Pre-Chapter Preparation: Further Reflections & Suggestions

WP further

 

OTHER CONCERNS

  • The need to evaluate our present government structure
  • Do we need a full-time vicar general?
  • Some American Brothers feel removed from the general administration
  • Is our government too based on a corporate model, keeping in mind the need for a pastoral style of leadership?
  • Need for job descriptions for general councilors
  • Will there some day be an open Chapter?
  • Need for more convocations/regional meetings
  • Lack of connection with our African Brothers
  • In some areas of the congregation there is little understanding of the associate program
  • Can Brothers fill some more of the positions on the generalate staff?  What size of a staff in needed, is present staff too large?
  • Need for more transparency on finances
  • Are we asking the tough questions?  Is religious life viable in this country?  Is this our last phase in America?  Do we really expect any vocations in the USA?
  • Need for communal ministry in Kenya?  A school?

INITIAL PROPOSALS FOR OUR COMING CHAPTER

Rationale: It is my conviction that we religious are a community or fraternity of Brothers and that every effort be made to include each of us in the chapter proceedings and thus I propose as starters the following:

(1) A STRAW VOTE BE TAKEN FOR OUR NEXT LEADER. Each Brother submit three names for the GS in order of his preference. This vote be tallied before the chapter as a guide to the chapter members. This procedure would give a sense of brotherly participation.

(2) Our leader’s title and that of his assistant be changed to reflect our brotherhood, our fraternity. ‘General’ implies military or squadron leader. Do we need a leader who is pastoral, concerned with members, facilitating our ‘way’, visible, . . . ? Many of our sister congregations use ‘president’ which seems quite appropriate for our brotherhood, our fraternity. Monastic leadership involves all the monks electing an abbot. Other religious use such terms as custodian, visitor, etc. all steering away from ‘general’ and toward a model of ‘brotherliness’. Much more could be expanded here but the title says so much.

(3) Each of us be invited for chapter deliberation subject to chapter member order. Again, a good way to enhance participation.

 

Subject: Community Meeting Regarding Preparation for the 27th General Chapter

Cadiz Community, Venice, Florida

*We began this process prior to receiving the Pre-Chapter materials that were sent out congregation wide! The Cadiz Community decided to begin preparation for the 27th General Chapter by reflecting on and reviewing the Directives of the 26th General Chapter.

General Comments/insights after reviewing the Directives of the 26th general Chapter:

—Looking over the Directives most Brothers felt that most of the Directives have not been carried out by the Leadership or by Brothers and local communities, ourselves included.

—The community felt that the coming Chapter review these directives and seek ways to have them implemented. Members felt that the major concerns of the Brothers and Delegates to the Chapter would still be the Areas covered by the Directives and would be areas of major concern today with others added. We did as a congregation tend to the Mission Formation by working on the Charism Study, the Contemplative Stance and somewhat with part of Ministry with the Poor and Marginalized (workshop on Scripture and Poverty).

—It was pointed out that we are good at establishing and writing directives but poor at measuring and evaluating how they are implemented (e.g. Directive from the 25th general Chapter on intentional Groups and how this is the primary way a Brother relates to the congregation and many of the directives from the 26th general Chapter). There seems to be a major gap between directives and how those are implemented in the reality of daily living.

—Some in the community felt that we are always stressing the Spiritual Life but there is much more to our life than this dimension.

–We are still dealing with the move from a highly structured life (prior to the Chapter of 1968) with direction from the top to a less structured life with self,-direction and self-initiation with many of our men lacking the ability to initiate and self-direct . We have moved in our recent congregational government to highly top-heavy model which many American Brothers feel lacks collaboration with and input from American Brothers.

—Have we moved to a highly hierarchal model of government leaving too much to the General Superior? Are we in need of a full-time active Vicar-General? Those elected to congregational offices of service need to have this as the main focus of their ministries. Our lives, our world and our church has become much more complicated and demanding but we seem to have fewer Brothers involved in the congregation governance.

 

Directive one Mission Formation

—The part of this directive concerning the Founder’s Vision and Charism has been tended to and the efforts of those involved in this enterprise were praised.

