A Brief History
In 1865, Right Reverend John Loughlin, first Bishop of Brooklyn, invited priests of the Congregation of the Mission to establish themselves in his diocese for the purpose of opening a day school “where the youth of the city might find the advantages of a solid education, and where their minds might receive the moral training necessary to maintain the credit of Catholicity.”
The Congregation of the Mission popularly known in America as the Vincentians- was founded in Paris, France by St. Vincent de Paul in the early part of the 17th century. The priests and brothers formed with the Daughters of Charity, founded by St. Vincent and St. Louise de Marillac, a double family with a common Superior General. The Congregation’s purpose was to preach the gospel to the poor country people who were, at the time of its founding, almost completely neglected. Later, the education of the clergy was added to their mission because of the great need for holy and competent priests.
Cornelius Dever, a prominent businessman, purchased parcels of land on behalf of Bishop Loughlin and the Vincentian fathers. Originally constituting part of three farms, the property was bounded by Stuyvesant Avenue and a triangular parcel at the corner of High Street and Lewis Avenue.
On September 5, 1870, St. John’s, named in honor of St. John the Baptist, opened its doors on this property. The original school building – College Hall- housed both the high school and the college. In fact, not until 1880 was a distinction made between high school and college level students. Until then, when a student registered, he was interviewed by the President who acted as Prefect of Scholastics and depending on the young man’s previous education, he was assigned to a class. Only in the final class were college level courses taught exclusively.
Student interest at St. John’s soon transcended the rigorous academic program that was offered by the school and in 1872 the St. John’s Literary Union because the first of many student organizations. Sports activities at St. John’s began early and achieved formal recognition with the formation of the first baseball team in 1892. The 1890’s witnessed enthusiastic St. John’s participation in many interscholastic tournaments. 1907-08 saw the appearance of the first St. John’s basketball team; coached by Father Chestnut, C.M., The red and white team was comprised of both students from the high school and the college.
The Moore Memorial Building-Lewis Avenue
As the High School Department enrollment continued to increase dramatically over the years, the decision was made to erect a separate Prep building. In 1927, the Moore Memorial Building, named after the Very reverend John W. Moore, was dedicated; Father Moore had been the much beloved President of the College from 1906 to 1925.
The exterior and basement of the five-story Moore Memorial Building were finished in granite and limestone, with brick used on the upper stories. The interior was equipped with the finest scholastic and athletic facilities, a beautiful paneled library, well-lighted classrooms and lecture halls, administration offices, a handsome gymnasium, and a tiled swimming pool.
The beautiful new facility made it possible to continue the school’s mission and offer the benefits of a Catholic education to more students. St. John’s prep’s reputation grew as a place that offered its students moral and religious training, a demanding academic program, and a rich extracurricular and social life. Numerous championships were won from the debating halls to the sports fields. When the college (now university) moved to its present location at Hillcrest, Queens in 1955, St. John’s prep expanded even further, taking over the Willoughby Avenue Building.
A changing society and resultant decreased enrollment in the late 1960’s caused the Prep to close its doors in 1972. However, the words of Reverend John W. Newman, C.M., at a special mass of celebration on May 20, 1972, proved to be prophetic: “Of this fact we are certain- a vibrant force like St. John’s Prep never dies. It may change its name. It may cease to function as an academic entity, but St. John’s Prep lives on in the hearts and souls and memories of all who ever administered, taught, or were trained within its walls.
Mater Christi High School
Mater Christi Diocesan High School opened its doors to its first freshman class in September, 1961. It was built by the generous contributions of the parishioners of the Brooklyn Diocese-for the purpose of providing students with a Catholic education: an education of the whole person-the spiritual as well as the social, the physical as well as the intellectual. The major aim of the school was the development of the well-rounded person who would contribute to the society of the modern world in the greatest of Christian ways.
