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In the Footsteps of Marcellin Champagnat

 

A Vision for Marist Education Today - 1998

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I am delighted to present to the Brothers and to all Marist layteachers this document entitled « The Marist Educational Mission: a Project for Today ».  This is « an official document of the General Council to orient the educational mission of the Institute in response to a request of the XIX General Chapter in 1993 ».  It will be for the next General Chapter to place it on its agenda to see whether improvements or adaptations may be needed, and to decide whether it is opportune to consider it an official document of the Institute.

Acknowledgements

My first thought as I write this introduction is one of gratitude to all those Marist educators whose love for children and young people and whose dedication to their mission as educators has enabled them not only to prolong the spirit we have inherited from Marcellin Champagnat but also to enrich it during the 181 years of our Marist history.  It is evident that I am thinking in a special way of those Brothers who have had to deal with sociocultural and educational changes  and who were creative enough to give specific responses to the needs which have arisen.  In a special way, I want to thank all those who down through our history have sought to keep alive Champagnat’s founding aim: to offer an education to those who lacked the opportunity to acquire one or who were marginalized by society.

Sincere and special gratitude to those Brothers filled with apostolic spirit, who even when their age or health prevented them from carrying on with full vigor the work they had made their own for life, were able to discover new ways of involvement and new tasks they could perform in the pastoral ministry of education, inside or outside the school system.

In expressing my gratitude, I cannot overlook those laymen and laywomen who during these recent decades have committed themselves to education within the context of a Marist undertaking.  I thank them especially for their enthusiasm and love for the educational work of Marcellin Champagnat.  Mutual confidence among the Brothers and Marist layfolk has made it easier to discover each one’s gifts and to work together in an educational undertaking on the basis of the complementarity of our vocations.  The experiences of « shared mission » which we are currently living together, Brothers and laypeople, have inspired the thrust of this document and have been a source of inspiration as it was being written.

The International Commission

The General Council entrusted the drawing up of this document to an international commission composed of Brothers and laypeople.  I am aware that they dedicated much time to it, carried out Institute-wide consultations, went through moments of searching and a certain degree of frustration occasioned by the complexity of the subject matter in itself and by the multiplicity of lived realities throughout the Institute in the context of its educational mission, realities which cannot always be equated to one another.

I would like to mention the members of the commission by name, as a way of thanking and congratulating them for the service they have rendered us and for the love they have put into the accomplishment of the work entrusted to them.  They are: Brothers Jeffrey Crowe (General Councillor), Henri Vignau (General Councillor), Carlos Martínez Lavin (Mexico), Dominick Pujia (USA), José Manoel Alves (Brazil), Honoré Rakatonorivo (Madagascar), Manuel de Leon (Philippines), Mark Farrelly (Australia), Maurice Bergeret (France), Miguel Cubeles (Spain), D. Alberto Libera (Bolivia), and Mrs. Emma Casis (Philippines).

The Stages of the Journey

Beginning with the years just after the Council, the Marist Institute has had to confront new situations which have affected it on various levels.

The first stage required the Brothers, as they listened to the world and the Church, to re-study the origins of the Institute and Marcellin Champagnat’s founding intuition, in order to evaluate our path through history and to once again formulate our identity and hence our contemporary mission of evangelization in a manner consistent with the inspiration which gave rise to the Institute.  All of this was marvelously expressed in the Constitutions of the Institute, which are the fundamental text for the Brothers and which were approved by the Vatican in 1986.

I will quote from this text four articles which may help us the better to situate the mission of the Marist Institute and the document I am here introducing.  Please keep in mind that I am quoting only certain parts of each article:

1      « It was this attitude that led (Marcellin) to found our Institute for the Christian education of the young, especially those most in need » (art. 2)

2      « The Church sends forth our Institute, which draws its life from the Holy Spirit.  Faithful to Father Champagnat, it works to evangelize people, especially by educating the young, particularly those most neglected » (art.  80)

3      « Engaged in schools or in other forms of education, we put our heart and soul into serving the human person of the sake of the Kingdom » (art. 85)

4      « We share our spirituality and our educational approach with parents, lay teachers, and other members of the educational community » (art. 88)

Subsequent General Chapters pushed forward this renewal of the Institute, taking into account the major changes taking place in our society and the various settings in which our educational mission is carried out.  Let me mention a few, by way of example:

1      The change of mentality and of structures which brought us from « the Brothers’ school » to « the Marist school » (including both Brothers and laypeople) and then to a school based on « the shared mission » in which Brothers and layteachers are indiscriminately called to assume responsibility for its animation and/or administration.