—There was an uncertainty about the International Commission called for and it’s work and the first part of the directive dealing with intentional groups, gathering in regions and in local communities to reflect, pray, and discern our communal mission. We as a local community have not had meetings for years. Are groups that are meeting sending results to congregational leadership? The African Region seems to be taking the lead in this area of Mission Formation.  Our individual On-Going Formation is a challenge for each of us.

—As a group we have much more awareness of Ryken’s Vision for the congregation and his choice of Francis

Xavier as patron. We could not speak to the issue of inclusion of these key ideas  in initial formation.

 

Community

—Most agreed that Community is a key area of our common lives that has been let go and overlooked especially in the USA Region.  This directive needs to be discussed and made a priority. We have done much work and a task force was set up and worked on the Associate Program. We need a task force to assist us on the revitalization of community life. Has the time passed for revitalization of community life in the USA Region?

–As with most active religious congregations we seem to be having major difficulties with community. We wonder whether our difficulties with community might stem from two different visions…one which sees our ministry as a priority, supported by community life and prayer…the other which sees spiritual practices and growth along with community the priority, which is then expressed in ministry. The issue gets further complicated by the question of what is our ministry?

—We have very few vibrant communities in the USA.

Our discussions brought to the fore very quickly what attracted us to the congregation and the very different formation programs and lifestyles we have lived under historically and how these have impacted our present living and vision of religious life.

 

Contemplative Stance

—We felt that the Contemplative Stance Directive is one that is ongoing and basic to our lives as vowed religious and Xaverian Brothers and involves a life-long work of ongoing and communal formation.

—We as a congregation and as individual continue to struggle to balance the active and contemplative dimensions of our lives. This has been a challenge for many who were formed with an emphasis on ACTIVE Ministry and little on Contemplation/Spiritual  formation. This Contemplative Stance is hard work…challenging!

 

Ministry with the Poor and Marginalized

—-We have not done much with the first paragraph of this Directive. Many felt that the Directive challenged us directly and hit too close to home having us examining our style of life, common life/common ownership, dependence up and accountability to community, and how we connect and interact with the social structures of the larger  world ?A workshop with John Donahue, SJ was held and DVD of his presentation were distributed throughout the congregation. There seemed to be a positive response to this but little more seems to have been done with this Directive. There are a wealth of challenges in this Directive if we have the courage to face them individually, regionally and congregationally.

 

Internationality

—In many ways this is the most challenging of the Directives from the last chapter. We pay “lip-service” to the idea of being an “international missionary congregation” and we have taken baby-steps in this area .We were not sure if we as a congregation realize the implication of INTERNATIONALITY. We face many complications in working towards implementing this directive: language, culture, stereotyping, and various governmental issues (visas, travel to and from various countries, etc.). The African Region seems to be working at this. Age, distance, etc. seem to impeded more American involvement. We need to keep working at it. Use of the social-media especially Living the Charism page has introduced us to many young African Brothers and for those who have viewed their interviews and sharings…there  is a deeper sense of our common brotherhood and a sense that Ryken dream lives anew.

 

Discerning Direction

—We noted that we have not evaluated our ‘new’ government that has been in place for 18 years. The group felt that there is a need to tweak the current government that does not seem to give much room for interaction/collaboration  among the American Brothers. The group also felt that we hope that the Chapter Delegates not rush into changing the current form of government without a task force being set up to evaluate it, tweak it and make recommendations for change.

 

Further Thoughts for the Consideration of Delegates to the General Chapter

In anticipation of the upcoming Chapter, I would like to share a few thoughts with you. As my location precludes attending any meetings, I am using this medium.

HONESTY: Who are we and where are we going? I am most grateful to Jim Connolly for sharing the recent article from Human Development: Authentic Responses to the Future of Religious Life. I would hope every member of the Chapter has access to this article as it can help to chart a future we create rather than fall into. The Big Question: If we die in the U.S what happens to our brothers in Africa?

