From left, past Headmaster Brother William Drinan, Headmaster Albert “Skip” Shannon and past Headmaster Brother Edward Keefe stand at St. John's Prep.

DANVERS — A century ago, 61 boys became the first students to attend St. John’s Preparatory School in Danvers, on a campus that consisted of one building. Tuition was $40, and all the teachers were Xaverian brothers.

Today, the private Catholic school has grown to nine buildings, 1,260 students, $15,400 tuition and has mostly lay faculty.

“We don’t stay stagnant when things change in the world,” said Brother William Drinan, 76, headmaster emeritus of St. John’s Prep. “The school continues and moves on with the times and that’s what we’ve always done, especially in the area of technology.”

As the St. John’s Prep community and extensive alumni network begin celebrating the school’s centennial this year, those who know and love the school say that despite the changes since the school opened on Sept. 10, 1907, the mission has remained constant.

“There is still the same focus on spiritual life, academics and athletics,” said Brother Edward Keefe, the school’s 13th headmaster (now emeritus), who preceded Brother Drinan in the post. “Those things have stayed the same.”

The Prep was founded on its Spring Street hilltop perch by the Xaverian Brothers, an international teaching order founded in Belgium. Current headmaster Albert “Skip” Shannon is the first lay headmaster in the school’s history.

“The brothers have moved from administration, teaching, coaching and running the place toward a model of sponsorship,” said Shannon.

When Brothers Keefe and Drinan arrived at St. John’s Prep as teachers nearly five decades ago, they took part in and catalyzed major changes at the school. Until the 1970s, the Prep had residential students from far and wide, including Idaho, Texas and California in the United States and countries such as Costa Rica, Cuba, Hong Kong, Panama, Mexico, Argentina and Canada. That ended along with the termination of boarding.

“The number of brothers had declined and it was difficult to find people to live with the residential students,” said Keefe, 76. “And the residential facilities were deteriorating and we didn’t have the money to fix them up.”

Facing the finances

The other major change was fundraising, which became essential as the school’s financial condition grew worse.

“Just before I took over, the school was in terrible financial condition,” said Keefe, who was headmaster from 1974 to 1989. “I resolved to begin a development office, although it didn’t have that name at the time, and I focused on fundraising.”

The brothers began raising money slowly, hosting Monday night bingo games and reaching out to alumni, parents and past parents.

“That was really the beginning of fundraising organizations at the Prep,” said Shannon. “Brother Keefe is very modest, but he began to identify major donors and philanthropists, like John Kaneb (of Manchester),” for whom the campus’ Kaneb Theatre is named.

“That was a turning point,” said Shannon. “It helped define where we are today.”

Today, the school operates on a $20 million budget, of which $2.7 million is earmarked for financial aid each year. Ninety-five percent of scholarships are need-based, and 5 percent are based on academics, according to Shannon, who said there are no athletic scholarships.

Turning 100

In honor of the school’s centennial, a new Prep museum has been installed throughout Xavier Hall, designed by Arthur Eilertson of Beverly. A time line of the school is threaded through each floor featuring old photographs, collages and memorabilia such as letterman jackets and sweaters.

Black-and-white photos of brothers wearing cassocks are contrasted with more modern pictures, like one of a student reading Mad Magazine.

“This will give our 14-year-old boys a sense of history,” said Shannon during a recent tour of the museum.

The Prep commissioned a book about its history, called “Far Above the Neighboring Hilltops,” by local author Gary Larrabee. And in homage to the school’s anniversary, the student newspaper, The Eagle, will use the paper’s original name for the year, The Concordia.

The school is also hosting an outdoor Mass and centennial day this Saturday afternoon. Later in the month, there will be a Centennial Gala at which 14 new members will be inducted into the Prep Hall of Honor.

“An awful lot of work is going into planning for the centennial year and there are some wonderful things,” said Drinan.

As for the brothers, five are still on staff at the school: Brothers Phillip DiMarchi, Ron Santoro, Timothy Paul, Frederick Codair and Arcadius Alkonis. Drinan still tutors and he and Keefe live on campus in the old barn, which was converted into a residence, Xaverian House, for retired Xaverian brothers. There are 17 retired brothers living there today — the most anywhere in the country.

For the two past headmasters, the Prep’s 100th anniversary is truly a cause for celebration.

“I’ve always been impressed with students, alumni and parents — their feeling of connectedness to the school,” said Keefe.

“I just want to make sure the mission continues,” said Drinan, “and I know it’s going to happen. Right now we have a young administration that is doing a marvelous job.”

Want to go?

Centennial Day cookout

and alumni reunion

r Date: Saturday, Sept. 8

r Time: 4 p.m. Mass of the Holy Spirit,

followed by cookout and reunion

r Where: Gibbons Memorial Field, St. John’s Prep, 72 Spring St., Danvers

r Information: Visit the school’s Web site at www.stjohnsprep.org.


By the numbers

$40 Cost of tuition in 1907 for day students

$225 Cost of tuition in 1907 for boarders

$15,400 Cost of tuition in 2007 (no boarders)

12 Number of Xaverian-sponsored schools in the country

15 Number of headmasters the Prep has had

70 Percentage of Prep students who are Catholic

77 Number of women who graduated during the Prep’s brief coed period

90 Number of communities sending students to the Prep

175 Number of acres in campus

12,000 Number of students graduated in the Prep’s history

Dates to remember

1891 Xaverian Brothers purchase the Spring and Driver estates in Danvers for $19,500

1907 St. John’s Preparatory School opens

1915 First public debate by St. John’s Debating Society, in Peabody Town Hall. The topic: whether women should be allowed to vote.

1918 The Prep receives thanks from town of Danvers for assistance during the influenza epidemic and “your work and generosity during this plague.”

1927 The school’s first formal prom, held at the Hawthorne Hotel in Salem

1941 First issue of The Spire, the senior class yearbook

1945 First and only midyear graduation on Jan. 30, to expedite 13 students joining the armed services

1954 Memorial Gymnasium opens and Sen. John F. Kennedy attends a dinner there marking the Xaverians’ 100th anniversary in the country.

1984 U.S. Sen. Paul Tsongas delivers commencement address

Numbers and statistics provided by St. John’s Prep

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