2      The impact upon education of the cultural changes taking place in our world which affect human beings in their every dimension, the stress on a specifically youth-oriented culture, and the socio-political changes taking place in those countries where the Marist Institute is present.

3      In days past, children and young people were, to a certain extent, « passive subjects » of education.  They came to school to receive guidance, values, religious formation, and knowledge which would prepare them for life.  And all of this emphasized certain   aspects of the organization of the school and of the manner of acting of those persons dedicated to education.  Today, new concepts of education and interpersonal relations require of  educators a special talent for entering the world of young people, to walk beside them as their friend, to motivate and accompany them as they search for what they are personally called to do.

4      I will add a fourth aspect: the educational plurality that exists in the Institute.  The fact that we are present in 75 countries implies diversity in educational planning, in local idiosycracies,  in living together ecumenically with other religions, or in facing religious intolerance or exclusion, in the freedom to develop curricula, or in government financing of education.  In addition, the Brothers sometimes animate or administer diocesan schools which have their own educational program.

All of this has consequences for the Marist educational mission and we have perhaps lacked the creativity to promote initiatives which would permit us to be with young people in the « new cultural contexts » in which they live.  We have sometimes been rather passive in the face of the discrimination or lack of financial assistance with which certain governments have treated the Christian school, and in some places we have promoted schools which are attended primarily by students from the upper middle class and from economically stable families.

Moreover, in those countries we have perhaps lacked the initiative to develop, with help from society, other possibilities favoring the creation of new forms of presence in the pastoral of education for students who lack resources or who are on the fringes of society.

An Historic Moment

The diversity of countries, cultures and educational systems in which the Marist Institute is present has led to a major decentralization at the level of the Institute; however, even within that variety it is possible to identify the fundamental elements which characterize our style of education.  The commission which put together « The Marist Educational Mission: A Project for Today » attempted to set them in relief and the document provides tools which will help Brothers and laypeople to discern our mission in fidelity to the charism inherited from Marcellin Champagnat, and from that same point of view, to evaluate the human and evangelical fruitfulness of our educational works, and, if need be, to transform or transfer them.

The document invites us to look toward the future with daring and hope, but it suggests a number of orientations to guide us along that journey, among them the following:

It reaffirms the important role carried out by the school but it also invites us to undertake new educational projects within and without the school system, always taking into account our preference for the least favored students, the challenges which young people must confront, and the presence and nearness we owe them, because nowadays, we educators « must listen, ask, investigate, pray and look at our world through the eyes of young people ».

I underline the invitation to open ourselves to universal solidarity, seeking ways of collaborating with other groups, whether ecclesial, humanitarian or governmental, or with organizations more directly involved with the dignity and rights of children.

Let Us Journey Together, Brothers and Laypeople

In the visits I make to the provinces, I hold meetings with various groups of laypeople in our schools.  On one occasion, I was pleasantly surprised with the way one group expressed itself, and other Brothers of the General Council have had similar experiences.  « In our province, we are doing such and so..., we have set up a program. »  « When our Brother Provincial visits us.... »  When people talk like that, I do not need to ask them if they feel like part of the Marist family and if Marcellin Champagnat plays an important role in their commitment to Christian education.  That way of talking allows me to consider them as my lay Marist brothers and sisters with whom I can openly share the joys, the limitations and the hopes with which we live in the Marist Institute.

I hope that this document will help us to walk together, Brothers and laypeople.  We surely need a bit of patience and the ability to overcome the mistakes we may make, because we all have to learn how to carry « our shared mission » to its fulfillment.  Above all, we can help one another to grow in this educational spirit that we have inherited from Marcellin.  His canonization offers us an opportunity to read and deeply absorb together the pages which follow. 

Again, let me express my appreciation and my gratitude in the name of the Brothers of the General Council, and my heartfelt greetings to all of you.

______________
Br. Benito Arbués - Superior General - 15 August 1998

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