LEADERSHIP: Even though we are a very small group it appears that the leadership model that I have seen for 20 years is more corporate and hierarchical instead of egalitarian and gospel. In the Benedictine model of chapter, everyone has a voice. I think we need more and regular meetings not only to discuss pertinent issues but for prayer and fraternity. The current model of leadership which places the entire burden (at least seemingly) on one person could be revamped to allow a better distribution of responsibilities. I have heard many times that when brothers are asked to do something, they say ‘no’. Perhaps the wrong brothers are being asked. Some brothers have commented on a type of ‘clericalism’ in the Congregation; brothers who are ‘in’ and brothers who are ‘out’. I know it is not possible to be part of a group without being hurt and hurting others. I am sure I have hurt others; I have also felt hurt. Is there a Christian style of collaborative leadership that can ameliorate some of this hurt and sense of estrangement?

MEMBERSHIP: CANONICAL OR ECCLESIAL OR BOTH?: The severe shortage of priests is due in part to the fact that women and married men may not be ordained. If our Congregation wants to grow, would we be willing to give up canonical status so women, couples straight and gay could have full membership- not just for the sake of increased numbers but more and effective ministries, especially to the poor and marginalized. The Sisters For Christian Community are ecclesial, but not canonical- the Catholic Worker model could be a viable one. Outreach to the Hispanic and Asian communities in the U.S. have been fruitful for the Society of the Divine Word; there are several SVD’s who live near me and commented on this. Recent studies have indicated many young people are looking for traditional communities. Perhaps a few of our brothers could come together and pursue this in a sustained way.

AGEISM AND TEAMS OF TWO OR THREE: Regardless of age, everyone can do something. I am familiar with the Sisters of Mercy who have ‘senior’ sisters living in poor urban and rural areas, primarily as a witness and helping neighbors however they can. Such an ‘ordinary’ ministry but certainly in line with our charism!

COMFORT ZONE: Most of us are guilty of living a lifestyle that is more middle class than reflective of community life in the Act of the Apostles. I come back with a collaborative leadership that is prophetic, visionary and calls us out of that zone to proclaim more authentically the kindom of God. There is a lot of gobbledygook about the Holy Spirit and papal and congregational elections but I do believe in the power of the Spirit to shape and lead us- if we are willing to be shaped and led AND DO SOMETHING!

 

COMMENTS OF BROTHERS MEETING AT THE NORTH SHORE March 9, 2013

  • I think our community should be thinking about changes for the sake of the future of the congregation. . I would say for example living in mixed communities (priests, consecrated, married)….
  • I think we should strongly emphasize community life. We should not be living alone to make things easy for us. If we lose our sense of living in community, our future is hopeless.
  • When I started reading this description as an expression of our charism, most of it is new for me. But as I read it, as I reflect on it, I realized that this describes a life that I have lived in any community wherever I had been.
  • An American poet from New England wrote, “What we are, we are always doing.”  (This is to affirm the above point)
  • Communicating through the computer and the new media has not been very effective in reaching out to us who are intimidated by the Internet. We brothers have not been communicating well with each other, creating a vacuum among us and truly preventing us from feeling that we are part of a community.
  • If we are trying to convey an agenda for the next chapter, one of them should be on communication. For idiots like me who don’t use the Internet the way I should, our communication with the Generalate has been very detached. We need to hear more directly from the people there.
  • This issue became evident during the preparation for the Assembly. Someone told us the discussions going on there was on the blog. But we don’t know what a blog is. That’s why it’s difficult for some of us to accept the description because we didn’t get involved in the assembly. There has to be more emphasis on fraternity and involvement with each other.
  • Life is generating for the congregation in Africa. But there does not seem to be work on finding opportunities for our brothers there to meet us here. Wouldn’t that cause the development of a different way of being Xaverian, the fact that they are unable to witness the life as it had developed in the West among Americans, Belgians and English.
  • I would like to meet our African brothers and see them as my fellow Xaverian Brothers. I want to see them as my Brothers.
  • The pictures in our weekly bulletins do not usually show our African brothers. They must be feeling like second-class citizens when we only show American brothers.
  • We should show the interview with the African brothers to the entire community so that most of us can see it. It would also be good to do it also in reverse, that is let some of the brothers here be interviewed so that the African brothers can also see and hear us.
  • It would be good if some of the sessions of the general chapter that will take place in Rome could be something we could see streamed on the internet.
  • What if we could have African brothers living with us in the US and in Belgium? These young brothers are dynamic. If we have them with older brothers who, through their experience, give them stability in the life, that may generate new life here.
  • In the history of the church, the number of vocations to religious life keeps going up and down. I believe that we need to pray for more vocations. I’m not quitting in prayer.
  • We should be careful in saying that Africa is “the future of the congregation.” It seems to me dismissive of the experiences and contributions of the brothers here, as if our phase is over and so let’s just pay attention to what’s happening there but not here.

