27 August 2016

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Tags: Educators

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Categories: Reflections, Saints

St Monica was born to a Christian family in North Africa in 333 A.D. Married as a young girl to Patritius, a pagan who held an official position in Tagaste, her life was filled with disappointment and trial, for Patritius was a quarrelsome and demanding husband. Faced with daily tensions and difficulties in her unhappy marriage, St Monica continually displayed a profound and dedicated love for God through constant habits of prayer, almsgiving, and acts of charity. These annoyed Patritius, and became, without a doubt, the cause of significant friction in their marriage. Monica refused to ignore her duty toward the words of Christ, “Come, follow me” (Mt 4:19). St Monica is well-regarded because of her son, St Augustine of Hippo, who took after his father. She was responsible for his conversion before her death in 387 AD. So what can educators learn from St Monica?

Have faith in the presence of God despite the environment
St Monica married into a non-Catholic family. Her mother-in-law and her husband were not Christians and were unhappy with her daily devotions to God. Her marital environment would have caused many other women to despair and eventually give up their faith for the sake of peace. But not St Monica. As educators, St Monica is a role model who teaches us that even though teachers work in secular environments, it is possible to continue with our Catholic faith. While teachers may not be allowed to pray publicly and talk about God to students publicly (MOE has clear guidelines on evangelisation in schools), they can exhibit their faith through their daily actions. Catholic educators in non-Catholic schools can display a love of God by doing their work well, caring for the students under their charge and submitting to their supervisors in obedience to God. For Catholic educators in Catholic schools, there is more room to display and grow your faith. Catholic educators can volunteer to teach RCCE, lead prayers at morning assembly, lead catholic activities in schools, and help organise masses for the students.

Pray for conversion
Despite having a difficult husband and son, St Monica saw beauty in her life’s work. Her daily habit of prayer and persistence in living a holy life converted both her husband and son. Educators today sometimes work in hostile environments with demanding parents and uninterested students. Like St Monica, educators can pray for their conversion. Instead of reacting negatively at a parent or a student expressing their unhappiness at the system or at us, teachers can offer up prayers for them. Their conversion may not come about immediately—St Monica prayed for her son for 17 years.

See meaning and beauty in the vocation
Although St Monica had a very difficult time as a wife and mother, she still saw the beauty of her vocation. St Augustine lived a life of laziness and impurity by his own admission. Yet because of his mother’s prayer and labour over 17 years, St Augustine is today one of 33 Doctors of the Catholic Church, the Doctor of Grace and the Doctor of Doctors. It appears that the conversations St Augustine had with his mother in her last years was that they pondered what it might be like “to share the eternal life enjoyed by the saints, ‘which eye has not seen, nor ear heard, which has not even entered into the heart of man'” (1 Cor 2:19). Educators can try to see the beauty of their vocation. Visualising what the students can be when they are fully matured, educators can see past their present behaviours. A student who may be unmotivated and aggressive may become an important influential person in the next decade. Educators can and do impact students’ lives positively. From the lives of St Monica and St Augustine, educators can realise that no student is a lost cause. Educators must know that students can and do change for the better. Keeping your focus on the students’ development will enable all educators to see the beauty in the vocation. Like St Monica, educators are called to be the model of a virtuous parent.

15 August 2016

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Tags: Educators

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Categories: Reflections, Saints

John Vianney was born in 1786 in Dardilly, France, one of Catholic farmers Matthieu and Marie Vianney’s six children. He grew up in the anticlerical ‘Reign of Terror’ during the French Revolution, marked by the infamous mass guillotine executions. Priests were on the run and celebrated Mass stealthily. Young John Vianney regarded these priests as heroes and grew up wanting to become one.

At 20, John was allowed to leave his family to further his education in a school. He had the intention to join the priesthood but struggled in his studies, especially in his learning of Latin (required for all priests). John was many times deemed unfit for Holy Orders. His studies were again interrupted when he was drafted into Napoleon Bonaparte’s army in 1809. It is believed that because of his poor health, John was left behind while the troops continued without him. He then met a man who brought him to a place where deserters stayed. There, he remained for one and a half years before amnesty was granted to deserters in 1810. Finally, John was able to continue his ecclesiastical studies. He was ordained a deacon in 1815 and became the Curé (equivalent of parish priest) of Ars three years later.

The story of St John Vianney’s struggle to fulfil his purpose in life holds some relevant lessons for Catholic educators today.

1. The constant struggle to upgrade and update content and pedagogy
Just as the French priests of the 18th Century were heroes for St Vianney, educators today are heroes to our youth. We work in a difficult environment of high expectations, long hours and face constant pressure to improve ourselves. As educators, we can definitely identify with St Vianney’s difficulty in keeping up with the acquisition of knowledge. Yet, we can take courage in knowing that we are not alone, and that even saints had a hard time learning too.

