Brother Superior General, Robert Schieler – who was elected in 2014 to lead more than a million Lasallians worldwide – has already visited over 400 schools throughout Africa, Asia, America and Europe. These numbers could give an impression of anonymity, but “Brother Bob” looks at each person – man, woman or child – in a unique and powerful way.
We have been following him closely for fifteen days as he crossed the French territory together with Brother Aidan Kilty, Councilor for RELEM, and Brother Antoine Salinas, translator. The first impressions were unanimous: “simple and kind”, with a natural easiness to meet people from every culture, language, and religion. These character traits, as well as his erudition, make him a remarkable ambassador for the Lasallian family.
His schedule – organized by Brother Jean-Paul Aleth, Visitor of France, and Anne Benoist, his assistant – allowed him to meet a representative range of French Lasallians including brothers, school staff, and especially young people.
In the FSC communities of Athis-Mons, Caluire, Blain, Saint Denis, Paris and Roubaix, Brother Superior acknowledged the wholehearted commitment of the Brothers who, for more than fifty years, have been the architects of Lasallian renovation in France. This generation experienced all the upheavals regarding the educational mission’s direction and worked obstinately to set the course aiming at a single target: keeping the work of Saint John Baptist de la Salle alive.
For five decades, the Brothers went on directing the schools, initially alone and then together with the laity. Over the years, schools started welcoming both girls and boys and eventually the staff became mainly feminine. Although the number of vocations to the life of the Brothers keeps dropping, the Lasallian network is growing in France and worldwide, and public opinion realizes that our schools are decisively responding to a social need and to different kinds of poverty. The directors of our educational centers and their pedagogical teams are facing a huge challenge, and Brother Robert Schieler felt proud to witness on site the solutions they are finding to guarantee that each student can fully develop themselves day after day.
This is taking place, for example, in the schools of Roubaix, Wattrelos and Saint Denis, three strongholds of intercultural and interfaith vitality in France. The families and pedagogical teams there are striving to humanize young people and it’s working! The reason is very simple: they put into practice the motto of “All Different, Good News!” The approach is delivering good results because a strong commitment to the Lasallian educational project is the common denominator for all these children.
The same goes for the “Saint Félix La Salle” complex in Nantes, where the effort to welcome the immigrants who are most in need has become our school’s DNA. There are many poignant testimonials of young adults – coming perhaps from Guinea, Pakistan, or Cameroon – who faced homelessness, violence and fear, and finally found a life raft, a bit of humanity in our school!
In a different way, the boarding house of Igny is also a place where young people are welcomed from a very young age. It accommodates children who cannot get daily assistance from their parents to do their homework because, among other reasons, they live very busy professional lives. By trying to meet the needs of the families, the boarding house becomes a solution instead of a punishment.
Something quite as exciting is happening in Lyon with the ADOS initiative (Association for School Dialogue and Orientation). For the last 30 years, it has been welcoming 50 students a day and assisting them with their homework. After school every day, primary students can count on a group of Brothers and lay people to help them face the challenges they have found during the school day.
The visit concluded in Vannes, with a meeting of Brothers and lay people. The testimonials from the participants allowed Brother Superior to learn about the La Salle Educational Fraternities, and their viewpoints regarding the Lasallian educational work and mission. These fraternities are an opportunity for Lasallians to live their own profession, faith experience, and develop the charism, whose tricentenary we will be celebrating in 2019.
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