 

Intentional Group Meeting–Venice Florida, April 26-27, 2013
Members: Jim Connolly, Paul Cullen, George Donnelly, Kenney Gorman, Bob Green, Ray Hoyt, John McDonald, Jerry O’Leary

Subject—Elucidation of Practices: Community and, Ministry and Mission, Finances, Governance, and Spirituality Associates

At the gathering of our Intentional Group in Venice in May, one theme which can be seen in this summary of the ideas brought up in our freewheeling discussion on the elucidation of practices in preparation for the 27th General Chapter was that at this time in our history we need for the General Superior to engage in a collaborative style of leadership, to delegate work substantially, and to have pastoral leadership as a priority.

Comments:

  • — importance of gatherings—not unlike these IG meetings—at the grassroots level—with “conveners”
  • — collaborative leadership, governance animating involvement of brothers
  • — consultation in the process of decision-making
  • — finances control everything, e.g., affordable housing
  • — limited community options
  • — some reservations regarding suitability and/or accepting federal housing
  • — care of the elderly tied to finances
  • — regarding the finances for the care of elderly, the Isidore Charitable Trust seems to be well funded for the medical and retirement needs of our elderly brothers
  • —budgetary problems around operating expenses are connected with the lessening of income from fewer working brothers
  • — need for financial transparency
  • — importance of reflecting on the purpose, the why, of a band of brothers
  • — charism animates mission
  • — charism influenced by Jesuits, Dominicans, Redemptorists, as much as by the Dutch mystics
  • — mysticism absorbed in religious culture of the day
  • — our charism has evolved through the lived reality
  • — thinking about the development of the charism influenced by many people and events, where does our identity/self-understanding as a missionary brotherhood through formation/education get referenced—that element not from the mystics
  • — Ryken doesn’t totally define our charism—it has evolved
  • — importance of sharing ideas that filter up
  • — perhaps a modification of the XBSS is needed at this time
  • — leadership present to all brothers
  • — regular structured/schedule gatherings are important for providing input to leadership
  • — in addition to congregational interests, social justice issues and spiritual topics would provide opportunities of learning and sharing, effecting change through letter-writing, taking action, co-signing support, etc.
  • — separate housing militates community
  • — community housing needs to be available for community-building to take place
  • — the general superior should meet annually with each brother
  • — delegation of authority is needed to implement  administrative policies
  • — we seem to want and expect pastoral leadership, but often elect administrators
  • — there’s a movement of the Holy Spirit in the whole Church since the advent of Francis, especially with his calls to get out with the people
  • — every time seems to call forth or give us the type of leader we need
  • — the administrators have kept the structures afloat
  • — the present and future seem to need a pastoral type, supported by others who can handle administration
  • — governance requires a designated general councilor or delegate to attend to the welcome growth in membership and the development of our ministries and missions in Republic of Congo and Kenya
  • — a need to evaluate our structure of governance, perhaps with a special follow-up chapter after a year or two of new leadership under the present form
  • — need to define roles before elections/selections of personnel
  • — Associates find different ways of coming together, e.g., Skype
  • — clusters may be model for gatherings of conversation on selected topics, e.g., pre-retirement, retirement, aging, social justice issues, etc.
  • — need to be kept informed of what’s going on congregationally
  • — the videos are helpful for getting to know our brothers in Congo and Kenya, etc.
  • — African brothers need to come here to get an  experience  of American brothers and vice-versa
  • — exchange of cultural visions is helpful in embracing our international character
  • — building trust while building community
  • —  biographies of new members as with the Associates
  • — our gift of ordinariness needs to be affirmed through equality
  • — group-gatherings promote our presence and hospitality toward one another
  • — professional assistance may be helpful in enhancing community and our spiritual/prayer life
  • — why are we a band of brothers? what is our purpose? “are we all together alone?”
  • — community promotes sharing the challenges of today together