2. Educating the ignorant and indifferent
As the parish priest of Ars, St Vianney realised that many of the parishioners were not properly informed about the faith, or were indifferent. He spent many hours listening to confessions and giving homilies to educate them. In a span of 30 years, the number of pilgrims who visited Ars to confess to him reached 20,000.

Like St Vianney, we too, face students who lack the will to learn. We spend long hours every week planning lessons to help our students learn effectively. Although our work can be draining and arduous, we can look to St John Vianney for strength and inspiration. Always remember that our work contributes to the spiritual and intellectual well-being of God’s children.

3. Recharge
Even a saint can be tempted to give up at times – St Vianney tried to run away from his priestly duties at Ars four times! But eventually, he learned to accept the task given to him, and devoted the rest of his life to his congregation. Although we may have moments when we feel like giving up on our students and the education mission altogether, it becomes easier to persevere when we are reminded of our duty as educators. Take time to recharge if you must, but don’t let despair derail you from our meaningful vocation.

As St Vianney entrusted his efforts to God, let us also ask Him to be our strength and fortify us in our work as educators:

“I love You, O my God,
and my only desire is to love You
until the last breath of my life.
I love You, O my infinitely lovable God,
and I would rather die loving You,
than live without loving You.
I love You, Lord,
and the only grace I ask is to love You eternally.
My God, if my tongue cannot say in every moment that I love You,
I want my heart to repeat it to You as often as I draw breath.
Amen.”

29 July 2016

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Tags: Educators

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Categories: Reflections, Saints

Martha was amongst the closest friends of Jesus, and was mentioned in the Gospels several times (Lk 10:38-42, Jn 11:1-53 and 12:1-9). In our first meeting with Martha, we hear her complain about her sister Mary for not helping her with the preparation of food to welcome Jesus. Next, we read about her sorrow over her brother Lazarus’ death and her plea for Jesus to raise him to life. Finally, when we read about Martha again, she was only mentioned in two words: Martha served.

So what can we as educators learn from Martha and how is she relevant in our capacity to serve?

Building a relationship with Jesus
When Jesus first arrived in Martha’s house, Martha was the one who started preparing to welcome Jesus. During Jesus’ time in Judea, women were expected to serve the men at home. Martha, being the responsible host, quickly set about doing her work to serve Jesus. However, in her preparation, she noticed that her sister Mary was not doing her part to help. Instead of confronting her directly, she chose to take her resentment to Jesus. This tells us how close their relationship was as it would be unusual for most of us to complain about our own sibling to a guest. In choosing to voice her frustration to Jesus, she was able to vent her displeasure without causing a strain in her relationship with her sister.

Upon dispensing her complaint, Martha received very good advice from Jesus who informed her that Mary had chosen the ‘better part’. What does this mean? Did it mean that Martha was in the wrong to have gone about her work instead of soaking in Jesus’ presence like Mary? No. We are told that Jesus loved her just the same. But perhaps her responsibility would not have resulted in her feeling resentful if she had spent time with Jesus first.

Our work will always be there but how we feel about it would depend on whether we spend time in prayer first. To be good teachers to our students, we must first spend time in prayer, asking Jesus to direct our daily work and to show us the knowledge He would like to impart to His young people.

Entrust your students to Him
Next, we meet Martha in sorrow. Her brother Lazarus was very ill and in need of Jesus. Word was sent to the latter to come and heal his friend. Oddly enough, Jesus stayed where he was for two more days before proceeding to Bethany. When he finally arrived in Bethany, Martha went out of the house of mourning to meet him.

Here, we see a Martha who had learnt from her earlier experience. Previously, she went about her work but felt resentful and took that resentment to God. Now, she was able to leave her house and seek Jesus. Her ability to listen to God and to put Him first is evident here. In fact, her faith was so strong that she told Jesus “But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask Him (Jn 11:21).” And indeed, Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, publicly glorifying God through his miracle. Martha has taken a step further in the development of her faith.

Martha was confident of God’s power over death, like the Centurion who asked for his servant’s recovery: “Speak and he shall be healed” (Mt 8:8). We often worry about how our students would do in exams, or how they well they will do in life. But do we trust God to care for their needs? Being Catholic educators, we are called to have faith in Jesus’ love. We only need to do our best – and entrust our efforts to his prevailing mercy.

Be at peace
After Lazarus was raised from the dead, mourning turned into celebration in their home. Martha, now confident in having her prayer answered, went about her work quietly. She was no longer resentful of her responsibilities, but at peace with them. She embraced her role in serving guests and welcoming them as part of God’s family – one she has always been a part of.

