From the perspective of Br. Brian Henderson, FSC
Lasallian contributes important nuance to my understanding of Lasallian Mission. When I’m introduced, “Brother Brian runs Saint Gabriel’s Hall,” I quickly and consistently correct it with, “I do not run Saint Gabriel’s Hall. The staff who are with the kids and those who support directly the staff working with the kids in our care run Saint Gabriel’s Hall.” Lasallian Mission and most specifically the Lasallian aspect of our Gospel Mission is about how I serve in the role of “Director” as a contributing member of the Lasallian community of service. A significant attraction and motivation for me entering the Brothers of the Christian Schools is the core vow of association. Our institutions and agencies when functioning optimally possess the unique strong characteristic of operating “together and by association.” As the Acts of the Apostles points out, those engaged in the work of Christianity did so by bringing their various personal gifts together for offering so to benefit the entire community. Sharing the blended gifts entrusted to us by God benefits not only those who benefit by receiving service, but also those providing service. Lasallian places at the heart of community and service the richness of relationships where hearts together are touched. Touching the hearts of those we encounter is what God requires of us, yet often those with whom we work touch our hearts thereby further motivating our thoughts and actions.
Lasallian matters to me because it reminded me during my time as Director of Saint Gabriel’s Hall to take stock of a daily reality. Each morning before heading to Saint Gabriel’s Hall I would often remind myself of “how dumb I am. When I think of how dumb I am, I begin to think of and appreciate all the different combination of people whose assistance I will need to accomplish something good for the children and families entrusted to my Directorship responsibility.” Directorship and leadership for me is not about my accomplishments or ego. It is rather about living up to the confidence of people that my being director gives them reassurance that they will receive support in performing the good work they accomplish with the pupils in our care. De La Salle brought together the first teachers not to boost his ego or boast of his enormous intellectual prowess and insight. Rather, he brought together the first teachers and eventual Brothers so to learn together how best to reach the children in their schools. By association, De La Salle orchestrated the Brothers accruing knowledgeable insight so as to discard ineffectual practices for the development of better ways to touch hearts and teach minds, in turn, transforming lives.
When I was a member of the West Catholic faculty community in Philadelphia from 1984 to 1988, our sense of unity was strong as well as powerful! Our faculty closely connected with each other for the purpose of teaching well the West Catholic students and influencing substantively their character development. Our faculty represented multiple generations of teachers who once were West students! Across these generations, we helped each other develop teaching skills and techniques, as well as emotional management that were uniquely effective with the particular students in our care. We even, together, adjusted roster schedules so those faculty members with young children to get to school in the mornings could come in later, and those working second jobs to support families could leave early. Hardly ever, if ever, were grievances to the Union listed for West Catholic. Lasallian means to me that within the Lasallian Mission, we all take care of each other by looking out for one another, accompanying each other through difficult times, and celebrating blest times.
Working with the Oblate Sisters of Providence at Saint Frances Academy gave me a very new and different dimension of Lasallian Mission, sharing our charism and style with another religious order that owned and operated the school. At this oldest continually operating African American Catholic High School located in East Baltimore, The Sisters welcomed and embraced the educational expertise of the Brothers with operating high school programs. In return, the Sisters shared with us a deeper meaning of serving the truly marginalized and potentially forgotten minority inner city children. Shared Mission with the Oblate Sisters of Providence again centered on being a close net cohesive community that blended the strong heritage of Mother Elizabeth Lang and Saint John Baptist de La Salle. Working with the Sisters in a new chapter of Together and by Association, we conversed many times during professional days and social community bonding events the type of idea exchanges Mother Lang and Saint La Salle surely were having in heaven.
The genius of De La Salle to me was he never “founded” an educational principle. Rather he combined existing philosophies and styles into systemic blends of effectively networked expertise, adjusting programs to meet pupils where they were, and accompany them to building upon their discovered goodness and talent. The power of relationships that were inviting and welcoming, upholding and promoting human dignity, and fostering a shared responsibility by adults and children alike to care for each other because “Jesus lived in each of our hearts” are at the very core of understanding for what I perceive as Lasallian. At numerous staff In Service Meetings of Saint Gabriel’s Hall, I would express that despite the complex description of our program services, what determined the most accurate description of our program strength for Saint Gabriel’s Hall was simple: “The more we come together as a compassionate, caring community of adults to understand and assist the healing of young people and families that come into our care, the stronger and more powerful our program services – period!” Lasallian is so simple we can hardly comprehend it at times. Together and by Association, we invite and welcome each other and pupils into our care to assist their discovery of gifts thereby expanding their future horizons by realizing any obstacle can, with support, transform into stepping stones of change and growth. Saint Gabriel’s Hall, West Catholic, and Saint Frances Academy had and have fine individuals who lead but more importantly lead in such a way that these institutions became Leadership Institutions of care, grace, and growth in the most unusual of circumstances. Greatness can, and does come from delinquency, economically distressed inner city neighborhoods, and from marginalization due to racial and sexual orientation discrimination.
For over a dozen years, my Lasallian Brotherhood has received powerful and profound nourishment by having the privilege to facilitate and accompany the young men and women of our Lasallian Volunteer program on their end of the year “debriefing” retreat. Here we gather to retreat from hectic apostolic activity so as to seep in the presence of God and allow for “welling up” through reflection and sharing what God is transforming in their hearts. As De La Salle would bring Brothers together for times of retreat to reground them in their purpose and method, the same clarification of life purpose emerges from these dynamic and generous future gifts to faith and Church! In just one year, each group experiences the growth of a bond that perpetually influences their perception and approach to life. Many of these young adults yearn to continue finding ways to remain connected with and contributing to the liveliness of the Lasallian Charism. They to me are future seeds of continued Lasallian change and growth. They along with other Young Lasallians in our schools and agencies now enables the Lasallian Mission to remain ever relevant and resilient so to meet and accompany those most in need of experiencing the presence of God and Jesus living in their hearts.
Lasallian is important to me for the Mission because Lasallian is about the centrality of relationships that create an inviting and welcoming community that serves by touching hearts with compassion and care, and then educating minds to yield the tools within to transform lives to what God intended all of us to be – blessings! Lasallian is less about who I am and even lesser about what authoritative position I hold. The most important authority for me is the authorship of the authentically genuine way that I am, and how I approach and treat those who come into my life. As a result, our schools and agencies become deeply nurturing environments of promoting human dignity that is valued, respected and celebrated because of our associative way of functioning. In this unique way, we help make tangible the experience and presence of Jesus Christ. Lasallian at its best, is a most beautiful thing of joyful purpose, and faithful zeal.
Thank you Brian. There is much in your wonderful reflection to share with our MDPGH staff at our next staff day.