 

For the 27th General Chapter: The need for a modus operandi of connectedness

At this time the Brothers need a General  Superior who delegates work substantially to his staff and the members of the General Council , and has as his top priority to provide a way for all the Brothers to feel and  be connected with what is happening in the Congregation.  This role is primarily pastoral but  also provides a means for a more horizontal style of governance.  In order for the General Superior to help lead the way in bringing about this “connectedness” there needs to be an established protocol.   It seems that a lot of hard work has already been done in Kenya and the Congo  to establish this connectedness through the emphasis on regional meetings and community meetings and this should continue.   But our African Brothers  might also include some of the following modus operandi

The Chapter needs to come up with the principles which would lead to the establishment of  this protocol of connectness which would lead to a specific modus operandi.  The following is only one possible (hopefully not too impractical) example of a modus operandi.

A possible modus operandi of Connectedness

(1) Nomination by the Brothers of Brother Facilitators who are welcoming, inclusive individuals who could be successful in convening small groups of Brothers who wish to be more connected  with what is happening in the Congregation

(2) Meeting of these Brothers with the General Superior to engage in a workshop which will provide:

(a) a “hands-on” demonstration of how a small group can develop trust and support among one      another and share thoughts on important topics relating to the Congregation, the Church, and the world.

(b) how the Brother can easily convey the group’s thoughts, concerns,  etc.  to the General Superior (those who are already proficient in all this can help others to assimilate this)

(3) The Brother Facilitator would invite a small group of Brothers to join with him periodically (in person or by electronical method)  for a morning, afternoon, or evening  gathering  for prayer, socializing, mutual support and to share thoughts on important topics, and would convey to the General Superior any concerns, questions, or observations , or suggestions which the group would like him to convey.

(4) The General Superior would meet with the Brother Facilitators at least twice a year and would include in his messages to all the Brothers his responses to what was brought up at all these small group meetings.

(5) The General Superior would arrange for African Brothers to join at times  with American Brothers in their gatherings, and for American Brothers to join with African Brothers in theirs (in person or by skype)

(6) The General would meet with each Brother every three years

(7) The General Superior would strongly urge the Brothers to join with Xaverian Associates at their meetings.

 

GENERAL CHAPTER REFLECTIONS – 2013

With our congregation’s Twenty-Seventh General Chapter fast approaching, I would like to share some of my reflections on a few general congregational areas that the chapter delegates may choose as selected topics for their consideration. The chosen areas that have engaged my personal prayer and reflections in recent times are described below and do not indicate by their placement any particular priority in importance.

In recent weeks I have had several conversations with sisters whose own congregations are in the planning stages for general chapters. A frequently mentioned question raised is that of the potential for future general chapters based on the lived reality of fewer new members and the diminishment and ageing of current members. Put directly, the rather uncomfortable question is this: should the approaching chapter be viewed, realistically, as the last of the congregation’s general chapters? Further, in terms of the long and illustrious history of religious congregations in their building up of the Reign of God on earth, is it possible that the congregations’ participation in history should come to an end; that the work assigned to the members over the countless number of years is over and will be supplanted by other means set in the mind of God?

These sorts of question are quite daunting and unsettling and would probably have prompted from some hearing these statements, as it did me, a contradictory response of the sort that in no way are we Xaverians ready for, or accepting of, the possibility of fading from history along with the spirituality and ministry handed down to us from our Founder.