We too, are called to be at peace with our responsibilities. Instead of being excessively stressed out about our duties, or how well we are performing at work, why not take some time to reflect on the good that we do daily? Doing something as simple as comforting a student in need will go a long way in strengthening God’s family.

The key lesson we can learn from St Martha is that we are all loved by God. Like the brother of the prodigal son, we may be upset that our obedience to God has gone unnoticed. But St Martha’s walk with Christ has shown otherwise: when the faithful prays, their prayers are answered. Knowing that, we can all go about our work quietly in full confidence that whatever we ask for, God will answer.

23 June 2016

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Tags: Educators

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Categories: Reflections

Husband-and-wife teachers with a combined experience of over 60 years, Gerry Er (Holy Innocents High School) and Juliana Teo (St Patrick’s School) talk about what (and who) keeps them motivated in the teaching industry.

 

How did you both meet, and why did you decide to become teachers?

Juliana: We met each other while teaching at SJI in 1988. I have always wanted to be a teacher. I remember my mother telling my neighbours about how I started teaching invisible students at age seven. One of my uncles was a teacher but I don’t think he influenced me to become one though. As a student, I was lucky to always have had good teachers so naturally when I grew up, I wanted to be one. When I did well enough at A levels, I applied for the PSC teaching bursary and got it. And that’s how it all began. No regrets. I have been teaching for the last 34 years. I have taught in government schools (Rangoon Road Secondary and Peicai), an independent school (SJI), all-boys schools (SJI and St Patrick’s) and also an all-girls school (Hai Sing Girls’ High School).

Gerry: A short stint as a commodity trader in a reputed Japanese multi-national after graduation and a fulfilling relief teaching experience in a junior college helped me to decide that the teaching profession was my cup of tea. I enjoy being with youths. I have taught six months in a junior college, six years in SJI Independent and 22 years at Holy Innocents’ High School.

What are your fondest memories as teachers?

Juliana: My fondest memories have always been when students return to visit and update me about their lives. It tells me they care enough to update me about how they are doing. It is a huge reward for me if they tell me I have made a small impact on their lives. Some of my students have become good friends. It’s amazing when we can share parenting tips and other life hacks.

Gerry: When students remember the values I have shared with them (e.g. to always see the good in others, even when they appear to be cynical, arrogant and exhibiting negative traits), and when they share that I have, in a way, contributed to their growth in their formative years.

What do both of you like most about teaching in a Catholic school?

Juliana: I love the opportunities to pray as a community, the masses and the religious talks organised for the students. For instance, St Patrick’s organises many inter-religious talks and celebrates the various religious festivals throughout the year. In our Religious and Character and Citizenship Education classes, we organise talks on Buddhism, Hinduism, Taoism, etc. for our students. These talks are very enlightening and informative, and we learn a lot from them. In that sense, I think we are truly Catholic, where every religion is appreciated and understood.

Gerry: To evangelise at every opportunity during curricular hours, and especially through the transmission of norms, values, and beliefs conveyed in the classroom and the social environment. For example, my habit of sweeping the classroom in the presence of the students is aimed at conveying the value of humility, dignity of labour, order and the importance of cleanliness. As Pope Pius said, “Order is the passport to heaven”.

What are the cultures and charisms in St Patrick’s School and Holy Innocents’ High School like?

Juliana: St Patrick’s was founded by the Christian Brothers in 1933, upon the realisation of the need to have another school for Catholic boys in Singapore. It is the second Lasallian school after SJI that provides secondary education for boys. Parents want to be able to send their sons to a good Catholic school, and competition for SJI was (and still is) intense. St Patrick’s was and is the answer to parents whose sons do not perform so well at the PSLE. We take care of the last, the lost and the least.

Gerry: The culture in Holy Innocents’ High School is shaped by the ‘courage to lead’ and the ‘compassion to serve’. The story of the Good Samaritan influences the staff and students to be ‘men and women’ for others. The school’s motto, ‘Sincerity and Charity’, challenges the community at Holy Innocents’ High School to live authentic lives guided by the Gospel values of Faith, Hope and Charity.

How does your faith influence your role in the classroom?

Juliana: I think the question should be, “How does the classroom influence my faith?” I always think that children have much to teach adults. I learn from my students just as they learn from me. Children and young people are sometimes so insightful. I always have to be careful how I speak in class – because there are no final pronouncements in life. Our lives are not static; people can and do change, and the classroom is an example of that. It is humbling to be a teacher and to be able to see that happening every day. I don’t think that I am the expert in the classroom. We learn together whether it is faith or facts.

Gerry: The late Rev Fr Matthias Tung, the Supervisor of the Board of Holy Innocents’ High School, advised the teachers to remember that Jesus, the Master Teacher, is with us in the classroom. His advice is to pray before you enter the class, and the Lord takes care of every detail.

