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To Love is to Serve: Xavier Dean of Students Puts His Faith in Action

Posted on March 09, 2023 in: School News, FaithSparks

To Love is to Serve: Xavier Dean of Students Puts His Faith in Action

Who knew that a young boy’s Catholic school education would solidify his career path in life? Especially when he really did not want to continue on to a Catholic high school as an adolescent.  But life has a way of redirecting us and showing us what is truly important. That is what happened to Nicholas P. Cerreta, dean of students at Xavier High School in Middletown. 

After attending Mount Carmel Catholic grammar school in Meriden, Connecticut, from kindergarten through grade 8, Cerreta was ready to move on to a local public high school, but his mom had other plans for him. “My mother let me know that she was picking my high school, and I was free to pick my college,” remembers Cerreta. And, as they say, “The rest is history.”

Cerreta followed in his big brother Chuck’s footsteps, attending Xavier High School as a freshman when Chuck was a senior. Neither of them was prepared for the events of that summer, though, when his parents went through an arduous divorce that affected the whole family. Xavier became a “safe zone” and a home away from home for Cerreta. He fondly remembers the teachers and staff that checked in on him regularly and helped him personally get through that difficult time in his life. “It was right then that I understood that Xavier was more than a school — it was a community, a community of different people who cared,” he said.

During this time, he came to a greater understanding of the mission of Xavier High School, run by the Xaverian Brothers, which is: To educate the whole person you have to care about and care for the whole person. “I experienced that firsthand as soon as I entered Xavier. They cared about my mental, emotional and spiritual wellbeing as much as my academic success. They knew it was all interconnected,” he said.

One of the fundamental principles of the Xaverian Brothers is to foster enduring personal relationships. Experiencing that in his own life, Cerreta said he believes this is one of the main reasons he returned to Xavier after college to teach and work in the Campus Ministry Office.  

“I wanted to come back to help young men learn lifelong lessons that will affect their decisions and actions for years to come,” he said.

As a student, Cerreta focused on his studies and participated in very few extracurricular activities. Before beginning his senior year, he attended the Xavier Leadership Institute, a five-day retreat for incoming seniors that changed the trajectory of his life. On that retreat, Cerreta took his responsibilities and role as a student leader seriously and earned the respect of the faculty and students who attended. It was clear that he had tapped into his leadership potential and was a natural-born leader.

When his senior year began, the director of campus ministry at the time encouraged him to apply to become a peer minister. It was a role Cerreta had never considered before and he gave serious thought to the impact this would have for him during his senior year. He applied, was accepted and excelled as a student leader. “As a peer minister, I learned more about others, myself and God than I ever would have in any other leadership role,” he recalled. “I had the privilege of sharing my gifts and talents with others and learning from theirs, which they shared with me.”

Cerreta pinpoints this as a pivotal moment in his development, one which forced him to recognize his own potential and the ability to help others by sharing it. “The role I held as a peer minister taught me about being a servant leader and all the good and bad that goes along with that.” He ended his education at Xavier as a student leader working on retreats and service projects. Ironically, it is also where he started his career four years later after graduating from Providence College in Rhode Island.

After graduation, Xavier hired him to teach English and work as a member of the campus ministry team. With this job offer, his life had come full circle. He was now prepared to teach, through word and deed, morals, values and principles that became the foundation on which he has built his life. “Xavier reinforced daily the values my mother had instilled in my brother and me — respect, loyalty, trustworthiness, compassion and hard work.” They are values he continues to stress to Xavier students today.   

When asked what makes Catholic education a different experience for children and youth, Cerreta highlighted the opportunities to educate the whole person through faith sharing. “The ability to help students develop spiritually affects everything else in their lives in a positive way,” he said. Accountability is also another lesson Cerreta stresses in his job as dean of students. “Every time a student is sent to my office due to an action or choice they made, I have the opportunity to teach a life lesson in hopes that it won’t happen again.”

Despite the demands of his current post, Cerreta also volunteers in campus ministry as a member of the retreat team. He takes on this additional role because, he said, “You really get to know kids in retreat settings. They get to open up and show a side that is often hidden day-to-day. They can share real emotion — fear, hope, anger, disappointment — in a safe and nurturing environment where they will not be judged.” For him, it is a privilege to be able to share in those formative moments with the students. 

A philosophy he tries to live by each day is, “To love is to serve.” He believes it is important to follow Jesus’ example of service to others by getting your hands dirty and doing the hard work. “When you serve out of love, you have a quicker impact on people because they can see firsthand how much you care,” he said. He considers his care and commitment to the students and mission of Xavier High School as part of his vocation to help others. “No one cares how much you know until they know how much you care,” he stressed.

Another role Cerreta has at Xavier is head coach for the school’s varsity baseball team. How has his Catholic education affected this role? 

“I want my players to be better human beings first — better sons, brothers, friends, students — then they will become better baseball players,” he said. “Development of character is crucial for members of a team to be successful.” 

Through baseball, Cerreta aims to teach his team members life lessons that will stay with them. “Sports are relatable to young men, so these lessons learned through baseball will serve as the foundation on which they will build their future,” he said.  

Wearing many hats at Xavier is something Cerreta enjoys because it affords him the opportunity to relate to students on different levels. In turn, it helps students to see various sides of Cerreta and not just his role as dean of students.   

Thinking about the future, Cerreta smiled and said, “I have been dean of students for 16 years and the natural progression would be to use my administrative master’s degree and become a principal. That being said, I would never be able to lose contact with the students. No matter what role I hold, the students will always be my number one priority.” 

By Andrea Hoisl

 

 

 

 

 

 


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