Dear Brothers and Lasallians,
It was in the early days of March 1679, when a youthful John Baptist de La Salle first met the more senior Adrien Nyel on the doorstep of the Convent of the Sisters of the Child Jesus in Reims. This intergenerational encounter between two men of goodwill was the beginning of what Lasallian scholars refer to as “the founding charismatic event.” We know the rest of this story.
At the time of this Providential meeting, society’s appreciation for the teaching profession was not highly regarded and was viewed with disdain by most. Talented and gifted young people were not encouraged to pursue this career path. There was a constant challenge of trying to find people with the right temperament and motivations to take on the important task of teaching. And there was the ever-present problem of teachers leaving the work after only a year or two.
The same can be said today in many places throughout our country. Teacher training programs in colleges and universities are experiencing low enrollments, especially of male students. Teacher shortages are at a level not seen in generations. The “Great Resignation” has hit the teaching profession especially hard. A headline read, “New Poll: For the First Time Ever, A Majority of American Parents Do Not Want Their Children to Become School Teachers.” The impact of the global pandemic has only compounded the challenges related to the profession of teaching. Catholic schools are not spared from this dilemma.
And yet, we know that the teacher remains an essential instrument of God’s plan for salvation. Pope Francis recently observed, “Education is a natural antidote to the individualistic culture that at times degenerates into a true cult of the self and the primacy of indifference.” The need for good, qualified and inspired teachers in Catholic schools remains great. Addressing the need to promote the vocation of the teacher, along with quality formation of young Lasallian educators, is a significant dimension of our charism and part of our responsibility to the Church and the world. The teacher is the focus of Lasallian spirituality as a minister of God’s grace in the life of the students.
Today, I am announcing the District of Eastern North America’s Adrien Nyel Project: Igniting a Zeal for Teaching.
This multi-faceted endeavor seeks to engage with young adults to promote the vocation of the teacher and invite them on a journey to discover the Lasallian charism and heritage. It is also a renewed commitment to the formation and accompaniment of young Lasallian teachers. There will be many aspects to this project as it begins to develop. The planning is only beginning. It will be marked by innovation and creativity with a clear commitment to the Catholic educational mission at the heart of our Lasallian community. We hope for opportunities to collaborate with La Salle University and Manhattan College in ways that will promote their teacher education programs.
The recently published Institute Circular, From Hope to Commitment: Understanding Lasallian Vocations, speaks of the importance of a culture of vocations throughout the District’s ministries. “We recognize that, through the Lasallian Family, many young people and adults come to discover their vocation in response to God’s plan of salvation.” We want to work to promote the teaching profession among young adults and find ways to accompany them as they discern this option.
I have appointed Brother Ernest Miller, FSC, currently serving as the Vice-President for Mission, Diversity, and Inclusion at La Salle University in Philadelphia, to be the founding Director of this project. Brother Ernest’s passion for teaching and learning, his competence as an outstanding classroom teacher, his Lasallian scholarship and commitment to our Gospel-centered mission ensure that the program will have a solid beginning. I am most grateful for Ernest’s willingness to give up a position he finds very satisfying to take on the challenge of creating a new and important initiative in our District.
We are making a significant commitment of both our limited human and financial resources to this project. I am most grateful to an anonymous Brother who has already made a significant contribution of his patrimony to support this initiative. His support is a sign of confidence in the relevance of our charism in today’s world.
The encounter those three centuries ago between Adrien Nyel and John Baptist de La Salle began a story that continues to unfold and adapt to the challenges of the times. There are young people who, like the Founder, will be inspired to alter previously planned life directions in favor of a Gospel adventure that favors the Reign of God. Let us all pray that this new endeavor will stir the hearts of young men and women of good will to begin a journey to see the joy that comes from being a Catholic school teacher.
Live Jesus in our hearts!
Fraternally in De La Salle,