What are some of the challenges you face as teachers?

Juliana: My greatest challenge as a teacher is having relatives think you get three months of holiday a year, and that you work half a day! So they think you are free to help them with whatever tasks they have… I have never known myself to work only half a day. I also have to answer to parents for their children’s results (this is difficult if their children refuse to work), and difficult bosses, which I have had a few.

Gerry: How to reconcile the values of this secular world, as opposed to building God’s Kingdom on earth. How many times as a teacher have I contradicted myself when I preached the values of this world, versus the ones espoused by the Catholic Church.

How do your colleagues and students inspire you and keep your passion going?

Juliana: It is inspiring when I see students understand something I am teaching or imparting to them. When students credit you for having a hand in how their lives have improved, it keeps me going. Most of all, seeing how my husband carry on despite all the difficulties inspires me.

Gerry: We have a weekly Catholic teachers’ meeting every Friday, where we have a platform to share our faith experiences. It is also a time to prepare for whatever major events are coming up (e.g. Penitential Service, monthly masses, Stations of the Cross, spirituality retreat etc.).

If you were not in the teaching service today, how different would your lives be?

Juliana: I think I’d be a nurse. That is another noble profession. I look for jobs that are meaningful, and not just merely to earn me money. But it is important to get a job that pays well so we can live well and serve others.

Gerry: I could have been a lawyer. God directed the Dean of the Law Faculty in 1981 in the interview not to admit me to the faculty, even though friends with less competitive A-Level grades got in.

What brings you joy as an educator?
Juliana: Education is life, and life is education. As a teacher in Singapore, I am lucky: the MOE believes in training teachers. I’ve gone for many workshops and training sessions, all paid for by MOE. Where else in the world can you get that?

Gerry: To see every child/student that comes under my charge as a ‘saint in the making’, and that one day we will rejoice that ‘we had been there together’. The late Mr Goh Sin Tub, former Chairman of the SJI Board, told the SJI students in 1992 that the best gift God had given students is the gift of good teachers.

How do you grow in your faith together as a couple?

Juliana: My husband is good at doctrines so if I am unsure about the Church’s laws, I ask him. Other than that, I refer to the Bible. I keep in touch with priests and religious friends who counsel us about daily challenges and things in life which I am not sure of. We have prayed the rosary together as a family for many years. We also pray nightly and attend Mass together.

Gerry: Attend Mass as often as we can. Pray, pray and pray. We believe in ‘Ora et Labora’ (‘pray and work’), ‘Age Quod Agis’ (‘Do well in whatever you do’) and ‘Potest Qui Vult’ (‘He Who Wills, Can’).

31 May 2016

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Tags: Educators, Parents, Students

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Categories: Reflections

“Do you want to live in community, on the understanding that you will not have any security? You will have enough to live on but only just enough … You must be ready to die by the wayside, abandoned by everybody, and remain in this attitude throughout your life.” This was the question which Father Nicolas Barre posed to the founding members of the Congregation of the Sisters of the Holy Infant Jesus, to which they responded in the positive.

Every year in May, the CHIJ schools in Singapore celebrate their Founder’s Day in remembrance of the Blessed Nicolas Barre. Since their introduction to the island-state in 1854, the schools have been under the supervision of this religious congregation, affectionately known as the IJ Sisters.

As the schools celebrate their heritage and achievements this month, we trace the birth and history of the Sisters, as well as the major contributions they have made to Singaporean education through their mission.

Blessed Nicolas Barre and the Little Charitable Schools
A French priest hailing from the order of the Minims of St Francis of Paola in the 17th Century, Father Nicolas Barre dedicated his life’s work to educating young girls in France. Blessed with a bright mind and deep intellect, Nicolas taught philosophy while he was still a deacon, and was appointed to direct the Minim House’s grand library in Place Royale, Paris, after his ordination.

He was later assigned to Rouen, where he met several young women who would join him in his “Little Charitable Schools” project, aimed at educating young girls from the largely-agrarian society in rural France and empower them for greater opportunities in life. In addition to teaching the children to read, write and do arithmetic, the initiative also sought to introduce them to the faith and the love of God.

As the number of volunteering teachers increased, Nicolas set up a training centre in an area called Rue St Maur to house them. By 1866, this group of women who dedicated themselves to educating young girls have developed into a congregation known as the Charitable Sisters of the Holy Infant Jesus.

Continuing the work of Blessed Nicolas after his death, the Sisters grew in strength, and later sent mission teams across various countries.

The Sisters’ work in Singapore and the region
The Sisters came to Singapore in 1854, after the establishment of a Catholic girls’ school in Victoria Street was authorised. The school was placed under the supervision of the Sisters of the Holy Infant Jesus from Penang, led by Mother Mathilde Raclot. Within 10 days after opening its doors on 5 February 1854, the school took in 14 fee-paying students along with a group of orphans.

