Under the Institute’s tricentenary theme, “One Heart, One Commitment, One Life”, the District of San Francisco New Orleans’ Young Lasallian Assembly 2019 – YLA ’19 – took place June 23 – 28, 2019 at Saint Mary’s College of California in Moraga. The event was jointly sponsored by the SFNO Offices of Young Lasallians and of Vocation Ministry.
Over 300 Lasallian students and moderators from all SFNO high schools and a delegation from the District of México Norte were welcomed for this one-of-a-kind gathering for SFNO, which combined the usual Young Lasallians summer programming into a single event as part of the 300th anniversary year of the passing into eternal life of Saint John Baptist de La Salle. Participants gathered for a week designed to challenge and accompany them as they explored their own faith journeys and their role in living and leading the Lasallian mission in their schools.
Over a year in planning, YLA ’19 started out as an unexpected moment of inspiration for Assembly co-directors SFNO Young Lasallians Director Kenenna Amuzie and SFNO Vocation Ministry Director Brother Chris Patino, FSC.
“Brother Chris and I were at a conference in San Jose,” Amuzie recalls. “As we were processing and reflecting on the different speakers and what we were hearing at the conference, we were thinking about how can we apply this to our own Lasallian charism and what can this look like. This idea of having a large gathering was affirmed by the invitations coming from the Institute level to mark the (300th anniversary) year and to make a stronger connection between youth ministry and vocation ministry.”
This idea would lead to the establishment of an 11-person planning committee made up of District and Christian Brothers Conference Lasallians who met regularly over a 14-month period to flesh out the vision and structure of what would become YLA ’19. Drawing from the collective experience of past Young Lasallian gatherings, as well as their own campus ministry and student activities backgrounds, the members balanced brand new concepts with tried-and-true approaches. In the end, it was that synthesis that worked.
According to Brother Chris, “The planning committee provided the perspectives that represented the diverse local realities of our schools, but also appreciated the importance of staying rooted in the goals of the tricentenary year to celebrate and give thanks, renew our commitment, and share our hope as 21st century Lasallians called to remain faithful to our Gospel-rooted mission.”
At SMC, the committee members were joined by Young Lasallians International Coordinator Keane Palatino, who facilitated a variety of activities, and by eight enthusiastic Lasallian Collegians who capably handled day-to-day logistical tasks. Together, these 20 persons made up the Assembly staff.
As with most Young Lasallian events, YLA ’19’s first day would set the tone for the entire Assembly. It began with an opening ceremony at which attendees heard welcomes from Amuzie, Brother Chris, and from SFNO Visitor Brother Donald Johanson, FSC, who spoke on the meaning and key qualities of leadership. They also watched a video welcome from Superior General Brother Robert Schieler, FSC, who encouraged the Young Lasallians to turn their YLA ’19 experience into action in their schools and in the world. The opening Mass was celebrated by SMC chaplain Father Hai Ho, OFMCap, with a number of Brothers from the College and other Bay Area Communities joining the participants.
That first day also introduced the “Parmenie” reflection groups, named after De La Salle’s place of retreat in southern France and made up of randomly selected students. Throughout the week, these groups would serve to connect participants with their larger Lasallian District family and to facilitate conversations and common experiences that would lead to new bonds and perspectives. The initial session of the Parmenie groups would take some of their members by surprise.
“It was a little uncomfortable,” remembered Abby Baines from La Salle Catholic College Preparatory in Milwaukie, Oregon. “We did small talk, like what grade are you going to be in. And then Brother Chris said, ‘Ok, now that you’ve met these new people, turn to them and tell them your wildest hopes and dreams for your life.’ And so we just kind of looked at each other and we’re like, ‘Ok, I barely know you.’ But I took a chance and opened up. It turned out that a girl who goes to Saint Mary’s High School had a dream similar to mine. We both bonded over wanting to get into immigration law. Which is really cool. I didn’t expect that to happen within the first 30 minutes of being there. So that was a really cool way to start off.”
That evening, the same groups took a walk through the Founder’s story, making a “pilgrimage” to several different locations on campus for presentations on the life of Saint John Baptist de La Salle. For many, hearing of the realities of De La Salle’s faith journey revealed in the Founder an unexpected and even reassuring humanness.
“He really was uncomfortable for the first two years of his ministry,” learned Lilly Wixson from La Salle High School in Yakima, Washington, “and had he known that that would have happened, he never would have taken up the schools. I thought that was really interesting because it shows how he’s not perfect, some person to be idolized. He had flaws and doubts just like everyone else.”
In the following days, Assembly participants experienced a progression of daily itineraries, each designed to highlight a particular area of Lasallian identity, community, and action:
- Day One, “Celebrate & Give Thanks: Our Founding Story,” focused on the participants engaging with the life of Saint John Baptist de La Salle.
- Day Two, “Celebrate & Give Thanks: Our Founding Stories & Vocation,” focused on the participants sharing both their schools’ stories and their own.
- Day Three, “Renew Our Commitment: Personal Vocation & Call to Serve,” focused on the participants acknowledging, growing, and using their gifts.
- Day Four, “Share our Hope: Global Lasallian Family,” focused on the participants serving with and learning from those in need within the larger community.
- Day Five, “Renew Our Commitment: Now What?,” focused on the participants discerning how to cultivate through their values and formation experiences a realization of vocation.
- Day Six, “Share Our Hope”, focused on the participants remembering and celebrating together the week’s experiences.
