The 175th Anniversary of our Congregation presents an opportunity to recall and to celebrate the Xaverian charism as experienced in our educational ministry. We are most grateful for those Brothers who, over the years, were open to the prompting of the Holy Spirit, those Brothers who read the “signs of the times” and responded to the needs they saw. They did so, I believe, through the power of the Holy Spirit. These Brothers wanted to share the Xaverian Charism through their educational ministry. Today we are, indeed, grateful to God, to all our Brothers and to the many laypersons who are making the Xaverian Charism a reality to over 18,000 students each year in the United States, Belgium, Congo and Kenya!
Our mission as a Congregation is Jesus’ mission handed down to us by our Founder.
The spirit of the Lord is upon me, for he has anointed me to bring the good news to the afflicted. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives, sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free.
We know that the Holy Spirit works through the common and ordinary events of life to inspire individuals. We are indeed grateful for our Founder’s openness to the stirrings of the Spirit in his unspectacular life. The grace of conversion captured Ryken’s heart and mind and turned him toward God’s unconditional love. Ryken’s embrace of Jesus’ mission shaped his charism, that special gift of the Holy Spirit, and has expressed itself in our educational ministry for the past 175 years. So we gratefully recall our Founder’s willingness to be lead by the Holy Spirit.
Gratefully we remember other Brothers who let the Spirit lead them. We are grateful for the first Brothers in Belgium, England, and the USA. They saw the Xaverian charism in education as a pearl of great value. They willingly paid a price for this pearl by enduring the dire conditions of poverty in which they lived. The first hundred years were years of struggle. These Brothers were men of faith who trusted in God. As with the Founder, the Holy Spirit not only captured their hearts, but also fortified their wills and toughened their resolve to be the stewards of the Xaverian educational charism. We are grateful for the pearl of great price they left us. These men forged a great educational tradition grounded in the love of God and in solid spiritual values.
By the time of our 125th Anniversary in 1964, the Xaverian tradition was well established. We gratefully remember the Brothers who brought the academic instruction and faith formation of students in Xaverian schools to a new level: Brothers Bartholomew Varden, Medard Shea, Thomas More Page, Climacus Boyle, Hilary, Philip Dougherty, John Olsen, and Bertin Manning to name only a few. Each responded to the Spirit’s prompting to discern the “signs of the times.” Each took risks to make sure the Xaverian charism in education was responding to the needs of the students of their day.
The 1960’s impacted our schools. Pope John XXIII responded to the promptings of the Holy Spirit. He read the signs of the times and engaged the Council in a redefinition of the Church. With the publication of the Lumen Gentium, the dogmatic constitution of the Church, all Catholics were called to lives of service. What was once reserved only to Religious became the mandate for all believers. This Universal Vocation brought vibrancy and health to the Church at the same time it profoundly affected religious congregations. It was one of the factors that impacted our Xaverian educational charism. The signs of the times were very challenging for us in the 1970’s and 1980’s. During the early 1970’s many religious, including Xaverian Brothers, left religious life. The old paradigm which worked so well for the first 125 years no longer responded to the world in which we were living. We were no longer in the position of fully administering and staffing our schools.
Rather than running from the challenges of the signs of the times, we were blessed with leaders who, like our early Brothers and the Brothers before them, saw the Xaverian educational charism as the pearl of great price. The Spirit captured their hearts and imagination. The Spirit fortified them to take a risk. The Spirit strengthened and toughened their will to preserve the pearl of great price for the benefit of the youth of the Church and to find a new way of being Church.
Now, the Spirit we have received is not the spirit of the world but God’s own
Spirit, so that we may understand the gifts God has given us.
I Cor 2:12
The spirit of the world would have told us to withdraw from our schools due to shortage of Brothers and the rising finances. That would not be the case. Brother Cornelius Hubbuch, as Provincial of the Central Province, was the first to respond publicly to the positive signs of the times advocating including lay leadership on our governing boards and in administration. As Provincial, Peter Fitzpatrick was committed to bringing along the lay church, being Church in new ways. In his wisdom he appointed Brother Matthew Burke as the first Director of Sponsorship. Xaverian Sponsorship would mean that the Brothers would engage and form laypersons in the essentials of the Xaverian educational charism. We would no longer be the owners of our schools, but rather the influence that keeps our school true to Jesus’ mission and the charism of our Founder. The Holy Spirit blessed Matthew with the wisdom to include those who were in love with the service of God in creating the framework for sponsorship. The Spirit blessed Matthew with the strength and resolve to engage our lay teachers and administrators in shaping our sponsorship. By 1984, Xaverian Brothers Sponsorship was established. Peter Campbell, motivated by his love of our educational charism, drew up the legal documents that would allow us to respond legally before the Church and the State as we brought about this form of being Church in a new way. For Cornelius, Peter Fitzpatrick, and Matthew and his classmate, Peter Campbell, we are grateful.
In the former St. Joseph Province (ANEP), it was Brother James Sullivan, who during his term as Provincial, began to work with Peter Campbell to update the governance model and invite more lay men and women to serve on the boards in New England. Brothers James Boyle and Paul Feeney further advanced these efforts as well. A colloquium was established that brought together Brothers and teachers to reflect on Xaverian education. Later, under Paul Feeney’s leadership as Provincial, he invited Brother Charles Moran to become the Sponsorship Director for the schools in New England. Charlie, with his long experience as an administrator and his skills as a facilitator, began working with the Headmasters to provide formation programs for faculty, board members and administrators. It was also under Charlie’s leadership that he and Michael Welch developed the first XBSS Student Retreat for the New England schools, which was later expanded to include all the US schools.
We are grateful to Brother Arthur Caliman for professionalizing our sponsorship during his term as Director of Sponsorship in the Central Province. It is wonderful to be in love with the idealism of our charism! Someone, however, must manage the practicalities the system. Arthur spent hours working with administrators and board leadership to help them to understand the intricacies of institutional development. Simply put, what you have to do to keep a school financially viable. For his gift to our educational charism, we are deeply grateful.
We are equally grateful to Brother Larry Harvey, who served as the Director when the two sponsorship programs in the US were merged, for his openness to the Holy Spirit in developing the supportive programs needed to empower our lay leadership and staffs to understand their important role as ministers of the Xaverian charism in education in the service of the Church.
Next week (Monday, January 26) we continue our reflection on Xaverian Sponsorship with a look at how we’re “embracing the future with hope.”