Note: “A Catechist’s Conversation” is a series of posts by Charles Legendre, AFSC, Director of Evangelization and Catechesis for the District of San Francisco New Orleans. 

I have just returned home to Covington from a remarkable gathering of Lasallian educators help at Mont La Salle April 28-30 – remarkable people and dialogue.  Dr. Greg Kopra called together “mission-drivers” from each of our ministries to advance our District’s commitment to prioritizing the establishment of a “culture of formation and accompaniment for each member of the faculty, staff, and leadership at each District ministry.”[1]  The range of experience in the room allowed for reminiscing on efforts attempted at “home grown” Lasallian efforts from decades ago by wily veterans, as well as for visioning done with fresh eyes by those new to the Lasallian world.

             Participants in session at the formators gathering.                                                                       (Photo SFNO Communications)

The trek back home from Mont La Salle to Covington – in a rental car, on a plane, on another plane, and then on a 24-mile causeway bridge – gave me a chunk of time to reflect on the significance of what I just experienced.   Dr. Frances Sweeney, Vice President for Mission at Saint Mary’s College and a participant in the gathering, shared an interpretation of the dynamics of mission formation using a model from her field of linguistics.  She drew correlations between growing in the Lasallian mission and learning a new language.  Just as Dr. Sweeney looked at our conversation on mission formation through the lens of her primary training as a linguist and Spanish professor, I have been reflecting on mission formation, particularly on this gathering’s conversation on local Lasallian mission formation, through my lens as a religious educator.

In a description of Lasallian formation, Greg Kopra included the excerpts below from Formation for the Lasallian Mission: A Common Frame of Reference (MEL Bulletin 51):

(T)he process of interiorizing the constitutive elements of Lasallian identity.  It involves the accompaniment of persons and it helps them fundamentally in their human and spiritual growth and maturation in order to respond to their vocation and to the needs of the [Lasallian educational] mission…[It] involves the development of the professional competence that each person needs in order to carry out the mission…sees to it that persons acquire an in-depth spirit that unites them and is manifested in one’s personal ability to work together…[and] ‘touches the heart’ of each person.  At different times in their formative journey, each person is challenged to integrate within themselves the various contents and processes of formation.  The process of personal integration is ongoing and leads to transformation and change” (3.1, 3.2, 3.3, 3.4).

Reflecting together on the aims of Lasallian formation, we noted that Lasallian formation hopes to touch us at the core of our identities where our religious and spiritual convictions reside.  Catholic anthropology includes the notion that the human person is a hermeneutical space, an individual with a capacity to interpret meaning in experience and to connect with the transcendent.  Interiorizing, personal integration – terms from MEL Bulletin 51 – direct us to engage our hermeneutical capacity at the deep levels of belief and identity.

In Lasallian Reflection 2:  One Call, Many Voices, the General Councilors reflected upon the need for our students to experience “trusted” space in the context of our school community if we are to accompany them in their faith journey.  “Young people need a trusted space in the company of trusted adults to express what is happening interiorly. In these settings and moments we can be the mentors, teachers, guides, or companions that help them develop their inner life.”   I would suggest that the same conditions must exist for Lasallian formation for the adults of our communities if we hope to attend to the end-in-view of the “interiorizing” of the Lasallian identity.  We need trusted spaces and trusted companions.

Larry Puck, President of Saint Mary’s College High School, related his journey as a Lasallian educational leader tasked with the creation of a formation plan.  He explained to us that what at first seemed like a “check-the-box” activity developed into a major pastoral response to engage his faculty and staff in dialogue concerning their own spirituality and connection with the Lasallian mission.  He described his message to his faculty for the need of a “trusted space” and his commitment to one-on-one conversations.

The gathering brought together Lasallian educators from across the District. (Photo SFNO Communications.)

From all corners and levels of the Lasallian world, the call for attention to Lasallian formation has been constant and longstanding.  When I think back on the work of the Mission and Ministry Council of the former New Orleans-Santa District, I think that our finest achievements were our local formation programs.  Unfortunately, despite our good work as a Council, our implementation of local formation programs was spotty.  However, in our District today, I see that we are in a different place.  As a result of our commitments made to local formation at the District Mission Assembly, of our enshrining local formation in school and LEC policy, and of Greg Kopra’s systematic approach of listening to Lasallian colleagues to discern needs, I believe that we now have an alignment of elements that will give local formation initiatives support and traction.

The stakes for the success of Lasallian formation efforts is the mission itself.  Doing Lasallian education is a response to the prompting of the Spirit who moves in individuals and communities.  As Greg Kopra reminded the gathering at the start: living the Lasallian heritage is tough if we don’t embrace it; tough to embrace if we don’t know it; tough to know if we aren’t introduced to it; and tough to do in isolation.  This first gathering of local Lasallian formators provided a wonderful opportunity to share successes and challenges and established a new platform from which to further collaborate.  We look forward to their ongoing collaboration and to a blossoming of local formation in our school communities.

[1] Directional Statement on Formation and Accompaniment, SFNO District Mission Assembly (2016).