The school grew over the years, and the Sisters had to expand their operations in order to accommodate the increasing number of students: Katong Convent (1930), St Nicholas Girls’ School (1930), St Teresa’s Convent (1933), St Joseph’s Convent (1938), Our Lady Queen of Peace (1955), Our Lady of the Nativity (1957), CHIJ Opera Estate (1959, now merged with Katong Primary), Our Lady of Good Counsel (1960), CHIJ Kellock (Originally founded as Our Lady of Lourdes School in 1888, moved to Kellock Road in 1964).

Today, the IJ Board of Management oversees 11 convent schools in Singapore.

The Sisters’ mission also bore fruit in British Malaya. By the 1880s their schools were well established, and they rode on the rapid development of new towns and roads in the 1890s to build more institutions throughout the land. In addition, the Congregation also undertook missions to Spain, Japan, Thailand and England, and reached as far as Peru and Cameroon, establishing schools in rural districts lacking in even basic amenities such as electricity, clean water and sanitation.

Learning from the Sisters
The Sisters did not start out as a religious order. Like many of us, the founding sisters were laypersons, armed only with their dedication to empower God’s children with the knowledge of His word, and equip them with basic life skills. Even after they have taken their vows, the Sisters remained intricately involved with the lives and well-being of the students they were charged to take care of.

The resourcefulness they have displayed in dealing with actual problems – gathering funds, preparing materials and finding adequate teaching facilities – are challenges we can relate to as educators. Their dedication to caring for the children of the poor and destitute, even in the toughest of times, has left an indelible mark on the education of young girls in Singapore over the years. To date, the Convent Schools have produced many women in prominent roles across our society, both Catholic and non-Catholic alike.

As the demands of education evolves rapidly, one lesson imparted by the Sisters remain relevant nonetheless: that success in an educator’s work can only come from an unyielding pursuit to bring up young people with their hearts firmly affixed on the Gospel, and with the values of love, truth, justice and freedom deeply embedded in their lives.

3 May 2016

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Tags: Educators

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Categories: Reflections

We have a chat with Imelda Anthony, who took over as principal at Magdalene’s Kindergarten this year.

 

What are your new roles and responsibilities in Magdalene’s Kindergarten?
My roles and responsibilities are similar as a principal; that is to oversee the curriculum direction, ensure quality standards are being met, and to upgrade staff capability. As I am now working in a Catholic environment, it is essential that we reach out to Catholics and try to impart good Catholic values while the children are young, and also try to engage the Catholic parents in activities.

Why do you choose to work in the early childhood sector?
I had always been interested in working with children since I was young. My mum used to babysit children and I would find joy playing with them. In my primary school years at CHIJ, we also had a kindergarten there, where I would volunteer to read to children. As I grew older, being exposed to younger nieces and nephews spurred my interest to learn to interact with children.

What do you think are the most important things that early childhood educators must impart to children at a young age?
It is important to foster a love for learning and for others, to always persevere, and to have a positive mindset. We also tell them that God loves them very much and they should never forget that.

What are the key challenges that comes with early childhood education? As a principal, how do you deal with them?
To retain talent in such a competitive working climate is a challenge. We have a lot of team building sessions with the staff, and we also try to get to know each one of them on a personal basis. Keeping staff happy is important; happy staff leads to happy children.

How does your faith influence your approach to your current role and responsibilities as a principal?
Before making any important decision or facing any issues, I usually spend some time contemplating (in the adoration room / chapel) and lifting it up to the Lord. Also, I usually try to put myself in the shoes of others.

How is a Catholic kindergarten different?
I love that we can always lift anything up to the Lord in prayer (praying for the sick, praying for a successful field trip, etc.) I have the chance to praise and share more about God’s love to all the children and teachers every day. It’s the most wonderful feeling. I can also visit the chapel at any point of the day when I need some uplifting or guidance.

How do the teachers and children you work with inspire you?
The teachers spend a lot of time trying to find ways to cater to every child, even more so that our school provides inclusion to the hearing impaired children. Seeing how they plan the lessons to benefit each child shows me how devoted they are. The Canossian sisters, Sr Enrica and Sr Margaret, who spend some time every morning sharing the faith or simply greeting a warm hello to the children as well as to the parents also inspire me. For the children, they motivate me when I am burdened with work with their words, hugs and little messages.

How do you keep close to God?
Throughout the day I maintain little conversations with God, thanking Him for the little things that happen, and asking for His guidance when things don’t go my way.

