Getting to know the third Provincial/Visitor of our District

By Patrick J. Donahue – Director of Advancement

In our last issue of Lasallian Notes, we gave you a brief introduction to our new leadership team. Since then, I have had the opportunity to interview our new Brother Visitor, Br. Robert Schaefer, FSC. I would like to share with you here, not just his resume, but his thoughts on continuing the legacy of Saint John Baptist de La Salle in the District of Eastern North America (DENA).

I must begin by mentioning that it is easy to see how the Lasallian lifestyle grew inside of Br. Robert from an early age. Not only is ha a graduate of La Salle College High School and La Salle University (for both his Bachelors and Masters degrees), but his family has long ties to the Christian Brothers. 

Q. Our readers, for the most part, know the different roles that Brothers can play in a school. However, many (including myself, I must confess) are not familiar with your most recent position in Rome as Secretary of Formation. What did this entail?

A. Our office was in charge of global vocations promotion, initial formation and continuing formation of Brothers, and mission formation—planning for the vitality and sustainability of our Lasallian charism and spirituality in the 21st century.

Q. Do you think your work there will affect your outlook on your new position as Visitor of DENA?

A. Oh, definitely. Promoting vocations and formation around the world gave me a chance to see God’s work in our Lasallian ministries on several continents: to see both their successes and their struggles. While there are many unique Districts, and even more unique Lasallian ministries, it really drove home the point of how much we share in common.

Q. Coming back home to Eastern North America, what do you see as the strength of this District?

A. The main strength I see in our District is the diversity of our ministries. This District has a variety of primary and secondary schools, our two higher education institutions, alternative schools, youth and family service programs, and even an after-school & summer program for disadvantaged children. DENA has been following the traditions of St. John Baptist de La Salle, but recognizing the current situations and adapting those traditions to respond to today’s needs.

Q. What is your biggest concern coming into this role?

A. That would be competing with contemporary culture. We must find creative ways to clearly speak our values in a way that engages with and challenges the secular culture in our world today.

Q. Are you concerned about the aging Brother population in the District?

A. The reality of our District demographics cannot be ignored as we look to the future. We must look to the future with realism, but also with a great deal of hope. In other words, we must look at reality through the eyes of faith, and know that the work we are doing is God’s mission, not ours.  The need for our Institute is great and God is still calling men to the vocation of the Christian Brother.

New Brothers of the Lwanga District in Africa celebrate their first vows.

Q. “Looking at reality through the eyes of faith” is a beautiful thought. Are there practical applications that you have in mind?

A. I can think of several right here. Some of these may be new, and some may be current efforts that could be emphasized, tweaked, or increased: 

  • Prominence should be placed on working with our young teachers, shaping their values, ensuring that they understand their role not simply as a job, or even as a career, but as a vocation in the Lasallian charism.
  • We also need to continually examine our vocations efforts to confirm that we are facing today’s realities with a message that cuts through the cultural noise.
  • We should work to ensure that all Brothers, no matter their age or physical limitations, have the opportunity to witness and contribute to God’s mission, taking into account each Brother’s “reality”. 
  • Also, we know that the presence of Brothers in schools as role models has been a factor in many of the vocations we have today. We are part of an international Institute that stretches to seventy-nine countries. Many of our developing countries currently have stronger numbers of Brothers. We have several DENA Brothers working in foreign missions. Maybe we should look into establishing a program for Brothers from those countries to come to DENA for some time. We could help each other. We already have a couple of good examples of this in place.

Q. Is there anything else you would like to tell our readers?

A. I sincerely appreciate my fellow Brothers putting their faith in me to guide God’s mission in this District. I ask each of you to continue to pray that God grants me the wisdom and foresight to help us follow His plan for us in the best way possible.

Presentation Manor in Toronto. Seated: Br. Dennis Berry, Ms. Mary McCrorey, AFSC, Br. Francis McCrea. Standing: Brs. George Edwards, John Vella, and Mel O’Neill.