by Nicholas Daoust ’21, #XBCorps

 Feature story about the very first students to start in the FXD and graduate from Xaverian

In the summer of 1549, Jesuit leader Saint Francis Xavier arrived in Kagoshima, becoming the first Christian missionary to bring the gospel message to Japan. Over four and a half centuries later, Xaverian Brothers High School opened its namesake middle school program—the Francis Xavier Division—and 120 seventh graders, much like their patron saint, found themselves trailblazers of an exciting and experimental prospect. 

Experimental is exactly the word to describe that first day in September of 2014. Mr. Joshua Tranfaglia, who was hired that same year as a seventh-grade social studies teacher and now serves as Assistant Principal for Student Life, explains, “Xaverian is really good at educating high school boys, and that first year we didn’t know what to expect with middle school boys. Being the first FXD class, the Class of 2020 have a badge of honor; they were the experiment, and they were the result of the experiment. The middle school program looks the way it does now because they went through it first.”

But this is Xaverian after all. With innovation came preparation, and lots of it. “People don’t realize,” says Mr. Jay McGilvray, Assistant Principal of the FXD, “that the idea of a middle school program was many years in the making before the official announcement in 2013.” The FXD was the product of four years of planning and construction, confronting the logistical and practical measures needed to integrate a fully-functioning middle school into an already fully-functioning high school. Brother Daniel Skala, C.F.X., who served as Xaverian’s headmaster during the integration of the FXD program, says that “for many years, parents and alumni had been asking Xaverian to open up a middle school,” so a survey was created to gauge interest and the results showed “overwhelming support.” “In 2010,” Brother Dan recounts, “the Board of Trustees and school administration began developing a master plan for the campus”—a plan which included the new Wellness Center and science labs, as well as more field space and parking to accommodate the growing student population. 

Alongside the various construction projects underway, Brother Dan and then-principal Mr. Domenic Lalli, P ’98, were also tasked with hiring staff specialized in developing a new environment within Xaverian for the incoming middle schoolers. Brother Dan calls the appointment of Mr. McGilvray (previously a Xaverian English teacher and coach) as Assistant Principal of the FXD one of the most important decisions of the process, and acknowledges the strength of Mr. Steinbergher’s crucial FXD counseling and study skills programs. Once these preliminary faculty were hired, a group was formed to seek out the most “experienced and talented teachers” for the middle school; many of these first FXD teachers, including Mr. Tranfaglia, Mr. Jay Iannoni (math) ’02, and Mr. Stephen Brennen (Spanish), still serve as Xaverian faculty and staff.

When the Class of 2020 arrived on campus in September of 2014 as seventh graders, they were pioneers of the program that, by the time of their graduation, had become a polished and quintessential part of Xaverian’s identity. For the teaching staff, it was immediately clear that educating seventh graders necessitated a different approach than teaching high schoolers. “I learned it is really more about the relationships than the subjects,” Mr. Iannoni remarks. “As educators, we can spend a lot of time focusing on lesson plans and making tests, but it is in the day-to-day interactions with our students that we really can make a difference.” 

As much as the FXD was and is its own entity within Xaverian, the Class of 2020 showed how important it was to have integrated learning between the middle and high school. Mr. Brennen remarks, “Students in the FXD are not second-class members of the community. This special quality of the FXD helps fully integrate the students into the Xaverian community as quickly as possible.” Mr. McGilvray echoes this sentiment, emphasizing the positive effect of an FXD education on a Xaverian student’s next four years of high school. “FXD students have the advantage of taking challenging classes, early exposure to campus ministry and service opportunities, and are more confident that they can be successful Xaverian high school students,” he says. “Not having the high school be this big mystery sets these young men up for success.” 

It’s a poetic coincidence that the Class of 2020 should start and end their collective Xaverian experience as true trailblazers. Their legacy as a graduating class will not just be as the inaugural veterans of the FXD program, but also as the class who finished the final lap of their senior year during the COVID-19 pandemic. As Mr. Brennen notes, many students missed their final sports season at Xaverian or were not able to perform in their final play, yet even through every unexpected roadblock of 2020, the historic graduating class showed true leadership. In Brother Dan’s words, “The Class of 2020 made the Xaverian values their own. Their strong spirited sense of community, their abiding friendships, and many successes in academics, the arts, athletics, and Christian service have earned them a special place in Xavierian history. They served as leaders through the devastating pandemic and right up until their graduation. I am so proud of the Class of 2020, and I am looking forward to seeing them fulfill their dreams in the years ahead.”

This article first appeared in the Winter 2021 issue of the Xaverian Magazine.

A private, Catholic, college preparatory day school for boys in grades 7-12. The Boston area prep school offers a rigorous academic curriculum, a well-developed campus ministry program focused on faith, character, and leadership, and a proud athletic tradition featuring competitive Division 1 high school athletics in the Catholic Conference.