By Br. Charles Kitson, FSC
Yes, it’s true! Two weeks ago, right here in one of the endless corridors of the Generalate, I was chatting with Brother Bob Schieler. I asked him, “So, Bob, after seven years as General Counselor for the RELAN Region, what’s next?” With a glint in his eye and a bounce in his step he unhesitatingly replied, “Assistant Sacristan at Ammendale!” Now this week Bob is addressed as Brother Superior General, and that glint in his eye turned into a tear as he said yes to the will of God in his regard, and as the Body of the Institute required of him. It’s been an incredible week here at the Chapter! This entry may be a bit longer than others, but bear with me…I am going to try to convey in words just what happened in our hearts as we elected a new Superior, Vicar and General Council. Hang in there!
As we moved into the week of elections we were gifted on Monday by the presence of a wonderful retreat master, Father Adolofo Nicolás, Superior General of the Jesuits. It was a day of discernment…a day of stopping, reflecting, praying and asking the Spirit of God to guide us in the days to follow. Who would become the 27th successor of St. John Baptist de La Salle, our Founder? The mood of the chapter definitely had changed. We were entering a sacred space knowing that tradition would be reverenced and that history was in the making. I never knew that we Brothers had such a meaningful ritual surrounding the election of our Superior General. My poverty of words will not be able to capture the experience we all felt…but I’ll try.
On Tuesday morning we began with an invocation to the Holy Spirit. Every Brother had to stand and take a public oath before “Jesus Christ-eternal wisdom”, promising to cast his ballot for the Brother he thought best suited to be our next Brother Superior. All non- capitulants were asked to leave. The doors of the Aula Magna were then closed. We were asked to have no communication with the “outside world.” The five Brothers who had garnered the highest number of votes in the sondage (straw vote) were eligible for consideration. Each was invited to say a few words regarding their willingness to serve the Institute over the next seven years. They were then asked to leave the hall so the Capitulants could comment, ask for additional information or seek clarification. Having done that, the five Brothers returned and we began with the first ballot. All voting is done by paper ballot. The voting is conducted by the youngest Brothers at the Chapter…they are called “scrutineers.” The Capitulants, one by one, come to the front of the hall and cast their vote in silence. When done, the scrutineers silently count and tally all the votes and then hand the result to the Chapter Coordinator who reads out the result. It took us three ballots to elect our new Brother Superior General – a good sign that the election was a product of much thought and prayer.
There have been many significant moments in my 48 years of Brotherhood. But none was like this one. After the third ballot, Brother Alvaro walked over to Brother Robert’s desk in the Aula Magna and said, “Brother Robert, will you accept the decision of the body of the Society to be the 27th successor of St. John Baptist de La Salle?” ….and with a lump in his throat and holding back the tears, Bob said, “Yes, I accept!” At that point the Brothers broke into a joyous and a raucous applause and the bells of our bell tower began to toll non-stop. This alerted all the Brothers of the Central Community and the employees of the house that we had elected a new Superior General. Standing in front of the hall, our new Superior received the seal of the Institute and the Rule from Brother Alvaro. He was then congratulated by each of the Capitulants with our traditional fraternal greeting we call the “accolade,” (an embrace). Smiles, laughs, tears and gestures of approval were shared with our new Brother Superior.
It was now time to open the doors of the Aula Magna and solemnly process, two by two, to the main chapel where the relics of the Founder are enshrined. Ninety Brothers singing “Laudate Omnes Gentes, Dominum” (Praise God All You His People!) descended the main staircase of the Generalate with our new Superior General appearing last. All of the Brothers of the Central Community, as well as all the Lasallian workers in the house, were there at the bottom of the stairs to greet him. It was a profound experience of the Lasallian Family at its best. The entrance to the Generalate filled with applause and joy!
As a community of Lasallians we all processed into the chapel where Brother Robert approached the relics of the Founder and knelt before them to pray. One can only imagine what transpired during that prayerful conversation. Yes, the tradition lives and the Institute is renewed. We have new leadership!
The rest of the week was taken up with the elections of the new Vicar General (Brother Jorge Gallardo de Alba – PARC) and the new members of the General Council, (Brothers Aidan Kilty – RELEM, Timothy Coldwell – RELAN, Ricky Laguda – PARC, Paulo Petry – RELAL, Pierre Ouattara – RELAF). These votes, although very significant, were not accompanied by the same solemnity and richness of the rituals surrounding the Superior’s election.
The election process being completed, the remaining two days this week were spent approving propositions submitted from the different thematic groups. It’s been quite a week…unforgettable!