at Xavier, in college, and throughout life.

THE BROTHER HOULIHAN ACADEMIC SCHOLARSHIP was established to recognize a student in the College Prep Program at the conclusion of his freshman year who has worked to his maximum potential throughout his initial year of study at Xavier.

Brother Houlihan taking care of the Xavier High School grounds in Middletown, CT.

ABOUT BRO. HOULIHAN: Bro. Houlihan came to Xavier in 1970 and in 1974 his silver jubilee was celebrated here. Having entered the Xaverian Brothers in 1949, his 50th jubilee was celebrated here in 1999.

Bro. Houlihan started MYARC (Middlesex Youth ARC, Inc.), a volunteer service organization dedicated to the philosophy that growth and personal development occur as a result of social interactions between persons with intellectual disabilities and the students of Xavier and Mercy High Schools.

It was one of his passions; another was keeping the Xavier campus clean. There was a deeper reason for that. We turn to Bro. Ryan for that.

“Although he may seem a bit obsessive-compulsive about the cans and bottles he collects in his ubiquitous X buckets, and a can or bottle or dining hall tray thrown into a trash barrel is a crime against humanity that cries out to God for vengeance, and although he may even appear at times to look like that vengeful God as he patrols the dining hall during the lunch waves, especially on his many bad hair days when his white mop seems to have never met a comb it ever liked, there is a reason for his intensity.

“Just picture an ordinary evening at the Brothers’ residence. After dinner, a few watch the TV news, a few arm themselves with red pen to attack those papers or tests, but one heads for the white school truck.

“Every night, light or dark, rain or shine, cold or hot, he makes the rounds of the property in the school truck, and by some almost supernatural radar he and the truck drive a direct beeline to every scrap of trash or can or bottle that an unthinking student had tossed to the ground during the day.

“The trash goes in the dumpster; the bottles and cans go to the basement where they join the daily haul from all those ‘X’ buckets and squeaky-wheeled blue barrels. Brother Houlihan washes each and every can and bottle whether they provide a nickel refund or not, and then they are bagged. He washes over 167,000 a year. From those cans and bottles he raises an average of $5,000 in refunds each year to help cover the operating expenses of MYARC.

“A solitary figure sitting on a stool by the sink in the school basement night after night, Brother Houlihan to me is a profile in incredible leadership, service, and humility.

“When I asked him about these past 48 years of profound dedication to the handicapped, he gave an answer I wasn’t expecting. He said, I didn’t want any part of it. It was the Lord’s work. I grew into it."

Bro. Ryan then tells the XLI crowd: “For that growth we are all grateful.”

THE BROTHER JAMES KELLY HONORS PROGRAM exists to meet the needs of students who benefit from the rigor of a comprehensive and extensive academic program. The curriculum focuses not only on the mastery of core academic skills but also on the cultivation of students’ innate abilities as independent learners and critical thinkers at Xavier, in college, and throughout life.

Brother Kelly, a former Principal at Xavier High School in Middletown, CT.

ABOUT BRO. KELLY: Bro. Ryan and Bro. Kelly were extremely close. They began their teaching career together at St. John’s in Shrewsbury in 1971. Bro. Ryan was there when Bro. Kelly’s parents each died and Bro. Kelly had asked Bro. Ryan to be with him upon his death. Bro. Ryan spent the last four days with Bro. Kelly as he finally was yielding to the cancer that had attacked him.

Bro. Kelly started at Xavier in 1974 and was principal for nine years starting in 1982. At a farewell Mass at Xavier when he left in 1991, the program said his roles "have run the gamut from a teacher of English, Latin, Religion and History to chairman of the Religion/Campus Ministry Department and assistant principal to varsity swim coach and prop manager for school musicals."

You might describe him as a character.

Writes Bro. Ryan of his time as principal: “He became well-known for his Monday morning pep talks in which he delivered the good, the bad, and the necessary. His trademark quote, especially to the seniors, was, ‘Wear your seat belt and don’t do anything to break your mother’s heart.’

“He also became famous or infamous for his Irish temper and sometimes imprudent comments, both on and off the PA system.”

His principal letters to parents were legendary. So, too, were his memos to the faculty.

One of the stories Bro. Ryan tells about Bro. Kelly back in 2012 is certainly memorable.

“The present administration can credit Br. James with helping to put the kibosh on senior skip days. More than 30 years ago he showed up at Hammonasset State Park with six teachers and several school buses to collect the seniors who decided a day in May at the beach was preferable to a day in May in school. Left behind were the Mercy girls, the seniors’ cars, and red-faced parents who had called their sons in as sick.”

Bro. Ryan reached out to students from the various schools in which Bro. Kelly taught. A few responses:

“The Kelly wrath was fierce, but the Kelly apology made everything right.”

“He could be stern and gruff at times but was overflowing with love and dedication.”

“He was by far the best teacher I ever had; I loved every single minute of his class. As much as I dreaded my lack of sleep due to lengthy papers, I realized it was a necessary evil to pass the class. And when he told me I was going to literary hell because I spelled a character’s name wrong in a paper on “A Passage to India,” he smiled the whole time. I can honestly say I learned more about being a man in his class than I did about the correct placement for an introductory participial phrase.”

“When I asked him about these past 48 years of profound dedication to the handicapped, he gave an answer I wasn’t expecting. He said, 'I didn’t want any part of it. It was the Lord’s work. I grew into it.' "

Bro. Ryan talking about Bro. Houlihan