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Today's Marists

Marist events and stories about parishes, Marist School and Marist personalities are shared regularly in the print edition of our newsletter, Today's Marists. We invite to read about our ministries, missions, history, schools, donors and more.

Download Fall 2017 Today's Marists Newsletter
(updated March 21, 2018)

From Today's Marists Newsletter

19th and 21st Century Educators in Marist Schools
By Joseph Hindelang, SM

19th and 21st Century Educators in Marist Schools

In March of 1829, the director of the diocesan secondary school and minor (high school) seminary in Belley, France died unexpectedly. Bishop Alexandre-Raymond Devie asked Father Jean-Claude Colin to become the new director (principal) of the school. Fr. Colin had lived at this seminary in spare rooms with two other future Marist priests while preaching parish retreats in surrounding mountain villages. He had been working for over a dozen years to bring the Society of Mary into existence and to write its constitutions.

Education was seen as an important ministry within this new Society but Fr. Colin had never expected to be involved in this ministry. On Easter Monday, he reluctantly accepted his appointment by the bishop as the new leader of this school. Over the summer he wrote a short "handbook" for the staff of the school. His "Instructions to the Staff of the Minor Seminary of Belley" is still very useful to Marists involved in education today and to the lay staff who have taken up this important Marist ministry.

Top: Chaz Doherty, Tuhoe tribe elder and mentor/host for the Young Marist Neighbours Programme with students from St Pat’s Wellington. Michelle Windsor (left), a founding member of the Next Door Community, a Young Marist social justice outreach. Fr. Mark Walls is on far right. Inset: Fr. Mark Walls, s.m. Bottom: Chaz Doherty, Tuhoe tribe elder and mentor/host for the Young Marist Neighbours Programme and Fr. Mark Walls (standing right) with some of the young leaders high up in the Te Urewera mountains. This is a remote rainforest in the central North Island of New Zealand, home to the Tuhoe tribe, and venue for many of the Young Marist Neighbours programmes. The Tuhoe villages are very remote, very poor, but wonderfully hospitable. The early French Marists were frequent visitors to Te Urewera and there are still vestiges of their presence.
19th and 20th century educators in Marist schools

In March of 2004, Fr. Jan Hulshof, the superior general, convoked a Forum on Marist Education in Rome. Marists and lay staff members of schools of the Society of Mary gathered from various parts of the world to reflect on the future ministry of Marist education.

Marists in North America have continued this effort to ensure the future of Marist education. In June of 2017, the fifth workshop for teachers, staff and board members at Marist sponsored schools in North America met in Michigan to reflect on the insights and philosophy of education of Fr. Colin. These current and future lay leaders are committed to bringing the Marist charism to the next generation of students and teachers. A good insight into how the charism of the Society of Mary becomes part of a culture of a school is contained in a talk delivered by Fr. Mark Walls at the earlier workshops for participants from North American Marist schools. Fr. Walls is a priest of the Society of Mary from New Zealand who has worked extensively with students, young adults and educators. The following is an excerpt of his talk.

The "Instructions to the Staff of the Minor Seminary of Belley" of Fr. Colin, penned only months after his arrival at Belley, are not particularly revolutionary or even original. They are the result of his own reading of current pedagogy, and without doubt his observations of the current state of affairs in the school at Belley. However, there is also present the wisdom of the missionary on two counts – attitudes honed by the experience of ministry in the hills of the Bugey, and the deep understanding of someone sensitive to the needs of a young people suffering a lack of direction and moral fibre. I do not want to do the venerable gentleman an injustice or a disservice, but his advice to his teachers can be distilled into a very economical formula. First there is his quite simple and uncomplicated educational philosophy, and it is based on a reflection on Mary in the Gospels:

The Founder: The Source of our Education Philosophy

Mary the Mother of Jesus is not something to be talked about at great length, or an object to be made the center of attention for the students. Rather, MARY IS A SUBJECT WITH WHOM THE EDUCATOR IDENTIFIES. IT IS IN TRYING TO EFFACE OURSELVES, AND KEEPING OURSELVES, LIKE MARY, HIDDEN AND UNKNOWN, THAT AS EDUCATORS WE TRULY FULFILL OUR ROLE.

