Vocation: Christian educator

Fr Ireneusz Skubis talks to Br Wojciech Golonka, the Provincial of the Institute of the Brothers of the Christian Schools.

Rev Msgr Ireneusz Skubis: – Please tell us something about yourself and the charism of your society, the special sign of which is a long collar.

Br Wojciech Golonka, FSC: – The white rabat (collar) symbolises the open book of the Gospel… I entered the Institute of the Brothers of the Christian Schools in July 1982, so 27 years ago. For many years I taught religious instruction in parishes, then I worked with the disabled. Now I am the headmaster of our school in Czestochowa and the provincial (visitor). The Brothers of the Christian Schools is a lay society – there are no priests – completely dedicated to Christian education of children and young people. We should sanctify ourselves for this and through this goal. The society was founded in 1684 in France. Our founder St John Baptist de La Salle (1651-1719) wanted the society to serve poor children by creating opportunities for their education so that they would become better citizens and members of the Church and thanks to their education they received in our schools they could live better lives. St John de La Salle faced many difficulties created by the teachers’ unions and because of the misunderstanding between him and some clergymen and his fellow brothers. But our schools enjoyed high prestige. The evidence of that was that rich parents who could pay the fee also sent their children to our schools. Today there are ca. 6,000 brothers in the world. We are active in 82 countries. We run various schools, from elementary schools to universities.

– How did your society and schools develop?

– The French Revolution (1789-99) was a big obstacle to the development of our Institute. During the revolution our society was destroyed. Only some brothers survived. Many of them died a martyr’s death. We have four Blessed from that period. During the reign of Napoleon the society was re-opened and grew wonderfully, becoming an international society. Our schools experienced a great revival and the number of brothers increased.

– What did the 20th century look like in the history of your Institute?

– The Christian Brothers developed in many countries. In Mexico and Spain the brothers sacrificed their lives. Ca. 200 brothers were killed during the civil war in Spain. 150 beatification processes have been opened. Ca. 70 brothers have already been beatified or canonised. The schools were destroyed. Only after the war had ended the brothers could assume their duties and returned to their charisma.

– What does your work as missionaries look like, for example in Africa?

– We are in most African countries. Nowadays there are local provinces there but many brothers from Europe help them. For instance, in the province of Duala in Cameroon there are two Polish brothers. The work in the missions is similar to the work in other countries worldwide but the demand for brothers is bigger. The brothers run various schools as well as educational and care centres.

– What is the history of the Christian Brothers in Poland?

– In 1903 some Christian brothers came to Lvov at the invitation of Archbishop Jozef Bilczewski and Fr Zygmunt Gorazdowski, today saints of the Church. They founded a school there and there were two languages of instruction: Polish and German. The school existed till 1939. After the outbreak of World war II the brothers left Lvov. The second centre was a house in Czestochowa, founded in 1922 (in 2012 we will celebrate its 90th anniversary). The house was a place of formation where the young brothers were trained to work with children and youth. And a school was also opened there.

– What is the history of the activities of the Christian Brothers in Czestochowa?

– From the start the brothers became educators. They ran a school that existed (with some breaks) till 1960. Then the school building was taken by the government. During World War II the brothers ran an orphanage, at first at Jasna Gora, in the so-called royal rooms, and then they received the buildings in Krotka Street. After the war the brothers taught in the Minor Seminary of the Diocese of Czestochowa. At present we have three communities in Czestochowa: the communities of retired brothers, the community that runs St John de La Salle School in Pulaskiego Street and the community that runs a special educational centre in Cardinal Wyszynski Street.

– There is also a house in Kopiec...

– The House in Kopiec is relatively new. It is some 15 years old. And there is the headquarters of the province and a formation house.

– I had the chance to know some brothers of the Institute of the Brothers of the Christian Schools. There are wonderful people. Br Prof. Stanislaw Rybicki (died in 2006) worked in the editorial board of ‘Niedziela’ for many years and his contribution was extremely valuable. Br Tadeusz Rucinski has collaborated with us for many years. Therefore, we have had contacts with your society and our recollections are excellent. We know that soon you will have a big gathering of the Christian Brothers in Czestochowa, the first of this kind in Poland. What is your idea and theme of this meeting?

– Our society is divided into provinces and five regions. The Polish Province belongs to the Lasallian Region of Europe and Mediterranean. The provincials, i.e. the visitors of the provinces, belonging to this area are meeting in Czestochowa on 11-21 January 2010. We will also have the meeting of the Visitors’ Conference with the Superior General and his council. This is the annual meeting of the Visitors’ Conference (all titular and auxiliary visitors belong to it). We will deal with three fundamental issues. The first one is formation, understood in its wide meaning, from the preliminary to permanent formation, divided into various age stages. Unfortunately, our brothers in Europe are getting old. Most of us are old. The brothers involved in schools require a different type of formation. The second issue is the Lasallian mission, how to share our charism with laymen who are our collaborators. The times when the majority of teachers in our schools were our brothers finished long ago. Today communities consisting of three or four brothers run schools where we employ several dozen or more teachers. Then we should share our charism with these people as best as we can, and we should care for their formation. And the third important issue is the economic matters.

– We want to know the most important elements of the charism of the Christian Brothers that you are to share with your lay collaborators: teachers and educators.

– The most important of them is the aspect of community in running schools. All the people involved in the process: teachers, brothers, pupils and parents are equally responsible for running schools, passing knowledge and upbringing of those that have been entrusted to our care.

– Are there any effects of such an attitude towards upbringing?

– I think that there are. We have no difficulties with young people. Someone can say that our young people have been selected. Perhaps in Poland it is true to some extent. But where we have big schools, the aspect of community makes young people feel equally responsible for their education as their educators.

– How can you as a headmaster see your collaboration with the parents of your pupils?

– This is a very important matter. In case of the school in Czestochowa, since I can say a lot about it, the collaboration with the parents is very good. I could divide the parents into three groups: parents who are interested in their children so much that they would like to remove every particle before their feet (sometimes problems arise); parents who co-operate with the school in an ordinary way (most parents do that) and parents who would like the school do all things for them, including the religious education.

– Does your pedagogical work lead to a better development of pupils? How do they cope with life after they finish school?

– I will answer this question on the basis of the experiences in Czestochowa. This school has existed for 11 years. Most of our alumni began studies and have experienced no serious educational problems. We still fear whether our religious education is effective enough, whether children and youth remember the things they have been taught at school. But the perspective is still too short to state what the situation really looks like.

– And finally, the problem of vocations in your society. What are the effects of your vocational activities?

– As far as Europe is concerned it seems that the brothers from various provinces do a lot in this respect. However, at present we have not too many vocations. In our province there is only one novice and two in the Near East. There are also several men in the postulancy. As far as Africa, India, Latin America are concerned our novitiates are full.

– What do you do in those places where there are not too many vocations?

– In the provinces where the average age of brothers is high we develop collaboration with laity. That’s why we talk about sharing our charism. Our brothers do not lose hope, they pray and wait for vocations.

– I encourage you to use ‘Niedziela’ for your vocational goals. Since the Institute of the Brothers of the Christian Schools deserves special interest of young people who have pedagogical and educational talents. Sanctification through work at school – for God, people and Homeland – is a beautiful perspective. Therefore, I invite you to write for our weekly and I wish you as many magnificent vocations as possible.

"Niedziela" 2/2010

Editor: Tygodnik Katolicki "Niedziela", ul. 3 Maja 12, 42-200 Czestochowa, Polska
Editor-in-chief: Fr Jaroslaw Grabowski • E-mail: redakcja@niedziela.pl