Br. Raymond Meagher, FSC

Br. Raymond Meagher, FSC

HOLA!  COMO ESTAS?  BIEN!   We had to learn some vital Spanish phrases and sentences, so we could communicate with the people of Barcelona and survive.  Here are some of our favorites:  Como te llamas?  Perdone!  Por favor! Hablas ingles? Un poquito. Hasta luego!  And the one question we had to use frequently, Donde esta el bano?  Gracias, Eric, for the Spanish Cheat sheets.

On May 20, 2014, 14 students and faculty from Manhattan College traveled close to 4,000 miles to Barcelona, Spain, to explore an unfamiliar country, to meet lots of new and wonderful people, and to help out their Lasallian Family with a new project for young people who have serious needs.  This two-week trip to Barcelona was the fourth international Lasallian “service-learning experience” run by the Manhattan College chapter of Kappa Delta Pi, the International Honor Society for Educators.  The three previous trips were to Namibia, Africa; Palestine and Israel; and Istanbul, Turkey.

The hospitality of the Lasallian family of Barcelona was extraordinary!  They went out of their way to welcome us and make us feel comfortable.  We had wonderful accommodations, thanks to Brother Miguel Angel and Joaquin Sanchez-Rex, in Residencia Bonanova, which is a center for young people who are studying in different Universities in Barcelona.  Bonanova means a good place but, after our time there, we all felt it was a great place.  One of the residents we met, RuBen, went out of his way to get to know each of us and was a big help.  He will be a study-abroad student (senior) at Manhattan College this coming Fall Semester in the School of Business.  He has already made 14 good friends.

On our first night, we gathered together with a large number of Brothers, Associates, and lay collaborators to celebrate the 20th Anniversary of a wonderful organization, Fundacio Comtal, which is an important part of the lasallian educational network in Barcelona. This group of dedicated individuals has created and developed bold, innovative, and significant programs to respond to the current needs of the young people in their city.  As our new Superior-General, Brother Robert, stated “the association of Partners and Brothers is not an option today.  It must remain a priority for the entire Institute if we are to remain a viable and vital presence in the world of education.”  This group is a perfect example of a collaborative force in the Institute.

The De La Salle Brothers and Partners have been faithfully and successfully carrying out the Educational Mission of our Founder, Saint John Baptist de La Salle, in Catalonia, for more than a century.  This continues to be their mission, but they are now also responding to a NEW REALITY, in which some young people and their families are struggling with more serious social, emotional, and economic problems than ever before.  The following quote from the former Superior-General of the Brothers, Brother Alvaro, captures best the meaning of this new reality:  “I hope that we will have the necessary discernment that will allow us to identify those young people on the margins of society that have more problems and fewer solutions and to discover and invent tailor-made programs for them that will help them live with hope and dignity.”   This is exactly what our founder would be doing today if he were alive.

The members of “Barcelona 14” are very proud to be part of this NEW REALITY.  We were invited to come to Barcelona to help out by a very passionate and involved visionary, Jordi Jover, who is the leader of Fundacio Comtal. He and his wife, Alicia, are the heart and soul of this organization, developed to meet the needs and challenges of so many young people who are on the margins of society.

The “Barcelona 14” renovated their future INDEPENDENT LIVING facility that will be opened on July 1, 2014. This former Brothers community house, in Barceloneta, was not used for the past eight years – so you could imagine the condition it was in when we started our project.  Every morning we would take a one hour bus ride to the site and, at the end of the day, would return the same way.  This journey to Barcelona was truly a very physically demanding Service trip. We cleaned, sandpapered, primed, painted, and mopped-up spilt-paint, in six bedrooms and bathrooms, four large group rooms, and a long, long corridor.  We completed a seven day project in four days, completing close to 320 hours of physically demanding work.  The project manager (Roberto) was amazed at how hard our students worked.  He praised them highly, after being tough on them during the first few days.  He told us how happy he was with their positive attitude and great work habits.  He also told Dean Merriman, Brother Charles, and me, privately, that our particular work area was very well done.

Brothers Charles Barbush and Raymond Meagher.

Dr. Merriman, and Brothers Charles Barbush and Raymond Meagher.

We feel a great deal of pride and joy within us, knowing that we were part of the NEW REALITY of the Lasallian family of Barcelona, Spain.  We put a lot of time and effort into preparing a place to help young men, who are in difficult situations that need such a program for support in their social and emotional development toward becoming independent adults.  We are all proud to be part of this innovative program to help meet the challenges and needs of the young people of Barcelona.

We visited three Lasallian Schools. Even though most of the young people our students met did not speak English, it was inspiring to see how well they bonded and communicated through dancing, singing, and talking with one another.  They loved meeting Americans. We also went to a culinary vocational & training program for older adults (18-22) run by Fundacio Comtal.  These young men were from Pakistan, Peru, Uruguay, Paraguay, Morocco, Uganda, etc. They prepared, cooked, and served us a wonderful lunch. They dined with us and we had some interesting and honest conversations. These young men and staff members of the program welcomed us with open arms.

We visited La Salle University, which has Schools for Engineering, Business, and Architecture.  We went to the School of Education in Ramon Llull University. The Vice-Dean, Dr. Anna de Monserrat, gave us a tour and spoke with us about the Catalan Education system. Two of their primary education student- teachers, Rebecca and Mirela, showed us video demonstrations of their teaching, which were very well done.  Our students were impressed.