Who is your favourite Saint and why?
My favourite saints are St Therese of the Child Jesus and St Magdalene of Canossa. St Therese’s feast day used to fall on Children’s Day in Singapore. She did all things with love and childlike trust in God. She struggled with life in the convent, but decided to make an effort to be charitable to all, especially those she didn’t like. She always performed little acts of charity and little sacrifices, not caring how unimportant they seemed. These acts helped her come to a deeper understanding of her vocation. St Magdalene of Canossa, because she gave up all her riches to ensure that she looked after the poor and cared for the children, making sure they could read and write.

What is one advice you would give to Catholic educators today?
Spend time to ensure that we treat every child the way God would have wanted us to, with utmost love and care.

7 April 2016

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Tags: Educators

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Categories: Reflections, Saints

The achievements of the Lasallian schools in Singapore today can be traced back to the efforts laid down by the Brothers of the Christian Schools. The Lasallian Brothers are a religious order first established by the 17th century French priest John Baptist de la Salle. Now widely regarded as a pioneer in modern education, St De La Salle devoted a large part of his 40-year priesthood to teaching underprivileged young men. His contributions to the elementary education scene in France eventually influenced the rest of the world, through the Brothers who continue his work today.

As a Christian teacher who approached the task of education passionately and methodically, St De La Salle sets a perfect example for educators today. We look at the lessons we can draw from his work and mission.

1. Knowing what matters
John Baptist was born into a wealthy family in Reims, France. His father held a high-ranking position in the royal court, while his mother came from a prominent influential family of wine brewers. After their death, he sold his considerable inheritance and gave the money to the poor in Champagne province, who were suffering from a famine.

St De La Salle’s willingness to give up his earthly possessions echoed the Lord’s exhortation in the Gospel: “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” (Mk 10:21) In an environment where academic success and career progression trumps many other worries, it is our mission as educators to remind students of what matters more in life. Rather than put pressure on them to do well in exams, why not discuss ways in which they can contribute back to society after their studies?

2. Recognising the poor
St De La Salle was aware of the many peasants who lived in the country or in town slums, and did not have the means to send their children to school. Because they were illiterate, they could neither move up the social ladder nor learn of God’s word. He became deeply concerned by the children’s financial and spiritual poverty, and pledged to bring up these young people.

As educators, let’s also keep in mind that our students come from many different backgrounds. The differentials in aptitude and attitudes amongst them are largely due to the wide spectrum of family, health and financial situations. Regardless of their circumstance, the young people are calling out for our attention, care and guidance in order to overcome the barriers they face to attain their fullest potential in life.

3. Taking action one step at a time
John Baptist did not change things overnight. Through his first pastoral post as the spiritual director of the Sisters of the Holy Infant Jesus (who ran an orphanage for young girls), he was encouraged to set up a similar institution for boys. Thus, with the help of a lay teacher Adrien Nyel, he founded a school. Following its success, more were spawned in the diocese, and John recruited more teachers to his cause. The Brothers for the Christian Schools was born from this fraternity, and today they number 5,000 across 80 countries and 1,000 institutions.

Upon seeing the severity of the problem, St De La Salle did not allow himself to become deterred or overwhelmed. Instead, he took small steps towards a larger goal. At times, it may be easy to become intimidated by our responsibilities as educators. St De La Salle’s example reminds us to take things one step at a time, address issues systemically, tap on resources made available to us, and leave the seemingly impossible to God.

4. Persistence in learning
Being the eldest child of a well-to-do family, John had the privilege of a quality education. His parents groomed him academically, sending him to study at the College des Bons Enfant, where he received his Master of Arts in 1669. Thereafter, he entered the Seminary of St Sulpice and read theology at the College of Sorbonne. His learning continued even after his priestly ordination in 1678, where he earned a doctorate in theology two years later.

Despite his impressive academic achievements, John remained humble and persisted in his learning journey. When he embarked on his priesthood and education mission, he needed to learn several things previously unfamiliar to him: how to run a school, how to connect to street youth, and how to recruit and manage teachers. Like John, we cannot be complacent with our knowledge. To improve ourselves as effective mentors to students, we must constantly be on the lookout for opportunities to pick up new skills and perspectives.

5. Meeting students where they are
St De La Salle wanted to ensure that students truly understood what they were learning. Against the norm of the times, St De La Salle decided that his institutions would teach subjects in the more widely-spoken French, instead of Latin. The Brothers also grouped students according to their maturity and aptitude, so as to facilitate the process of teaching.

Instead of purely regurgitating information to his students, John Baptist analysed their academic potential and capabilities and refrained from imposing unrealistic demands on them. He met them where they were and taught in a language they could understand. To be effective educators, let us adopt patience and empathic understanding. How can we meet our students at a level where we can better connect with them and make learning more productive and enhanced?

As educators, we may feel jaded and overworked after years in the service. We may lose sight of why we became educators in the first place. But as we celebrate the life and legacy of St De Le Salle, let us relive the joy of our vocation and remember that our words and actions, mundane as they may seem at times, have the potential of touching our students in more ways than one.