Keynote speakers on days two, three, and five helped to synthesize and reinforce the day’s themes. National Catholic speaker and author Katie Prejean McGrady presented on the grace and the challenge of living one’s story as a response to the encounter with Jesus Christ. Co-Secretary for Lasallian Association for Mission Heather Ruple Gilson and Director of Formation for Mission for the District of Ireland, Great Britain and Malta Joseph Gilson spoke on the call from God to all persons to discern what each will do with what they called “your one wild and precious life.” Former La Salle Manor Retreat Center Director and national Catholic speaker John Donahue-Grossman reflected on the everyday challenge of living Lasallian through building relationships and paying attention to the needs of others.
The Assembly included a day of service in which the students fanned out to 14 Bay Area locations. Coordinated groups of young Lasallians and moderators utilized SMC vehicles, a local bus service, and public transportation to travel to and from their destinations. They spent their morning in a variety of neighborhoods with local residents of all ages, involved in activities ranging from food justice to homeless services to educational and health support. Groups used specially-created prayer aids and journaling questions to process their experiences. The resulting discussions and reflection led to some powerful thoughts.
“Jesus doesn’t necessarily only have to be this person but can also be love or seeing love in other people,” Abby realized. “I saw Jesus during my service day in the people that I was working with because it was really hard work and it wasn’t super enjoyable, but I was able to see Jesus in the people that were making it fun at times, or in the friends that I made who would play music for all of us, or the people who were working really hard. So, just reinterpreting the language in more spiritual way, I was able to make new definitions for myself.”
Two days of moderator-led skill sessions offered participants a chance to gain valuable background and ideas in a variety of student leadership-related areas, from prayer and spirituality to team-building to justice advocacy. Said Nuvia Alvarez from Cristo Rey De La Salle East Bay High School in Oakland, California, “I got some really cool ideas from other schools because just seeing that these schools have been here for many many years and this being our first year is really exciting. Just seeing their ideas and how their school lives out the core principles.”
Alternating between Parmenie groups and school groups afforded the participants both the time and the structure to interact with each other in substantive and meaningful ways. Additionally, the entire Assembly’s schedule was anchored by daily prayer, liturgies, recreation time, common meals, and evening socials. Together, all of these gatherings became prime opportunities for students to enter into the Lasallian tradition of community-building as the key to achieving association for mission.
“I understand,” explained Kyle Remington from Mullen High School in Denver, Colorado, “that there’s actually so many other people that do the same thing. We do the same prayer – we say, ‘Let us remember’ – and we all do the same thing…We have all of these schools and everyone has the same mission. We all enter to learn, leave to serve and I think there’s so much that’s being taught to us. The community is so large, especially being here and seeing that 300 students were here. That’s an incredible amount of people that all have the same goal to help others and serve others.”
On the final day, participants had one last opportunity to meet and to share with one another their thoughts, thanks, and goodbyes. They then gathered for the closing Mass, at which Brother Javier Hansen, FSC, of Cathedral High School in El Paso, Texas renewed his annual vows. This was followed by a pious renewal of vows by the 25 perpetually professed Brothers in attendance. With Father LaSalle Hallissey’s final blessing, symbolic unity candles in hand, students, moderators, and staff filed out of the Chapel one last time. YLA ’19 had concluded.
When participants were asked to reflect on what had impacted them and what they would bring back from their week together, both for their schools and for themselves, there was no shortage of profound insights from the young Lasallians.
The central tenet of Lasallian spirituality was the main lesson for Nuvia: “I learned just to have trust in God. A relationship without trust is really nothing. So just having trust in God and knowing that he’s there, he has a path for me, and not to worry because he has a plan.”
Leadership was the big take-away of the week for Kyle: “I was able to hear other stories and how others lead, and certainly how De La Salle led and how he had such a huge impact on his community and what created and the legacy he left. I’m reflecting on everything that we’ve seen this past this past week, all the other individuals that are leaders of their schools. I can take little bits and pieces from everybody else and and infuse them into my own daily life and try and be better for all those around me.”
For Lilly, the notion of living Lasallian all the time hit home: “I never really thought about it in the sense of Lasallian tradition, of sort of bringing that home with me. It was always something that I brought to school definitely, but I never really thought about bringing it into other parts of my life.”
Adam Philippe from Saint Paul’s School in Covington, Louisiana would end the week reflecting on his new sense of Lasallian Catholic identity: “Being Catholic is very much a human way of living and respecting people, something that should be done whether you’re Catholic or not Catholic, including people having a good education and having faith in the presence of God. It makes it that much better because things that are founded on a firm foundation always last and that’s why we’re able to celebrate 300 years this week. I think that’s the mission for me. I didn’t really realize what it was until I came this week.”
Offering their own thoughts on the Assembly, both Amuzie and Brother Chris viewed its success in terms of its lasting contribution to the students and to the mission.
“It’s been a tremendously humbling experience,” Amuzie said, “to be involved in something so beautiful, in a celebration of our Lasallian Catholic identity and heritage and in looking at ways to strengthen students and their understanding one of what it means to be Lasallian, but then to take that and apply it in their journey and whatever that might be or whatever that might for each of them as they go forward.”
Brother Chris added, “As a District committed to a culture of vocation, the relationship between Young Lasallians and Vocation Ministry needs to be continually strengthened so as to provide each area with a sense of the bigger picture it serves. Strengthening this relationship provides mutual support in continuing to develop faith, service, and community among the young people entrusted to our care as we seek to help each of them discover purpose and God’s call in their own lives.”
One heart, one commitment, one life. In general, the 2019 Young Lasallian Assembly likely will be remembered as a unique event within a year of unique events for the Lasallian family. For those who experienced it, however, YLA ‘19 will stand out as a special statement of the spirit of the Young Lasallian movement and its potential to inspire in students new and vital expressions of unity and mission for the San Francisco New Orleans District and the Lasallians everywhere.