We came home with a lot of great experiences, magic moments, fun times, good memories, and met some incredible people.  Living and learning in Barcelona, Spain helped us to see more clearly the particular issues and challenges that impact the people, especially the less fortunate.  Having the opportunity to meet and dialogue with them – face to face – gave us the opportunity to see more clearly the reality of their lives through their own eyes, their own minds, and their own hearts.  An important writer once said, “The real journey of discovery is not in seeking out new places or new people, but in having new eyes.”  We definitely came back with a new set of eyes and new insights that will help us reflect, on a much deeper level, into the lives and experiences of the people we encountered.  We also learned a lot more about ourselves and about our role in the world.  One of our students stated, “My experience traveling to Barcelona challenged me, helped me to grow, and allowed me to give back to others.” [Kathleen Cooney]

The PIVOTAL EXPERIENCE for me on this journey was to see “in action” the POWER OF AN AMAZING GROUP.  I am a firm believer in developing and sustaining a sense of community in groups, especially in our classrooms.  This was the first time I traveled with such a diverse group of individuals, with such a wide range of backgrounds and personalities, but they were able to create a wonderful caring community. Each of them – Rachel, Kiri, Mariangela, Devon, Donika, Lendita, Sarah H., Kathleen, Sarah F., Eric, and Mike – went into  this experience with all their heart – no matter where we went, what we did, or who we met.  Each one of them was ESSENTIAL for the success of this trip, and each one made their UNIQUE PERSONAL CONTRIBUTION, as only they could make.  It was a wonderful journey because they brought with them such an open, positive, and optimistic attitude.  You could hear it in their voices and observe it in their interactions with others, with us, and with each other.  They were excited about celebrating when we were together at meals, they touched RuBen’s heart by giving him such incredible affirmatitons, and, they made the entire community around Fundacio Comtal so happy by loudly praying the Beauty Prayer at our Farewell Dinner.

I THANK each of them for being WHO THEY ARE and WHO THEY ARE BECOMING.  They have gained a very special place in my heart.
It is clear that they all made an impact!  They were doing God’s work!  Our new Superior-General recently stated, “Since it is the work of God you are doing, do it with enthusiasm and bring to it all the resources of your talents, your gifts, your inspiration.”  They made their impact with enthusiasm and each of them brought their talents, gifts, and inspiration to Barcelona!  We are very proud of them!

It took a lot of people to make this journey to Barcelona, Spain a reality!  A lot of time, effort and hard work made this trip an incredible and memorable experience for all of us.  In particular, I would like to THANK the Lasallian Family in Barcelona:  Joaquin Sanchez-Rex, Brother Miguel Angel, Jordi & Alicia Jover, Tallulah Forrest, Carlos Azofra, Brother Martin, Brother Javi Sanchez, Marta, Maria, Pepe, Brother Joaquin Porrera {Director) and the Brothers Community at Bonanova – wonderful Sunday dinner with the Barcelona District, Dr. Anna Monserrat, Fundacio Comtal Staff, Brother Juan Carles Jara, and Roberto.  I would also like to THANK the Lasallian Family in DENA:  BROTHER CHARLES BARBUSH – for graciously accepting our invitation three days before departure due to an emergency situation, Brother Robert Schieler – new Superior-General – who has been helping us with our international journeys for the past few years, Lasallian Action Committee of Manhattan College, Margaret Kelly, Rosemary Breen, Debbie Damico, Nonie Wanger, Nancy Cave, Brother Timothy Murphy (Director), Caitlin Palumbo, and Dean William Merriman.  THANK YOU!

Barcelona is a bilingual (Catalan & Spanish) city.  For centuries, it was officially known as the “second city” – in the shadow of Madrid, its eternal rival.  Since 1990, when the International Committee announced that the “1992 Olympic Games” were to be held in the Catalan Capital, Barcelona has been booming with pride and confidence ever since.  Catalans think of themselves as Catalans first and as Spanish citizens second.  They are very proud of their heritage.  Barcelona is a vibrant city!  It is a city full of history!  Free spirits like Picasso, Dali, Miro, and Gaudi all come from this corner of Europe.

While we were there, we had the opportunity to visit Montserrat – one of the best known shrines in the Christian world.  We took a 15 minute train ride up the multi-peaked Montserrat Mountain (breathtaking views) to a Benedictine Abbey and saw the sacred statue of the Black Virgin.  We listened to the performance of their famous Boys Choir.  We went to the “not-to-be-missed experience” at La Sagrada Familia, the unfinished 125-year-old construction of one of Spain’s greatest shrines.  What an impressive sight – both inside and outside.  It is the work of one of the greatest architects in the world, Antoni Gaudi.  He certainly left his impact on Barcelona!  We took a few walks down the famous Rambla (promenade), packed with people and also stopped into their most spectacular food-market called Boqueria (Saint Joseph).  At the foot of the Rambla, we saw the Columbus Monument.  Columbus was looking out and pointing to the far distant shore which he was able to discover in 1492.  We saw the famous Magic Fountains “light and music show” in Montjuic.

< Back to main story