And yet, brothers, apart from the personal spirituality of our brothers that has been effectively nurtured and no doubt has grown over recent years, especially through the congregation’s prayer and reflections on Theodore James Ryken’s charism, bequeathed to his brothers, there are some indicators contained in our current lived reality that might benefit from a renewed approach to our Xaverian life. In other words, I would want to develop this point from an objective, structural approach that I believe most will recognize.
Apart from the very beneficial emphasis given over the past several years to prayer and reflection on the Xaverian charism, which it is hoped will continue, I cannot help but wonder about how we are living the Xaverian life as a community of brothers, or as in the current language in vogue, living the Xaverian Way. What follows, then, are some comments and suggestions that may be of help to us as our preparation for the approaching general chapter incorporates, in a positive fashion, some concrete responses to the questions surrounding our Xaverian future.

In regard to the our Xaverian future question, I am convinced that a sizeable number of our brothers, despite age and infirmity, continue to stand ready and are willing and able to engage more directly in the creation and nurturance of a future life for the congregation. How might the move to greater engagement among our members be facilitated to ensure the kind of Xaverian life for the future that genuinely reflects the hopes and dreams of our brothers?

CONGREGATIONAL STRUCTURES

I see some of the congregation’s current structures somewhat outdated and not sufficiently effective in handling current needs and lived reality. Basically the congregation’s structures remains unchanged since they was adapted and changed to accommodate the lived situation of the brothers in 1997, at the 24th General Chapter. At the time of their implementation and at subsequent chapters, I believe, the recommendation was that these 1997 structural changes be reviewed and again altered as needed.

At the time of the congregation’s structural changes indicated above, several adaptations were made that addressed some inherent difficulties that would accompany, among other factors, the suppression of the provinces and the creation of one congregation. It was clear to the leadership that additional changes and newer approaches had to be tailored to assist the brothers in accepting the changes. Of particular concern was a possible perception that the removal of provinces would result in a separation from local leadership and a loss of contact between the brothers and their leadership. Local structures were set in place, such as the creation of pastoral associates, in an attempt to keep communication open between the General and others in leadership and the brothers.

As we view our current situation, most of the structures determined appropriate for our congregational life in 1997 (which is different in many respects from today) remain in place. Given the number of brothers in the congregation, do we really need the current number of leadership positions? Does a larger number of leaders facilitate communication among the congregation at-large or does it encourage a perception of removal/separation from the life of the brothers? Do our brothers today feel a close relationship with the elected leaders and to what extent is clear, unambiguous communication achieved through a growing use of technology to effect essential communication?

Obviously, whatever structures are finally accepted to serve congregational needs and priorities and those of the brothers, the fostering of a healthier cohesion between the membership and those elected to leadership should be considered paramount in the structural choices that are eventually made. Does our current situation, where a group of elected councilors meet a few a few times a year on congregational matters and where the results of these meetings more often than not are not shared with the brothers through open communication, – is this the most effective way to foster a sense of unity and cohesion among the members?

Perhaps the chapter delegates might consider alternative approaches to how we might live our lives as Xaverians under current conditions. Revisit the Constitutions and perhaps reduce the number of leadership positions that I believe would enhance greater direct contact with the brothers. The greater incorporation of our African brothers very much needs to be reviewed and open to possible changes as to inclusion in leadership positions. As our principal growth area in the congregation, much attention needs to be applied to the brothers from Africa.

In the spirit of true subsidiarity, greater emphasis needs to be placed on intentionally and deliberately seeking the brothers – despite their age – to become directly involved in congregational direction and other issues of importance in our lives. I believe very strongly that the brothers – many of them – would indeed respond to a direct appeal to become engaged in at least one of the key areas of congregational life that will be briefly described later. The results, I believe, would be convincing proof that the Xaverian Brothers are indeed in place and intend to remain as a vibrant participant in the life of the Church and world.

Our recent history reveals a prominent example of our members’ generous response to the invitation to engage the congregation in the creation of an Associate Program. Impressive was the willingness of our brothers to accept this program, and for several of our members, to be extremely generous in responding to the invitation to become actively involved with the Associate members in the furtherance of this initiative. Our brothers, despite age, remain open to active participation in the life of the congregation.

