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By Rachel Amiri

Father Marcus Fryer, SJ

Father Marcus Fryer, SJ, looks forward to getting to work each day.

“I love what I get to do. I get to bounce out of bed every morning and share Christ with others,” he tells his curious students.

Missioned to Loyola Academy of St. Louis, a Jesuit upper-elementary and middle school for boys, Fr. Fryer wears many hats. Officially the school’s chaplain and a teacher, he also supports Loyola’s development efforts. “The team here at Loyola is just phenomenal, and so being able to walk beside them and learn about what it takes to keep an awesome school like this going has been a great experience,” he said.

But what Fr. Fryer gets to see and do every day at Loyola stretches beyond any one job title. “What I see every day here is that our kids’ hearts grow,” he said.

Loyola Academy is in midtown St. Louis and serves boys who have the potential for college preparatory work, but whose progress may be impeded by economic or social circumstances. Loyola’s doors open each day to a diverse student population representing 30 ZIP codes from across the St. Louis metropolitan area.

“I think we really pride ourselves on being able to meet our students where they are,” said Fr. Fryer. “If they know they’re safe, that you care about them, they’re willing to soak up so much.”

An extended school day and encouraging environment at Loyola provide a setting where students thrive. Early arrival and breakfast lead to morning assembly and a regular school day. Then in the afternoon and early evening, an enrichment program extends the curriculum, providing deeper engagement with different topics, as well as homework help and time for fun, all in a supportive and safe environment. The program prepares students for personal and academic success, with most graduates going on to some of the most competitive high schools in the area.

Upper elementary students enjoy a snowy recess with Fr. Marcus Fryer, SJ, at Loyola Academy of St. Louis.

Father Fryer is especially enthusiastic about Loyola’s recent addition of upper-elementary grades and what it means for the student formation the school provides. “If you can start teaching them what ‘ad majorem Dei gloriam’ means, and what it means to be a ‘Man for Others’ at nine years old, then it’s not something they have to learn. It’s just in the air they breathe and water they swim in,” he said.

Loyola offers a graduate support program to all alumni, following them through high school and up to six years of college. These 13 years of ongoing support demonstrate to the young men that their success matters by offering tangible guidance in the college application and financial aid process. “It sticks with them,” said Fr. Fryer. Many return regularly to the school to volunteer as tutors and coaches, participating in the formation of the next generation of Loyola alumni.

Bragging about Loyola alumni’s academic success and leadership – two alumni were recent recipients of the Archdiocese of St. Louis’s Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Model of Justice awards – Fr. Fryer is proudest of the character of their graduates.

“We can tell you about their grades. We can tell you about their home life. We can tell you about their ZIP code. We can tell you about their income. But what we can’t measure is how over the 13 years that we have directly with our kids, how much their hearts grow,” he said. “But being here every single day, I get to see that.”

Students at Loyola Academy show off their library books.

Father Fryer’s days find him moving from teaching physical education to tween boys, to acting as a school librarian, to teaching religion and peer ministry, to working on the fundraising database. For Fr. Fryer, full days lead to a full heart. “The part of the job that I really love is getting to work with our students,” he said.

He tries to be where the students are and to spend time with them, whether that is in the cafeteria, at morning assembly, or dropping into the classroom. “I think it says a lot to them that the priest that works at the school is willing to sit through assembly and learn about the day.” he said.

This year, as part of the campus ministry team, Fr. Fryer is teaching peer ministry enrichment for middle school students, focusing on service, liturgy and prayer. “We’re working with students on growing as peer ministers, being faith leaders in their school community and in their home community.”

Students in Fr. Fryer’s peer ministry enrichment class hear from Fr. Aric Serrano, SJ, via video conference.

In a shift from his prior assignment at Arrupe Jesuit College Preparatory School in Denver, most Loyola students and families are not Catholic. Initially, he wondered how parents and students would react to having a full-time priest on campus. But he finds himself inspired by what he’s learning from students and their families.

“What I found is that the families and the students are just really open to the movement of the Spirit,” he said. “They’re open to the call of Christ in their life, and they’re not concerned about Catholic or Protestant. They’re concerned that their young men are loved and get to grow in their relationship with God.”

The welcome of parents and the support of community volunteers from Saint Louis University, St. Louis University High School, De Smet Jesuit High School and others makes Fr. Fryer enthusiastic about the Jesuit, Catholic character of the school. “The community is like a bubble wrap of safety around our kids that helps their hearts to grow and really makes this place successful,” he said. He wants to share the story of Loyola Academy more broadly, so that more people can know “what a community it takes to keep this school going.”

“I know we have people in this city who care so much for all of our institutions, and I would just encourage them to check out Loyola Academy and to help be part of our mission of helping young men grow as men for others.”

Father Marcus Fryer, SJ, teaches Loyola Academy students about the Mass.

He feels privileged to support Loyola’s mission and sees signs of its impact all around campus. Students joined in prayer for a holy hour during Catholic Schools Week, while others dropped in to talk to a priest and learn more about the sacrament of reconciliation during Advent.

“Christ is working in their lives,” he said. “Whether they recognize it now, or whether they recognize it later, the change is happening. They are so anxious to build that relationship with Christ and to be the type of man that Christ is calling them to be.”

At the end of the day, Fr. Fryer finds himself inspired by his students.

“As their hearts are turning, it’s having that same impact on me,” he said. “The good work that God’s doing in their life has a direct impact on mine. It’s made me a better priest.”

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