Here we have the heart of what might be called the secret of Marist pedagogy.

Marist pedagogy, according to Fr Colin, could be summed up as this

  • an approach not of conquest, but of humble and discreet assistance
  • not of putting self out front, drawing attention to self, or playing games of prestige
  • Marist educators interest themselves in the real needs of those they have in front of them
  • the pedagogy is student-centered: what counts is the students, what they make of themselves
  • self-effacement of educators in the work of the team is vital – it is the group who teach
  • unity of staff is paramount, the quality of relationships among them, because the students are always sensitive to that

Colin's ideas weren't something new, or a Marist monopoly, then or now, but the combination of them has proved effective and remarkably enduring. How could the ideas be summarized?

Colin's three aims of Christian education were

1. the formation of Christians

2. the formation of good-living people

3. the formation of scholars

He wanted educators who

1. have real care and concern for the students as individuals

2. don't get in the way of learning

3. form a Community of Education

Real Care and Concern for the Students as Individuals

Colin wanted

  • teachers who would get to know each student, who would not show favoritism, who would spend time with students outside the classroom, who would involve themselves with aspects of their broader education.
  • teachers who would consider themselves as being at the service of the students — like Jesus who came "to serve, not to be served."
  • teachers who would gain the respect and confidence of the students, not to be considered popular, but so that the students might become open, trusting and sincere.

Teachers who don't get in the way of learning

Colin wanted

  • teachers who would not let themselves be a barrier to students' learning; thus self-effacement and avoidance of pet schemes; students are more important than the curriculum.
  • teachers who would treat the students with respect, keeping in mind the adults they will become.
  • teachers who would avoid anything the students might ridicule, and who would avoid seeking popularity because it will lead to being despised.
  • teachers who have a sense of humor and are under no illusions with regard to the students: they aren't angels and they aren't devils – they are young, they will make mistakes and be disrespectful. Don't expect more of them than they can deliver.

Staff who form a Community of Education

Colin wanted

  • a staff presenting a "united front" to the students, and behind that front he wanted the reality of a true "community of educators."
  • all to contribute ideas at staff meetings or in the appropriate forum, but not to lobby or form factions, and for everyone to get behind the final decision when it is made.
  • teachers not to ask auxiliary staff to be involved in inter-departmental disputes.
  • staff members not to side with a student against another staff member.
  • staff who would not set themselves up on a pedestal, or be right out front demanding that people follow, but work together as members of a team in the very midst of people.

In Marist education we have a rare gem, a charism, which, I believe, presents us with a means to reignite the real meaning of life, the Gospel of Jesus Christ, in the hearts of our young people. I believe that an essential part of our charism as Marists, (and not just professed Marists) is that the four founders of our Marist family never saw themselves as anything other than instruments of Mary the Mother of Jesus. Colin always said that Mary was our Foundress, our first and perpetual Superior. It is her spirit that we live and breathe. She is no different in the early twenty-first century from what she was in the early nineteenth century, because the Gospel has not changed. Our spirit as Marists comes from our reflection on Mary in the Gospels. Something as basic as that, as close to Mary's Son, is actually attractive to young people if we live it – IF WE LIVE IT!

If we are there in the Gospel,
walking alongside Jesus as Mary did,
then our life is transformed,
and so are the lives of those around us.

 

 

 

Our spirit as Marists
comes from our reflection
on Mary in the Gospels.

Something as basic as that, as close to Mary's Son, is actually attractive to young people if we live it –
IF WE LIVE IT!

If we are there in the Gospel, walking alongside Jesus as Mary did, then our life is transformed, and so are the lives of those around us.

 

 
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