In the past attempts to incorporate the brothers in the life of the congregation have been enhanced by what used to be called “area meetings.” The area meeting gatherings of the brothers occurred at different times during the year and were utilized principally as a vehicle for direct communication between the membership and the leadership. Happenings within the larger congregation membership were openly reviewed, input from the brothers encouraged, etc. And while there were at times some difficulties with logistics, the timing of meetings, a preference among some brothers in leadership positions to view this sort of arrangement as not the best use of time, etc., by and large the attempts did provide some direct contact between the leadership and the brothers that I believe were worthwhile efforts.

XAVERIAN SPONSORED SCHOOLS

Another example of an area of Xaverian life in need of attention is that of our Xaverian-Sponsored Schools.
In the mid-1980’s one of our provinces, in an effort to look to the future of our schools with a mind to underscore the importance of their continuing existence and to incorporate, in a realistic fashion, the laypeople as part of that future planning, began what has emerged today as our Xaverian-Sponsored Schools, a description, presently, of all congregational educational institutions. On becoming directly involved in one of our schools after several years away, I can readily attest to the fact that our schools have successfully involved the laity as committed sponsors who are imbued with the Xaverian educational spirit and who are clearly determined to participate fully in the future growth and development of these schools.

At this time in the history of our sponsored schools it is becoming more and more apparent, however, that a new stage of development is required in the form of study of what structural changes are called for, especially in terms of the ongoing relationship, legally and otherwise, between the Xaverian Brothers, the congregation and the separately incorporated schools. Basically, the Sponsored Schools remain structurally unchanged since the inception of the effort back over thirty years ago.

What might be worthwhile, as we plan for the next six years of Xaverian life, is to devote a focused effort on the re-structuring question involving our current schools. Through possible weekend meetings that would include committed laypeople in prominent leadership positions, the search for the next level of association between the laity and the brothers could begin to evolve.

Finally, the Corporate Members structure, designed originally to establish a legal basis for the brothers’ involvement in important decisions impinging on the schools (appointment of new board members, decision-making control over capital expenditures in the schools, etc.) The Corporate Members, initially included both brothers and several lay men and women directly involved in and committed to the educational charism of the brothers, should likewise become a part of the overall evaluation and decision making of the sponsorship program.

AFRICA

Our Congolese and Kenyan regions have emerged as the principal growth area, member-wise. Obviously, at this point in our history as a congregation of brothers it is time for chapter decision makers and the brothers at large to seek and determine appropriate steps that more fully incorporate the African brothers into the total life of the congregation. The reference to an immersion in the total life of the congregation would need to go well beyond allocating, for example, a particular position on the general council reserved for a Kenyan or Congolese brother, or a brother from another part of the congregation to serve as a representative of the Kenyans. Perhaps a significant step that could be taken by the chapter delegates is that of naming a Vicar General who would reside in Africa, regardless of his place of birth.

Our Congolese region has been an integral part of the Xaverian Brothers for many years. The Kenya region, on the other hand, has a more varied history and one that needs to be revisited at this time essentially because of the uniqueness of its recent history.

In 1998 and 1999, on visits to the Kenyan region by the congregational leadership to a few of the brothers who continued their ministries begun in prior years, it became most apparent to the leadership that the people and especially the local clergy, many of whom had been educated by the brothers, wanted very much to have the Xaverians return and assume, again, a prominent role in the educational ministry of the church. Unrestrained were the compliments paid by the Kenyan people in western Kenya about the outstanding debt owed to the brothers for their work in education beginning in the latter part of the 1940’s. They importuned the congregation’s leaders to have the brothers return and undertake the challenge of educating the people in that region.

The brothers did indeed respond positively to the appeals of the Kenyans in 1999, and accepting a direct invitation from the local bishops, were able to identify brothers who would be willing to go to Kenya and begin a re-foundation effort there.

