The Shift in What It Means to Be Lasallian and Its Values

by AUGUST KISSEL, Web Editor

Prior to attending Manhattan College, I had no idea what a Lasallian was. My freshman year, I believed that Lasallians and Catholics were separate from each other and when I attended Mass I thought the only difference was that Lasallians just didn’t kneel during mass. I even remember calling my mother and saying “Lasallians are so weird, they don’t kneel at mass,” to then participate in no further research about my new home’s Lasallian heritage.

Since then I have had many Lasallian experiences, such as participating in the Lasallian Outreach Volunteer Experiences, also known as the L.O.V.E. program, where I learned and later facilitated dialogue about the Five Points of the Lasallian Star. I could recite them like nobody’s business and apply them to the mission of the program, but at that point I didn’t truly identify as a Lasallian. I valued the community’s work but I didn’t feel I fully belonged.

It wasn’t until I moved into the Generalate of the Brothers of the Christian Schools in Rome for a semester that I actually started to understand what a Lasallian was, and that you didn’t have to be Catholic or a teacher to be a Lasallian. Prior to moving to Rome I would tell my friends I was moving into the central house of all Lasallians, specifically mentioning that “His BONES are there,” to everyone who asked. Upon arrival to the Generalate I was transfixed. We had weekly dinners with the Brothers, having access to the different projects the Lasallian world was actively working on, I had the first understanding that the Lasallians genuinely focus on Social Justice through an inclusive education program, and I thought it was pure magic.

Then like all institutions I learned about the good and the bad. As we lived there longer I learned the History of Saint John Baptist de la Salle, and the true involvement of women and all lay people within the Lasallian community. The first religious group that Saint John Baptist de la Salle worked with was a community of nuns, who encouraged his work and development of schooling. These nuns were the people who motivated his work of educating and social justice.  He then moved onto working and creating the community of brothers we know today. The tale of this community of sisters is hard to locate and is not shared as often in the tale of Saint John Baptist de la Salle.

As the years have gone by the Lasallian lay community continued to grow and grow. This lay community is now international, and has become 60 percent female and 40 percent male. These communities engage in dialogue to create the schooling system that would be the most beneficial and inclusive to each community they plan on serving. This is one of the best aspects of the Lasallian community worldwide, the communication and work between the lay community and the brothers in each community.

Yet something I noticed despite this generational transition that there is a power dynamic issue within the Generalate. While the community who is serving the Lasallian mission has transitioned to predominately lay people, specifically minorities, those in control at the top are still predominantly represented by only Brothers. Each of the higher offices were designated to the brothers that were the representative of their portion of the Lasallian world. The offices for the lay people and the sisters were physically lower, often in the basement, and were not being as represented in the hierarchy of power. During my time at the Generalate only the brothers were invited to our dinners, I didn’t even know there was a community of sisters there until much later into my program.

Later that year, I attended the IALU conference and fell even more in love with the Lasallian Mission as I was in a room of peers my own age who embodied the pillars of the mission. This group of students further my desire to be openly Lasallian, each of us stemming from other backgrounds and life experiences. This community justified my place in the Lasallian world, as I was able to get to know so many peoples who cared so deeply for social justice. While I am currently struggling with my religious identity, it was demonstrated that I deserve to claim my Lasallian identity.

When one day we were prompted to share an issue within the Lasallian community, myself and my peers brought up our issues with representation within the Lasallian community, we felt silenced. We were the only group that had an adult from the conference sit in and listen to our discussion, our poster was the only one that wasn’t hung up on the wall, and we felt we were repeatedly given statistics about how the Lasallian lay community to state where we were wrong. While I understand that our lay community is so inclusive, our leadership board is less so, and as person who identifies as a young Lasallian I believe I should be able to see the Lasallian leadership and be able to identify myself within that community.

All in all, like every other institution this world has to offer, the Lasallian is both wonderful and problematic. I believe that without dialogue we can never improve, so I hope moving forward, into new generations we can begin to expand our definition of a Lasallian leader. Who they are, what they look like, and what they believe in. Without an inclusive leadership, there cannot be a completely inclusive lay community.