A new era beckons for Lasallians

“I am not going to lose any hair over this job,” said Brother Robert Schieler, fsc.

Apr 06, 2015

By Anil Netto
“I am not going to lose any hair over this job,” said Brother Robert Schieler, fsc.

I looked at him a bit puzzled, wondering how he could be that detached from the pressure that must surely come from his responsibility as Superior General of the Institute of the Brothers of the Christian Schools.

“I may lose sleep, yes, but I am not going to lose any hair,” he dead-panned, with a twinkle in his eye, while rubbing his balding pate with one hand.

Schieler was elected superior general on May 20, 2014 of the Institute, widely known as the De La Salle Brothers, becoming the 27th successor of St John Baptist de La Salle (1651-1719).

His election came at a time when the global Institute is faced with formidable challenges. At its height, the congregation had 16,000 Brothers worldwide, but that figure has now plunged to 4,000, and most of those remaining are not getting any younger.

A few months before Schieler was elected, a lawyer representing the De La Salle Brothers, reportedly told a historical institutional abuse inquiry in Northern Ireland, that the order accepted there was abuse at its boys’ home in Kircubbin and offered “their sincere and unreserved apology to all those whom they failed to protect.”

Schieler seems well equipped to handle the imense task ahead of him. The oldest of eight siblings, he studied Modern European History and obtained a PhD in educational administration. He worked as a teacher in the United States and then as a missionary in the Philippines for 13 years.

“Having said there are fewer brothers and some of us are older, I also am very hopeful as I go around today … that I sense a change in the spirit of young people. I find among some young people today a growing interest in looking at something more serious for their life in terms of giving back.”

“And they are not finding satisfaction in all the things that they have. They are looking for a bit more meaning. And we are in fact seeing some young men coming and showing a new renewed interest in the life of the Brothers and the Lasallian mission.

In one of the districts of the United States, the Mid-West province (Chicago, St Louis, etc), for instance, they had not had a vocation to the Brothers for 25 years. But in the last five years, they have vocations, they now have postulants, a novice. In the Philippines, a couple of years ago, 10 new postulants came forward in one year. In Vietnam, the Institute now has over a hundred brothers after a difficult spell. “So I see some changes and I am hope-filled that that will continue.”

“And so I’d ask if you can do whatever you can to encourage that type of thinking among young people because while there may be fewer brothers, we are needed, you are needed, the teachers we have in our schools are needed, and the parents who support our schools are needed.”

In the post-modern world, Sheiler believes the key is networks and networking and keeping the various groups connected because we all have a contribution to make. “We have great opportunity to be an even greater influence for good globally when we network more effectively.”

“You are networking among the schools, you are networking among yourselves, and now as we restructure our provinces in Southeast Asia, with La Sallian East Asia District (LEAD), I think that brings a whole new lease of life for the Lasallian mission in this part of the world. So whatever you do to learn about the Lasallian East Asia District and what it can do, I would be most grateful for that kind of support.

Over the last three decades, the Insitute has been offering various formation programmes — over one to three summers —for teachers in different parts of the world. In some parts of the world, where government policy allows greater freedom, these programmes are more extensive.

Scheiler was on a whirlwind tour of Malaysia, accompanied by Br Edmundo Fernandez, the Brother Visitor of LEAD, and Br Ricky Laguda, fsc, the president and sector Leader of De La Salle Philippines.

LEAD too offers formation programmes for Lasallian teachers. “So there are examples of passing on the charism, the heritage to the current generation of teachers,” says Schieler.

The last general chapter in Rome of the Institute decided that not only does the order need to provide ongoing formation to teachers, it also aims to structure how it ought to accompany the teachers who have already received formation. “So we can strengthen that, we can deepen them – so the charism will continue.”

The revitalisation of the Lasallian mission in this part of the world thus continues. Meanwhile, a group of hundred alumni of the former St Joseph’s Training College have come together, ready to help.

These alumni once sat side-by-side with the brothers in their robes who were taught by brother lecturers at the old teachers training college in Pulau Tikus — now surrounded by a sprawling shopping mall. The visiting Brothers toured the heritage site and its simple yet resplendent chapel, reminiscing and drawing inspiration from the sterling work done before.

The College was however closed down leaving many scratching their heads as to the reason, when the Brothers were doing outstanding work in the schools.

Since then, the education system has deteriorated, prompting the government to spend RM20m for a consulting firm to come up with a new national education blueprint.

The Brothers have not been idle in the meantime. They are planning to set up a new technical and vocational institute in Penang, which will prepare teachers for special needs education, caregivers and preschool education — and eventually teacher training. It would also provide vocational training in areas such as logisitcs and culinary arts.

A new era beckons and the legacy and charism of St John Baptist de La Salle is set to live on in this part of the world.

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