May 20 – SHARING OUR MISSION WITH LAY PEOPLE
SHARING OUR MISSION WITH LAY PEOPLE
All the schools run by the Institute were only run by Brothers for many years. Collaborating with lay teachers was unthinkable. When, in 1846, Fr. Laveau, head of the school for the deaf at Orleans, considered enlisting the help of hand-picked young people Br. Augustin reacted immediately by withdrawing the Brothers from the school.
Apparently it was only about 1880 that lay teachers began to work alongside the Brothers in our schools. When the state school at Fives-les-Lille became a secular school in 1881 Br. Martyrius was allowed, as an exception, to remain headmaster with a lay staff until 1900. After 1903 especially the headmasters employed lay staff who actually were laicised Brothers. A 1909 list of the personnel of the French Western Province mentions “lay” teachers of this kind working in 15 schools: two at Saint-Jean-de-Monts, three at Challans, four at Pont-l’Abbe, five at Cholet and at the boarding school at Saint Laurent, and others at La Persagotiere.
The first genuinely lay teachers go back to the inter-war period. Two of them were employed to teach at the technical school at Pont-l’Abbe in 1931 and 1932; one more was employed to give general education in 1936. Their number increased rapidly throughout the Congregation, so much so that by the end of the 20th century they were making up the vast majority of the staff in all our schools. Increasingly they replaced the Brothers as headmasters; this happened even at the well-known 159-year-old school at Saint-Laurent-sur-Sevre in 1997. However, in many cases links with the Institute were maintained in various ways according to the countries.
In France the Brothers have a Gabrielite guardianship network. A preliminary meeting was held at Saint-Laurent on 20 May 1997. The 200 people gathered around Br. Jean Friant, Superior General, represented the primary schools, the lower and upper secondary schools, an agricultural school and an institution for the deaf-blind. Emphasis was laid on the participation and responsibility of the lay people in educational work, not only because the dwindling number of Brothers makes this necessary but also because the Church keeps promoting the mission of lay people. Further meetings were held and for the first time on 9 July 1998 lay people took part in a Provincial Chapter. The schools under guardianship are inspired by a Gabrielite educational project and the staff feel they are part of a network in France and abroad. The driving force in the formation of lay teachers is a committee made up of Brothers and lay people who help them to reflect on their mission and accompanies them materially, morally and spiritually.
In Malaysia the Brothers had to give up the management of the schools, which remained the responsibility of the Provincial. However, for a variety of reasons, even this guardianship had to be abandoned. On the other hand, it continues unhindered in the other six schools in Singapore (two at Montfort’s, two at St Gabriel’s, two at the Boys’ Town) which have been lay-managed for a long time. The lay managers, whatever their religion, are keen to maintain the values of Catholic and Gabrielite education in their schools. As for the Boys’ Town, although the Brother at its head may have to hand it over to a lay person in the future, he will do so without qualms. Its management committee consists of six members who are “Friends of Montfort” and their aim is to live and promote Montfort’s spirituality.