1 April 2016

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Tags: Educators, Parents, Students

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Categories: Reflections, Saints

 

Saint John Paul II, born Karol Wojtyła on 18 May 1920, was the longest serving pope of the 20th century. Born in Wadowice, a small city not far from Krakow, the widely-travelled pope is well known for his teachings on Divine Mercy since his election to the papacy in 1978. Throughout his pontificate, the pope constantly centred himself on the mercies of God.

St John Paul II focused much of his efforts on bringing Christ into culture, through the Divine Mercy of God. Divine Mercy Sunday, which falls on the second Sunday of Easter, reminds us that mercy is the ultimate answer to the problems of the world today. Incidentally, John Paul II died on the vigil of the feast five years after he officially granted the feast to the Universal Church, and was both beatified (2011) and canonised (2014) on Divine Mercy Sundays.

Drawing reflections from Dives in Misericordia (DM), St John Paul II’s 1980 encyclical on the mercy of God, we see several theological foundations essential to having a true understanding and expression of God’s mercy.

Firstly, John Paul points to the revelation of mercy in the paschal mystery — the passion, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus. For “absolute justice” to take place, he says, “Christ undergoes the passion and cross because of the sins of humanity. This constitutes even a ‘superabundance’ of justice, for the sins of man are ‘compensated for’ by the sacrifice of the Man-God” (DM, 7). True mercy is revealed because “He saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy” (Tit 3:5).

A third important point on the mercy of God is found in the parable of the prodigal son. In analysing this parable, John Paul highlighted that in the act of forgiveness, “he who forgives and he who is forgiven encounter one another at an essential point, namely the dignity or essential value of the person” (DM, 14). The son, who squandered his possessions, lost all dignity. He had nothing to eat. He craved what his father’s servants had, and resolved to return to the father, who in turn restores his son’s dignity:

“Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet; and bring the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and make merry; for this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found” (Lk 15:22-24).

Mercy restores dignity and values all man for who they are, in the image of God, not merely what they deserve. To this end, it is worthwhile quoting the pope at length:

“Mercy in itself, as a perfection of the infinite God, is also infinite. Also infinite therefore and inexhaustible is the Father’s readiness to receive the prodigal children who return to His home. Infinite are the readiness and power of forgiveness which flow continually from the marvelous value of the sacrifice of the Son. No human sin can prevail over this power or even limit it. On the part of man only a lack of good will can limit it, a lack of readiness to be converted and to repent, in other words persistence in obstinacy, opposing grace and truth, especially in the face of the witness of the cross and resurrection of Christ.”

St John Paul II, in his ministry, exemplified mercy. He embraced all who were suffering through his many papal visits, and stood against the innocent killing of mankind, most evident in abortion and euthanasia. Most astonishingly, after being shot at several times, he visited his would-be assassinator in prison, forgave him and begged the courts to pardon the man from life imprisonment.

Where does this lead us? Do we bear the crosses for the sake of others? “Merciful love is supremely indispensable between those who are closest to one another: between husbands and wives, between parents and children, between friends,” wrote the pope. “And it is indispensable in education and in pastoral work” (DM, 14). In the cross of Christ, we are given an example God’s mercy, and are challenged to extend His Divine Mercy to others.

What about us? What need do we have, as a child of God, of God’s mercy? What areas in our lives and in our profession do we struggle to find mercy and forgiveness from God? It is true that as educators, we are called to mirror God’s mercy to the students that we interact with (some of whom do not ‘deserve’ mercy!). But how can we practice mercy without first receiving it, since our Lord Himself reminded us that “he who is forgiven little, loves little” (Lk 7:47)? Let us be brave and ask the Lord for his Divine Mercy, since He never tires of offering it to us.

18 March 2016

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Tags: Educators, Parents, Students

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Categories: Reflections, Saints

 

What does it mean to be a man? It is a question running through every boy’s mind in the course of their maturity, and one that defines their identity. It is also, one of the most difficult life questions to answer.

Scripture shows us examples of the role of men in God’s plan of salvation. In the Old Testament, the men living in Jerusalem were considered heads of their households: “All these men were heads of their families” (1 Chr 9:9). St Paul also charges husbands with the responsibility to love and protect their wives “as Christ loved the church and gave his life for it” (Eph 5:23, 25). Leaders in the Church are to resist being overwhelmed by pride, and be respectable men of good character (1 Tim 3:5, 7).

Perhaps the easiest way to learn what it takes to be a good man is to look at the shining examples history puts before us, the greatest of whom, should surely be St Joseph, spouse of the Most Blessed Virgin Mary, and patron of the Universal Church. Let’s look at some lessons we can draw from the compassion and humility of St Joseph, foster father of our Lord.

