About SJ

The History of Saint John's

Saint John's High School enjoys a unique history, one that is deeply rooted in the development and traditions of the Catholic Church in Central Massachusetts. The school was an outgrowth of both the first Catholic Church (1834) and the first parochial school (1873) in Worcester. It also has the distinction of being the first of many high schools operated by the Xaverian Brothers in New England.

The Brothers‘ association with Worcester dates back to September 1894, when having responded to the invitation of pastor Monsignor Griffin, a pioneer community of four Xaverians arrived to staff Saint John‘s Parish School for Boys on Temple Street, teaching the 4th, 5th, and 6th grades along with the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur. The school was housed in what was commonly referred to as the "Old Building." The cornerstone of this structure, dated August 16, 1891, was moved to the Shrewsbury campus when the Temple Street building was demolished in the mid-1970‘s.
In 1898, a three-year high school curriculum was established under the guidance of Brothers Alphonse Behan and Henry McGivern. A fourth year was added in 1906, when the College of the Holy Cross ended their college prep program to concentrate solely on a college curriculum. In 1907, the first class to complete a four-year program of studies at Saint John‘s was graduated. They numbered seven strong! In 1909 the Brothers gave over the 4th and 5th grade teaching duties to the Sisters of Notre Dame. In 1925, they relinquished their connection with the grammar school with the opening of the "new" building on Temple Street.

In 1954, to commemorate the centennial of the Xaverian Brothers’ arrival in America, John Cardinal Wright, then Bishop of Worcester, transferred the property under the new title of Saint John's Preparatory School of Worcester County to the growing Xaverian community and encouraged its expansion. That year, the school‘s population numbered 11 Brothers and 354 students. More than one hundred freshmen had been refused admittance that year due to lack of space. In 1955, with the financial support of Bishop Wright, the Brothers purchased ‘Dunmorlan‘, the former Clifford B. Sweet estate on West Main Street, Shrewsbury. The architectural gem of this property was a Spanish-style stone structure built in 1914 that housed the Xaverian community until the Brothers’ residence was completed in the early sixties. The acquisition of the property was the first step in the development of St. John‘s into a regional high school, serving Worcester County and Central Massachusetts.

Dunmorlan Property, c. 1950

In 1959, forty-four acres at the foot of West Main Street were purchased for the future home of Pioneer Field. Groundbreaking ceremonies for the new high school were held on November 14th 1959. The first construction, a classroom building to accommodate sophomores, juniors and seniors, was completed in 1961. The freshmen continued their studies on Temple Street. In 1962, all classes completed their transition to the Shrewsbury campus and the school‘s name was once again changed to Saint John‘s High School. Temple Street continued to house Saint John‘s Grammar School until the mid 1970‘s. 

In 1963 and 1964 a gym and cafeteria were added to the hillside campus along with a small dormitory building for teenagers interested in the Brothers’ vocation. In 1969, the Juniorate closed and the building was renovated. Renamed "Flavian Hall", in memory of Brother Flavian Coughlin who taught at Temple Street from 1904-1908 and died as a member of the Xaverian Community in 1974, the renovation provided the Shrewsbury campus with eleven additional classrooms.

The Juniorate of the 1960s

The 1970s and 1980s witnessed a tremendous growth of facilities: tennis and racquetball courts were added behind the main school building and extensive landscaping projects were begun, including the placement of the signature granite sign at the lower entryway to the campus. Two new practice fields were developed from the woodlands behind the tennis courts, a state of the art oval track was constructed around the football field and work was completed on new playing fields opposite Pioneer Field at the foot of Saint John‘s Hill.

Tennis Facilities and new Saint John's Sign, 1979

In the mid-nineties, the Xaverian Brothers, in response to the worldwide phenomenon of declining religious vocations, voted to unify the North America Provinces at their twenty-fifth chapter. Seeking to insure the growth of a common Xaverian charism in their schools staffed by a growing number of laymen and women, a Sponsorship Office emerged. During the past decade, this office has monitored the academic and spiritual growth of its schools and has established programs that bring together the faculties, the students, the administrators and the Board members from the twelve Xaverian sponsored schools throughout the United States. As the twentieth-first century dawns, the vision of Theodore James Ryken continues to be fostered.

