Diocesan principals travel the globe to make the world a bit smaller: Chris Keavy bridges gap from Cape Cod to China

By Dave Jolivet, Anchor Editor

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HYANNIS, Mass. — “We always felt that when Pope John Paul II High School was ready, and by that I mean having a strong school culture and stable enrollment, welcoming international students would bring benefits to our domestic students as well as improving an excellent experience for our international students,” Christopher Keavy, principal of JPII High School and Head of School for the combined JPII and St. Francis Xavier Preparatory School in Hyannis, told The Anchor. “Now that the high school is in its eighth year, we know that the time is right.” 

With that philosophy in mind, Keavy made the long journey to China this past April, along with leaders from schools in New York and Ohio, to make contact with families, agents and representatives of students who may have been interested in coming to the Cape Cod school this September.

“Eight flights in six days left me pretty tired,” Keavy told The Anchor, “but my interaction with families and students was the most beneficial aspect of the trip by far.”

Keavy made five presentations in four cities in six days, in addition to conducting a number of personal interviews. “The major presentations took place in Shanghai, Nanchang, and Guangzhou.”

During the trip, Keavy explained, “I learned to understand and appreciate the journey that families take to place their child in an American school. I was able to hear the desires and plans that students have and that their parents have.

“After these meetings, I feel much better prepared to bridge the inevitable gap in culture, language, and expectation.”

As a result of the whirlwind expedition, JPII High School welcomed five Chinese students this month; three juniors, one sophomore, and one freshman.

“To be sure, the differences in language, culture, and religious understanding can be significant,” Keavy said. “But we don’t consider them obstacles so much as opportunities to learn more about ourselves and others. Our international students have chosen to study in America in order to receive an American education, so they are willing to tackle those challenges. 

“It’s incumbent upon staff members and domestic students, in the name of charity, to understand and appreciate the challenge that this poses for international students, and assist. In the end, we will learn more about our culture, faith, and ourselves as a result.”

The Hyannis school has already had an exposure to the Chinese language. “I’m proud to say that students in grades six-12 can elect to study Mandarin Chinese at Pope John Paul II High School and St. Francis Xavier Preparatory School,” Keavy explained. “Several years ago, Dr. George Milot encouraged all diocesan high schools to offer Mandarin and we made it a priority. We are blessed with two excellent teachers of Mandarin in our unified school. I imagine that we are the only school on Cape Cod offering Mandarin Chinese from grades six-12.” 

So far the transition from China to Cape Cod has been relatively smooth. “Our domestic students have been awesome — extremely helpful, welcoming, and appreciative of our international students,” Keavy told The Anchor. “This is no surprise as hospitality is a hallmark of JPII and SFXP students.”

Plans are already in the works at the Hyannis school for a trip to China by some of the students studying Mandarin Chinese, with the creation of the “China Excursion Club.”

Keavy said he hopes the relationship with China will flourish and grow, and “We are beginning to explore a similar program for Brazilian students. It would be a great fit for Cape Cod and also in light of our new Bishop Edgar da Cunha.”

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