Buffalo, NY – Brother Christopher J. Belleman, FSC, recently sat down with the parents of our freshmen and transfer students to welcome them to St. Joe’s. As part ofhis discussion, he offered insight into what a Christian Brother is. This group oflay religious men minister in educational institutions in over 80 countries around the world. As a Lasallian institution, the Institute of the Brothers of the Chris-tian Schools plays an integral role in setting the mission and identity of St. Joe’s. The Brothers also form the basis for the unique brotherhood that our entire community shares.
“God has chosen you to do His work.”- St. John Baptist de La Salle
The Brothers were founded in Reims, France, more than 300 years ago by St. John Baptist de La Salle, a priest who had little interest in education of the young, much less the poor. One day, his whole world changed when a man named Adrien Nyel showed up on his doorstep, asking him for funding for a school. In 17th century France, many children had little hope for the future and lived in rampant poverty. St. La Salle began taking deliberate steps to help the teachers in their work, start-ing with an invitation into his home for meals. But that was where the support ended. “Think back to the days of De La Salle and the first Brothers,” Brother Chris said. “When De La Salle brought the first teachers together, he wasn’t involved in their day-to-day life.”
Subsequently, without a strong leader, the group of teachers fell apart, with many leaving the fledgling order. St. La Salle realized that to succeed, he needed to bring the men together as a community and get more involved in their life. “St. La Salle decided to sell his possessions, moved in with the men on a full-time basis, and formed a com-munity united under the common goal of educating the young. They shared meals together, worked together … and, most importantly, prayed together. It is through a shared experience that he was able to form this group of men into brothers,” said Brother Chris.
“The way you behave should be a model for those you teach.”- St. John Baptist de La Salle
As principal, Brother Chris hopes to model and encourage the idea of shared community with the students, staff, and larger St. Joe’s community. “When thinking about brotherhood, it’s important to know that as Lasal-lian educators we are all charged with being older brothers and sisters to our students.” The title of brother was very important to St. La Salle, so much so that he decided none of his Brothers were to be priests. He did not want the men addressed as Father, or Master, as some school teachers were addressed. He wanted them to form a close rela-tionship with those entrusted to their care. “As a Christian Brother, it is also important for me to be a brother to fac-ulty, staff, and students. I want to help our community form a brotherhood and sisterhood through their shared com-mitment to our students and relation-ships with each other. And I plan to serve as a model of this behavior.”
Cultivating shared experiences is fundamental to how the young men at St. Joe’s form lifelong friendships and leave our hallways a little bit different than when they entered. “By bringing the ideals of the Christian Brothers to the school community, we help our students be the best of who they are. We help them grow into gentlemen of integrity, and they in turn learn how to treat each other as brothers,” said Brother Chris.
“Often remind yourself that you are in the presence of God.”- St. John Baptist de La Salle
Through all of the challenges of the early Institute, St. La Salle’s faith was strong. It was so strong in fact, that when a famine threatened to once again tear apart all the work he had done, he made a “heroic vow” with some of his Brothers, vowing that if the men had to live on bread alone to keep the Institute going, they would do it and trust God to take care of the rest.
Their faith served the Brothers well. Brother Chris continued, “Mter 20 years of teaching, De La Salle brought the most experienced Brothers together to identifY ‘best practices’ of what does and does not work in the classroom. Their insight served as the foundation of the Lasallian educational tradition mov-ing forward. These teachings that were recognized so many years ago, are still fundamental today, and can be found in Lasallian schools around the world.”