Xaverian returns to Belgian roots

As the Xaverian Brothers built a reputation in the United Statesby establishing a network of schools which afforded a premierCatholic education for the working and middle classes, it is oftenoverlooked that the founder of their religious, Theodore JamesRyken, was himself a native of Bruges, Belgium. The order,dedicated to Roman Catholic education for the past 172 years,opened Xaverian H.S. on 71st Street and Shore Road in Brooklyn in1957. Xaverian quickly made its mark on the educational scene byproducing capable and scholarly young men who became leaders in allwalks of life.

Xaverian reconnected with its roots six years ago by inauguratingan exchange program with the very first Xaverian school in Bruges -The Xaverian Institute of St. Francis. Young people from bothXaverians visit each other’s school, learn about each others’ cityand country, and most importantly get a real glimpse into eachother’s culture through a reciprocal visit in which each studentlives in the home of his counterpart for over a week.

This is a uniquely special opportunity, said Robert Alesi,Xaverian’s president and a class of 1978 Xaverian graduate. Unlikea commercial European vacation, the students from both theseschools are connected historically and spiritually through theXaverian brothers.

The students lived with families in Bruges. Their visit wascarefully planned by administrators and teachers to include themany historical landmarks, churches, museums, canals and windmillsthat are the jewels of the UNESCO World Heritage City. They werepersonally received by the mayor and members of the City Council atthe Town Hall. The group also visited nearby Antwerp, where theylearned about early printing presses and saw the internationaldiamond district; Brussels, where an official EU attaché explainedthe workings of the European Parliament; and Flanders, where theythe battlefields and trenches of World War I, including the sitewhere the historic poem In Flanders Fields was written. One ofthe Brooklyn boys even searched for the name of his own grandfatherwho lost his life in the conflict as a member of the Americanforces.

Officially a bilingual country (Flemish and French), many Belgiansconverse fluently in as many as five languages, including English.The boys had little or no trouble communicating with their hostfamilies, explained XHS group leader Salvatore Tinervia, Class of1997.

Each individual had a unique experience in his homestay, addedXaverian Assistant Principal Maria Rodriguez, who also served as achaperone. This is enrichment education well beyond the realm oftourism. The youngsters on both sides gained a profound awarenessof life from a new perspective.

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