Bishop Brian J. McEntegart, fourth Bishop of Brooklyn, was primarily responsible for creating Mater Christi High School. In his letter to the first graduating class he stated that it was in the summer of 1959 that the idea of a new high school in Astoria was first conceived. He placed his plans and hopes and dreams for this new school in the hands of the Mother of God.
He mentioned the self-sacrifice, the dedication, the long hours of labor that went into building the beautiful, new building. But he hastened to add that the school was not built by human effort- it was built by prayer. He quoted the words he frequently prayed to the Blessed Mother: “Never was it known that anyone who fled to thy protection was left unaided.”
Upon successful completion, the school was appropriately named Mater Christi and dedicated to the Mother of Christ-so she would bring to life the truth and love of her Divine Son in the minds and hearts of her students. Bishop McEntegart concluded his letter by asking the first graduating class to start a tradition-that they and all following graduates-“would always brighten and strengthen this world with the truth and charity of Christ.”
This tradition continued and grew with each graduating class. Bright young faces reflecting the goodness of God enthusiastically completed four years of Christian development. Basic structures and curriculums changed over the years but the overall goals of a Catholic education remained constant.
Mater Christi was originally co-institutional; it was staffed by Sisters of Mercy and lay teachers in the Girls’ Division and De LA Salle Christian Brothers and lay teachers in the Boys’ Division. In 1974, the two divisions were merged and the School became co-educational. It remained a diocesan high school until 1977 when it was turned over to a community-based board of trustees and became known as Mater Christi Catholic High School.
Through the years, Mater Christi’s motto: “That They May Have Life More Abundantly” emphasized Bishop McEntegart’s hope for the school. “Young men and women will come forth from this school prepared to carry into the world the example of Christ-like living. They will truly be Children of Mary...”
“here will be trained the leaders of tomorrow-the teachers, doctors, lawyers, engineers, scientists, writers, shapers and makers of a future and better America. Here will be trained mothers and fathers who will build the holy homes that will keep America safe and healthy.”
“dedicated to God and Country, Mater Christi High School will form ‘better people for better times’, Christian citizens enamored by truth and goodness of charity and freedom, citizens who will continue the characteristic contributions to American life made by millions of other graduates of Catholic high schools.”
The New Prep
In October of 1980, the Board of Trustees of Mater Christi Catholic High School and the Board of St. John’s University announced an academic affiliation of the two schools. The academic affiliation, among other things, afforded greater educational opportunities to the students at the high school while resurrecting the name and tradition of the original St. John’s Prep.
On July 1, 1981, St. John’s preparatory was officially reborn. There were obvious differences-the new Prep was in Queens and the new Prep was co-educational. The basic mission, however, remained the same-to offer a quality Catholic education to the youth of the City. Representatives of the University were added to the Board of Trustees of the high school, solidifying the academic affiliation of the two institutions.
The new St. John’s Prep offers the students the possibility of spending their senior year as a full time student of the University through the Five and Seven Year Program. This is a unique academic program offered by the Prep and the University which enables a qualified student to “skip” a year. The new Prep, however, aims to challenge all students-not just the academically most gifted- to develop their God-given talents to the fullest. For this reason, courses are taught on multiple levels of difficulty to meet better the needs of the students.
Central to the mission of the new Prep is its commitment to teach its students Catholic doctrine and values. This is done not only through religion classes, but also through the school’s active prayer and liturgical life. A powerful part of the spiritual program at the Prep is the Retreat Program which has grown over the years into the largest high school retreat program in the metropolitan area.
The extensive extracurricular program offered by the Prep has expanded over the years in response to changes in student needs and interests. At the current time the Prep offers over 55 different extracurricular activities.
St. John’s Prep entered the 21st Century committed to carrying on the mission that was started 137 years ago in Brooklyn and was taken up again 46 years ago in Queens. It is the firm belief of the Board of Trustees, Administrators, Faculty and Staff of St. John’s Prep that today’s students will be better prepared for the challenges of the 21st Century by receiving a sound Catholic education.