On Friday, July 19, 2019, Brother Michael Fehrenbach, Visitor, shared the following talk with District Day attendees about the four pillars that will guide the Midwest District for the next four years. 

Pillar One:  Identity

Identity is rooted in our founding story.  Our founding mythology is the source of our culture, from the time we joined the Brothers our entry to faith, the way we live together and our mission.  Our very purpose and meaning are tied to the way De La Salle and the early communities lived their understanding of the Gospel.

De La Salle’s vocational journey, his call, is the central element of that story and one we benefit from reflecting on regularly.  In some ways we were taught that vocation is a straight line to the future and a forever kind of thing.  But what we see in De La Salle’s own experience is that vocation is a winding road filled with twists and turns – anything but a linear trajectory.  He tells us as much in his Memoire on the Beginning.  He ended up doing things he, by natural inclination, abhorred except that he was led imperceptibly and over a long period of time to be in a relationship with these uncool, uneducated, vagabonds who became his first teachers and with the poor he had ignored for 28 years.  I suspect he was seduced by them once he moved them into his house and got to know their stories – who they were.  They introduced him to a journey, started simply out of charity, that became his life.

When we look further, we see that the Society of brothers was born in crisis and emerged through one crisis after another.  His family and wealthy friends thought he lost his mind, the school masters trashed his classrooms, his church turned its back on him, and the worst thing after many years, his brothers shut him out.  Early on, he knew he could not do this alone and that the mission would not survive without stability.  And so he invited his most experienced and trusted friends to make a retreat.  Together they made a perpetual commitment.  This event in 1694, some believe is the actual foundation of the Society of Brothers of the Christian Schools.  What was the significance?  The primary vow was Association.  What did it mean?

There were 4 elements involved that express the significance and meaning of that vow:

First it was a commitment of individuals:  me then you then you then you.
Second it was a response to a unifying spirit, a culture, a charism that inspired them to want to belong.
Third it was a communion among persons – each saying their name, one by one – committing them selves to each other person at the altar.

I Michael Fehrenbach promise and vow association with you….

Finally it was about a mission – the human and Christian education of the young – especially the poor

These four elements give the term Association meaning.  Primarily it was a commitment to communion, community for the sake of the salvation of the young who were far from salvation both in this world and whatever it is that comes next.

Today our colleagues are asking for more than jobs.  Many want an experience of community – association.  However, it does not come easy.  Unless they have a deep sense of the founding story and an experience of communion the stability will not be there and the mission will flounder.  We have to internalize and own the identity.  We are called not to repeat what De La Salle did, but to be, in our day, what he was in his by living a creative fidelity to his spirit.

So identity is about formation – both knowledge or insight as well as the experience of a spiritual journey to relationship and community.  Brothers, as fewer of us are present in our ministries, formation must be a priority for all of our ministries.

So a significant part of our work as a team will be to promote a deeper sense of association across our geography through formation.  Sometimes it seems our ministries are a very loosely affiliated group of independent states.  They need to be more than that.  They need to be a tighter knit community.  Together we stand.  Divided we are weak.

The Second Pillar:  Vitality

By vitality we mean life.  Vitality is about how we engage one another and our colleagues in animating or inspiriting our ministries and one another.  Vitality is concerned with the spirit of the Institute – faith and zeal.  When the Society was falling apart – teachers demoralized, sick, dying and leaving, De La Salle, and his two trusted friends, Gabiel and Nicholas vowed to live on bread alone , if necessary, until they had succeeded in creating the society.  This Heroic Vow in 1691 was to create the society.  In our own time we face many issues that sometimes seem insurmountable.  We are called to examine what we are willing to give to ensure the ongoing establishment of the society in our own day.  Some of us are just beginning – one two or five years.  Others 70.  In one way or another, no matter how long we’ve been at it, we are called to be the heart, memory and guarantors of this charism and mission.  Brothers, how will we continue to be a community responsible for and to this wonderful sense of engagement with those who need us?  We understand the crises present in today’s world and the horror that children experience.  They are torn from their mother’s arms, abused by those they should be able to trust.  It is a tribal and divisive culture.  Yet, in the midst of that we are people of faith called to be Guardian Angels and Good Shepherds who stand over against hatred and fear because, as St. John says, “God is love and love casts out hatred and fear.”

The team will work to bring people together in ways that encourage shared life.  No one should be abandoned.  We hope to continue building a cooperative and collaborative Lasallian community because life is greater when we have a shared identity and offer mutual support than when we act alone.

The Third Pillar is Sustainability

This is about support for our mission and ministries – enrollment, tuition, foundations and grants.  But money is found through the relationships we build as we share who we are with families and students, with foundations and the communities we serve. Ultimately, sustainability is about connections and networks of mutual understanding.  And it is about good stewardship of resources.  De La Salle closed schools with a heavy heart.  We have had to do the same and may have to again – with a heavy heart.  We confront many challenges — lower enrollments, competing school systems, parents who have never been evangelized and see no value in a Catholic education.  When we haven’t kept up with changing times and continue to operate as we did in the 50s 60s and 70s we are the problem.  We have to be reading the signs of the times and respond to current needs in order to sustain our mission and offer a value proposition to families and those most in need.

As a team we hope to facilitate community because when we are together we do not resist sharing those things that make us great including the networks of support that help sustain us.  Sustenance is not only about money but also about spirit and faith, identity and relationship.  When one succeeds we all succeed.

The Fourth Pillar is Transformation

Our mission is a work of the Spirit.  We were born of a spiritual journey.  Challenges and crises marked our evolution from 1680 to July 2019.  Yet our identity is marked by a spirit of faith and a zeal for the providence of God.  We are an incarnational people and God acts through each one of us.  While the mission depends on action, it also depends on contemplation and the awareness that we live and breathe the presence of God.  Like Jesus who De La Salle directed us to emulate, we need times of repose and quiet and internal action.  It brings us to humility and a deeper way of perceiving.  De La Salle’s own transformation was born of his humility.  Step by step his life changed radically yet imperceptibly except for one significant moment of upheaval.  As he was preaching to his community about reliance on God and being like the lilies of the field and the birds of the air, one of his young brothers stopped him.  “It’s easy for you to say but if this fails we have nothing and  you have your wealth.”  In essence do you believe this yourself or is it just pious prattle.  He was reduced to silence.  At that moment, he did not refute, rebut, defend or in any way excuse himself.  In humility he changed because of what a poor brother taught him.  His world was turned up-side-down and inside-out.  If we – us – are rooted in the Spirit we must be prepared for our own comfort zones to be turned inside-out.  Are we willing to risk?

The team hopes to call people to a deeper sense of prayer and their identity in God who is the source of all life.

Brothers, these four pillars will guide our work  We want to engage ourselves and you and all our colleagues in discussion about who we are, how we give and nourish life, how we use and develop and share resources, and the transformative nature of our personal and communal journeys.  We want to help generate a deeper sense of Association.  It’s big.  It can’t be done only by our partners without us.  We brothers are needed.  Brothers we know the story.  We continue to live it.  We have to find ways to share ourselves with those who are asking for us to do so.  Together we can.  Alone – not so much.

Live Jesus in our hearts.

Click here to download Br. Michael’s talk.