A glimpse of Ms. Lois Harr’s first steps as a Lasallian educator, growing into a lifelong Lasallian vocation
My Lasallian Journey
In 1997, after ten years as a community organizer in the northwest Bronx, and nearly ten years as a director of religious education in the south Bronx, I learned about a job opening at Manhattan College. I was president of the PTA at my daughters’ school when another parent, a longtime member of the Manhattan Religious Studies faculty, suggested I apply at the College. My first response was, “I’m not looking for a job.” After further reflection, my response became, “Well, I could be looking for a job…”
I applied for the position as Coordinator of Social Action in the Department of Campus Ministry & Social Action, and was appointed in the summer of 1998, the beginning of my Lasallian vocation. I worked with Br. Dennis Lee, FSC and I started on a journey that has led me deeper and deeper into association and a sense of belonging to the Lasallian family.
Sr. Helen Prejean was a keynote speaker at the 1999 Huether Lasallian Conference, an annual gathering of Lasallians from around the Region, to focus on different educational initiatives and issues.The conference theme was Micah 6:8 (You have been told what is good, and what the Lord requires of you: but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God). I was determined to attend. At that Chicago Huether, I met remarkable people, visited a San Miguel School for the first time, heard inspiring speakers, and attended beautiful liturgies. That conference marked the beginning of a conscious effort to learn more about the Founder, the Brothers, and become more Lasallian.
That first Huether led me to the Lasallian Leadership Institute, several Lasallian Social Justice Institutes (LSJI), International Lasallian Center (CIL), and the Lasallian Region of North America (RELAN) Women’s Symposium. Each formation, educational, and social justice program immersed me, practically and spiritually, deeper into the Lasallian educational mission. All along my commitment grew as I tried to apply what I’d learned to my work with students and the campus community at Manhattan College.
By the late 2000’s, we had established the Lasallian Outreach Volunteer Experience (LOVE) at the College. We used elements of LSJI, a face-to-face encounter with persons living in poverty and an examination of the Lasallian and Church teachings on poverty and social justice, in planning these LOVE service immersion programs, visiting Brothers and Lasallians in Africa, Montana, Arizona, and Haiti. Other Campus Ministry & Social Action staff members have also attended formation programs, and we’ve been able to provide short Lasallian presentations for colleagues, student groups, Resident Assistant training, as well as new student and faculty orientations.
Reflections on the Journey
Over the years of my Lasallian journey, I have had many experiences, and opportunities to reflect on them..I believe that association is a serious, two way street. After the LSJI’s in El Paso, focused on immigration and border issues, and Chicago, focused on gangs, violence, and peacemaking, a few of us knew we wanted more — and that we had more to offer the Lasallian mission. A group of us proposed, planned, and implemented the San Francisco program on homelessness and human dignity. The Regional Education Board gave us the time, space, and resources to create another LSJI formation program. I knew then that I really was a trusted colleague, and that I was in association as a Lasallian.
When I reflect on my Lasallian vocation, it very much relates to my own faith life. As a baby boomer, I received First Holy Communion in the second grade, and I was Confirmed in the third grade! In a very real sense, this Lasallian journey of mine has been one of affirmation – and confirmation. Being a partner, being in association has been my adult sacrament of confirmation. It has been a way for me to affirm and be affirmed as part of a community of faith.
In these experiences and reflections, I find resonance with many parts of Circular 461, Associated for the Lasallian Mission…an Act of Hope, a publication produced by The Institute of the Brothers of the Christian Schools in 2010 to explain the current state of the Lasallian mission, and how we as Brothers and Partners work “together and by association” to provide education to the young, especially the poor. The Circular reiterates five fundamental elements of Lasallian association: it exists for the mission; it implies being a member of a community for the mission; association results from experience and is a dynamic journey, not an acquired status; it stems from faith, vocation, and state of life; and finally, association presupposes a freely made commitment. (2.1)
In section 2.4.1. of the Circular, it goes on to say:
“It is crucial that Lasallian association be seen as a vocational response to the God who calls. It is a “yes” to that invitation that forms the basis of all Lasallian commitment. It is a progressive conversion. The journey that begins with cordial and skilled participation in the mission can move to a freely chosen personal commitment that leads to service as a leader in a Lasallian ministry. Having said that, let it further be clear that association is a gift given and not a status attained“
It’s not surprising at all that so many people – including me – identify with St. John Baptist de La Salle’s quote:
“God, who guides all things with wisdom and serenity, whose way it is not to force the inclinations of persons, willed to commit me to the development of the schools. God did this in an imperceptible way and over a long period of time, so that one commitment led to another in a way that I did not foresee in the beginning.”
We’ve experienced ourselves moving through the five elements. We’ve experienced the gift and we’ve taken responsibility for the mission in our ministries. At the Huether Lasallian Conference in New Orleans just this past November, Maryann Donohue-Lynch led a reflection in a breakout session. We discussed “vocation,” and as I reflected on my current Lasallian reality as the Assistant to the Vice President for Student Life and Director of Campus Ministry & Social Action at Manhattan, I had a profound glimpse into the obvious. Of course this is a vocation! I’m grateful my friend and colleague encouraged me to apply for the Coordinator role back in 1997, and I’m very grateful that I realized I could be looking for a “job.” Someone has been calling me; I certainly did not foresee this in the beginning.