In 1998, Saint John‘s High School celebrated its 100th anniversary. Ushering in a new era of Catholic educational excellence, the first new building in thirty-five years was completed. In addition to fully equipped science labs, a Media and Technology Center, and three smart classrooms, the Ryken Center provided the Saint John‘s community with the facilities necessary to grow a burgeoning arts program. A versatile black box theater and workroom, two soundproof music rooms and four practice rooms, an art gallery, and Remillard Hall, an exceptional lecture/recital venue, provide our students with the finest facilities to express and develop their creativity. As part of the expansion project, three classrooms were added to the main building along with a state-of-the-art fitness center.

The year 2001 was an historic moment in the history of Saint John‘s High School when the Board of Trustees appointed the school‘s first lay headmaster, Mr. Michael Welch, and endorsed the appointment of its first lay principal, Mr. Stephen Gregory. The seeds of the Sponsorship Program were beginning to bear fruit. Honoring headmaster emeritus, Brother J. Conal Owens, for his thirty-five years of inspired leadership, the "Main Building" was fittingly renamed Conal Hall. In 2002, the Board of Trustees, seeking to update the existing facilities, approved the renovation of three rooms in the "Manor" (the former ‘Dunmorlan’ estate house) to relocate the Office of Alumni Affairs and the Office of Institutional Advancement. A much needed renovation of the gym and expansion of the existing locker room facilities were also undertaken. Renamed the Coaches Pavilion to honor Bob Devlin, Charlie Bibaud and Joe Lane, three legends in Pioneer sports, this beautiful athletic facility, with enhanced lighting and sound and new bleachers, a new playing surface and a new score board, will serve the needs of the Pioneers for generations to come.

The Board of Trustees, constantly seeking to respond to the physical and educational needs of the St. John‘s Community, approved a new Strategic Plan in 2006. The first phase of this bold I initiative began in May of that year with the demolition of the functional, but outdated, cafeteria and Gym Lobby. Seeking to unify the architectural components of our growing campus, the architectural firm of Belanger Foley and the Lauring Construction team were once again engaged to enflesh the vision. A mere seven months after construction had begun; the Saint John‘s Community entered the Lobby of the Coaches Pavilion. This handsome gathering space with it vaulted ceilings and rich wood paneling, allows visitors and students alike, to witness the driving force of the Xaverian charism and to trace the legacy of a Pioneer Athletic excellence. Through the generosity of the Salem family, the Salem Student Commons was dedicated in honor of Emil and Grace Salem on December 15, 2006. With its soaring skylights, its plasma television, its large screen projection technology, its state-of-the-art kitchen and its panoramic views of the Saint John‘s campus, "The Commons", is much more than a first class dining facility. Offering a fitting home to lectures, concerts, dances, game nights and alumni reunions, the Saint John‘s Community has only begun to uncover its limitless possibilities.

The summer of 2006 also witnessed some much needed improvements to Flavian Hall, the former Juniorate that has housed eleven classrooms since the early 1970‘s. In addition to numerous cosmetic improvements, the installation of energy efficient windows, new lighting and upgrades to the fire alarm system will ensure that Flavian Hall will serve the needs of our students for years to come. Theodore James Ryken, his thrifty band of Brothers and those Xaverian who toiled and sacrificed to make Catholic education affordable to families of modest means on Temple Street, would no doubt be proud of our efforts to breathe new life into this trusty work horse.

From an enrollment of slightly more than one hundred students and four Xaverian Brothers, Saint John‘s High School has emerged as a regional, private, Catholic, college-preparatory school with a student body of more than one thousand and a professional staff of Xaverian Brothers and lay men and women who, together with a dedicated support staff, number more than one hundred-fifty. The motto of Ryken‘s congregation, Concordia Res Parvae Crescunt, "In Harmony Small Things Grow", continues to define the development, growth, and charism of Saint John‘s High School as it continues its second century of educational ministry in the Xaverian tradition. Ad multos annos!