Compassion
Joseph was a carpenter by trade, and became betrothed to Mary. Originally unaware of the child’s divine origin, upon discovering the Mary was with child, Joseph wanted to protect her from the possible backlash she could face, during a time when women accused of adultery could possibly be stoned to death (Mt 1:19). His compassion cam before his ego. His foremost priority upon discovering his fiancée’s pregnancy was not to accuse her of infidelity, but to protect her dignity and safety.

Today, popular culture and mass entertainment has eroded men’s respect for women. The value of women has been reduced to an object of sexual gratification, to be won over by a masculinity defined by wealth, political influence, popularity and sex appeal, as opposed to the husband-figure described by St Paul. St Joseph’s example reminds us that as men, we are called to reject the casual objectification of women in film and media, and to remember our mission to protect the dignity of women, like how Christ defends the dignity of His Church.

Humility
St Joseph also led a humble life, working in what most would consider a lower-skilled profession in his time (some of the people whom Jesus preached to did not take him seriously, for He was the son of a carpenter) (cf Mt 13:55-56). During Jesus’ circumcision ceremony, he and Mary offered a pair of doves (cf Luke 2:24). This was allowed because they were too poor to afford a lamb.

As generations of young people grow up with the belief that success solely stems from how much money they make and how influential they become, our society has become a more cutthroat and competitive environment. A man whose self-esteem is founded upon the benchmarks of economic materialism – rather than on his identity as a son of God – will become endlessly discouraged by how little he has compared to other men. We are all equally loved by God, regardless of what position we hold or achieve in life. This is a message we need to constantly remind ourselves and our students.

God desires not our earthly accolades, but that we “do what is just, to show constant love, and to live in humble fellowship” with Him (cf Micah 6:8), as St Joseph has exemplified in his simple lifestyle. Pope Francis echoed during a recent Palm Sunday homily, the humility of Christ became the saving grace of humanity. Likewise, as educators, we are called to emulate that willingness to empty ourselves of personal ambition, and devote our hearts to the greater good of nurturing God’s young people.

It is an opportune time in this Jubilee of Mercy to recognise man’s calling to love and protect, to respect and treat our fellow men as fathers and brothers, and women as mothers and sisters (1 Tim 5:1-2). St Joseph’s was a man living a humble life filled with great love, and we are all called to be men like him.

17 March 2016

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Tags: Educators, Parents, Students

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Categories: Reflections, Saints

Born in Roman Britain on 17 March 387AD, St Patrick is one of the world’s most popular saints. Despite being born in a Christian family, Patrick didn’t really believe in God. It was only after a turn of events that led him to seek out a relationship with the Lord. Let us look at the life journey of St Patrick, and how God eventually used him to bring the Gospel to Ireland.

 

At the age of 16, Patrick was abducted and taken as a slave to Ireland. There, he worked as a shepherd for six years until the end of his captivity, when he escaped after having a dream from God. In his vision, he was told to leave Ireland by going to the coast, and he did so in total trust. Upon reuniting with his family in Britain, a few years later, St Patrick received another vision from God calling him to return to his land of captivity to preach the Gospel. As written in St Patrick’s Confession, he saw in the night the vision of a man named Victoricus, coming from Ireland with countless letters. The opening words of the letter read, ‘The voice of the Irish’. Convicted of his mission to bring the Gospel to the Irish people, St Patrick then began his ministry in Ireland. The journey to serving God was not an easy one, as he had to suffer insult from unbelievers and hear reproaches of his returning to where he was enslaved.

The years of enslavement in Ireland was a trying time for St Patrick, yet it was also in those moments which led him to draw closer to God. As shared in his Confessions, he prayed fervently during his captivity, and as he does so, the love and fear of God came to him and strengthened his faith. While we are unlikely to be captured and held to slavery in a faraway country, we are bound to face difficulties and trials in our vocation. In such moments, we should not be discouraged or intimidated, but turn to the Lord in prayer instead. After all, our Lord reminds us: “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you” (Jn 15:7).

Patrick’s trust in God is a shining example for us to learn from. With the love of God burning in his heart, Patrick was not deterred by hardships, nor did he harbour any bitterness toward his captors. Rather, he prayed unceasingly for his enemies. With thanksgiving, he shared of how God made him fit through the tribulations so that he can care and labour for the salvation of others where he once could not.

Putting our trust in the Lord not only allows us to find comfort, but it also open the way for Him to work in and through our lives, just like how St Patrick first got his personal breakthrough before ministering to the people of Ireland. This is especially important for teachers, as we spend much time with students in schools, who are in the stage of physical, intellectual, emotional and spiritual development. Do we trust God enough? Have we had that personal experience with the Lord?