At the time, Ted Sullivan, a former Xaverian Brother and resident of Kenya for many years, willingly made himself available to the newly-arrived brothers. Gleaning from his own experiences in Kenya as a Xaverian Brother, his recurring theme within the context of a re-foundation effort was this: that the reality of a strong community life and an individual and community identification with the Xaverian Brothers was absolutely essential. So initially in the formation efforts undertaken, the two key concepts to underscore were that of bringing about a strong community reality for the new members and a strong self-identification as Xaverian Brothers.

The formation of the new brothers within the community had been looked upon as a principal focus from the early years. The brothers who were an integral part of these initial re-foundation efforts were well aware that, given the ages of those brothers who generously and selflessly volunteered to go to Kenya at the beginning would at some point need to retire from this congregational effort. Replacements to continue the effort were scant and the Kenyan brothers, who were still engaged in their own initial formation stages and education, were not prepared to replace the former US brothers.

It was the congregation’s good fortune to obtain from the Congolese region several brothers to provide some of the needed formation efforts that are currently in place. Thus some of the Kenyan formation efforts, initial and ongoing, are being taken care of with great care and attention by the Congolese brothers and some Kenyans who are emerging as potential formators.

Yet, the formation needs of Africa, both in Congo and Kenya, will continue to require greater attention from the congregation in years to come. As a meaningful response to an awareness of the need for the African brothers to become more involved in the total work of the congregation, would it not be a good idea to incorporate the young brothers into the congregational life in other of our cultures? Could programs of education and formation not be pursued in the US, England, Belgium, as well as Africa? Such a move might lesson the immediate need at this time for more formators and at the same time better familiarize our brothers with members from other areas of the congregation.

More could indeed be said about congregational structures at the local levels, especially in Kenya, perhaps even greater attention to the effectiveness of the many committees and sub-committees that operate locally and with representation from both African countries, but I would prefer to briefly describe one other facet of Kenyan life that deserves more attention as time goes on.

In light of Ted Sullivan’s age advice these many years ago, there is reason to again highlight the importance of community as well as a strong sense of community identification. What are the factors that help a young Kenyan brother self-identify with our congregation? Does the presence of a corporate ministry, clearly Xaverian and something that was the defining characteristic of our brothers from the perspective of the people many years ago, accomplish?

In 2006 a piece of property was purchased in Bungoma near the postulancy and former novitiate for the expressed purpose of planning for the creation of a Xaverian school in the area. Many concerns, apparently, accompanied this original initiative, costs being among the most prominent., and it seems the idea remains in realm of an idea.

And yet to many, the concept of a school, clearly identified as Xaverian, would convincingly translate to the people in this country the message that the brothers have indeed returned and are willing and able to return to important educational ministry of the Xaverian Brothers so many years ago. It would, many aver, contribute substantially to a greater awareness of our Xaverian charism and history. While invitations to and acceptance of ministries to other ministries in other countries will continue to be important, some degree of importance needs to be directed toward the solidification of the Xaverian identity of the brothers.

And one final point: a Xaverian school would also give some added direction to the young brothers choosing educational degrees and programs and obviate the need to look for work when graduated. And the presence of a school would likewise provide the region with an income.

MEMBERSHIP/ASSOCIATIONS

Steve Strausbaugh’s recent reflections on the issue of congregational membership are from my perspective extremely compelling as a part of a wider and possible call to the brothers to expand our numbers and become a renewed presence in society. Such an expanded openness to other combinations of memberships falls nicely within the already accepted notion of Associate Membership. The Associate Program, attempted by one of the provinces as far back as the late 1980’s, while supported by the brothers at least theoretically, was an effort that lost steam with the change of province leadership a few years later. Again, is the remarkable response to the current effort of promoting a congregational Associate Program perhaps could serve as an incentive to explore other modes of membership presently adopted by other religious congregations. For both the associates and the potential of varied memberships would require clear direction from the members and leadership as to where these new movements may lead.

The above remarks, brothers, are my reflections on what might be some of the congregational issues that could be included in the next general chapter that is fast approaching. It is hoped that with less than five months remaining before this important Xaverian event takes place that more and more brothers would be willing to write their own thoughts and reflections and share them with the membership.

Brother Matthew Burke, CFX


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