Today, the development of the Catholic education confronts numerous problems caused by consistent changes in the contemporary society and the shift toward atheism, materialism and consumerism. In such a situation, the revival of spirituality is one of the primary concerns of Catholic schools. In this regard, it is possible to refer to the experience of Marist Catholic School which focuses on the disadvantaged population mainly providing educational services for the poor and marginalized groups of the population. At the same time, Marist school focuses on following the lead of Marcellin Champagnat, the founder of Marist school and Marist philosophy. Marcellin Champagnat always taught to combine spirituality and education. He insisted that catholic education should raise the confidence of students and treat them as equal but not as mere subjects to education. One of the main purposes of the education, according to Champagnat, is the development of awareness of students of the importance of faith as a foundation to the spiritual life of individuals, while spirituality should comprise an integral part of human life. This is why Marist school focuses on the development of spirituality. At this point, it is important to place emphasis on the fact that Marist school focuses on the development of spirituality not only in students but also and mainly in teachers, who serve as models for their students and whose lead students will follow in the course of their education. In such a way, Marist school offers a new and up-to-date concept of education which combines practical education focused on learning basic curriculum and spiritual education to make students spiritually rich, although Marists interpret spirituality only in the context of Christian faith that limits the applicability of Marist spirituality to Marist or Catholic schools only, while Marist spirituality needs further adaptation to civil norms to be adapted by public schools and the education system at large. For instance, Marist schools offer long-term or short-term programs which include, for example, basic literacy, remedial classes, language skills for immigrants, personal development, health education, substance abuse, human relationships, pre-school care, workshops with social or cultural themes, community development skills, vocational skills training; artistic expression, and leadership training (In the Footsteps of Marcellin Champagnat, 36). In such a way, students attending Marist school can receive extensive training and come prepared to live, work and continue their education.
At the moment, Marist school is the leader in the Catholic education which shows the way for other Catholic schools to follow. One of the main conditions of the current success of Marist school and education is its flexibility. Marists philosophy is quite flexible. As a result, Marist school adopts a different approach, in the light of the international diversity and the insights of contemporary educational and Church thinking (In the Footsteps of Marcellin Champagnat, 5). In other words, Marist catholic school focuses on the different approach to education and to the role of the school in the education of students. Marists do not try just to convert students into Catholicism and raise them being devoted catholic. In fact, this is just a part of the goals Marist school pursues. The mission and vision of Marist school is broader than a conventional mission and vision of a catholic school. The primary concern of Marists is the spiritual education but the spiritual education is not limited to the enhancement of faith in students or their conversion to Catholicism (Noddings, 1995). On the contrary, Marist spirituality is a broad concept which includes not only respect to divine laws and principles but also the personal development and the creation of the personal set of values within the Christian framework. In terms of Marist spirituality, educators cannot impose their will or vision on students. On the contrary, they should adopt to needs and background of their students, to help them find their way in life and come to faith and God.
In fact, the scope of Marist education is broader than conventional or catholic education since the field of Marist education has broadened from formal education to other pastoral and social structures and activities (In the Footsteps of Marcellin Champagnat, 7). What is meant here is the fact Marists attempt to deal with broader issues than just mere training of students or teaching them Christianity. Instead, they attempt to deal with burning social issues, such as poverty, crime and spiritual degradation of the society. For instance, they focus their issues on marginalized social groups, including poverty-stricken neighborhoods, where people often forget about spirituality or are not even acquainted with this concept (Williams, 2005). They lead the life focusing on their basic physiological needs only and Marists help them to uncover their rich spiritual world which can help them to find salvation in the severe environment.
In this regard, Marists continue the work started by their teacher, Marcellin Champagnat, who focused on the training of educators to teach the poorest. The focus of Champagnat and his followers on the poorest was not occasional. Marists spirituality is a broad concept which enrolls all layers of the society. However, the poor are the in the most disadvantaged position compared to the rest of the society because they are deprived of an opportunity to obtain a good education. They live in a hostile social environment, where they have to struggle for survival on the daily basis (Doll, 2005). In such a situation, Marist educators believe that their responsibility is to help the poor to find their way to God and obtain a chance to succeed in their life, while education may by the tool which can help them to reach this goal. This is why Marist educators focus on helping the poor and educating children as well as young adults in poverty stricken communities. To make education available to the poor, Marist educators have set minimal prices and lived in austerity. In this regard, they followed the lead of Mary, who also sacrificed her own comfort and well-being for the sake of helping other people.
As a result, Marists have reached a considerable success in their educational efforts becoming the major and leading Catholic school. In this regard, it is worth mentioning the fact that the overall success of Marist school and Marist spirituality is grounded on the teaching of Marcellin Champagnat, who promoted traditional Christian values and appealed to his brothers and sisters to keep those values in mind while interacting with other people and teaching them. Marcellin Champagnat viewed traditional Christian values as the foundation to the concept of Marist spirituality. His early success brought many followers, who were ready to follow his lead and spread Christian teaching and Marist spirituality to the poorest communities helping the local population to find their way in their life. Marists believed that helping the poor and educating them they saved their souls (Hooks, 1994). In actuality, the Marist education system developed by Champagnat really contributes to the rise of spirituality of students based on Christian values, norms and beliefs.
In fact, the secret of Champagnat’s success lays in the great simplicity with which he related to his young followers and in his great confidence in them. He treated them as equal and he taught them everything he knew himself. As soon as he felt his followers are spiritual enough and ready for teaching, he encouraged them to follow his lead, to go to the poverty-stricken communities and teach local children and youth to help them find the way out of their poverty and moral degradation.
At this point, it is worth mentioning the fact that Marist school holds the leading position among catholic schools because, due to its adoptability, this school is very progressive and matches current needs of the society and adopts the most advanced approaches to teaching. In this regard, Marist school is one of the first catholic schools that have implemented the concept of the community-based learning. In fact, even the public education fails to implement the concept of the community-based learning, although such learning is very efficient and contributes to the learning of the entire community but not only students. Moreover, community-based learning is a new and progressive approach to learning, which is implemented successfully in a few schools mainly. At the same time, this approach to learning is very efficient and Marist school has succeeded in its implementation.
As Marist school focuses on the community-based learning, it has developed the specific vision of the human community, which Marists perceive as “reaching out to the “least” of our society, seeking the common good of all, and taking responsibility for the future of humanity and of God’s creation” (In the Footsteps of Marcellin Champagnat, 20). The community-based learning elaborated by Marist school is grounded on the close interaction between educators, students and the local community. in fact, Marist school developed a system of ongoing professional development which involved both theory and practical experience and was community-based (In the Footsteps of Marcellin Champagnat, 10). Such community-based learning facilitated the integration of students into their community and helped them to match community’s needs. As a result, students felt useful for their communities, while their spiritual development opened the way for taking the leading positions in their communities. As a result, Marist spirituality comprised the core of Marist education system oriented on the community-based learning. In this regard, the adoptability of Marist teaching and practices allowed Marist school to find the most efficient approach to education of children in the poverty-stricken communities.
Moreover, Marist school incorporated another progressive, advanced element of the contemporary education, the ongoing education throughout the lifetime and vocational education. What is meant here is the fact that Marist spirituality views education as a way to God and understanding of Christian faith (Anyon, 2002). Education is important for the development of students’ spirituality and Marists view their task as educators to enhance spirituality of children and the youth, to make them thinking of non-material, eternal issues which affect consistently their personality and system of moral values.
At the same time, Marist school focused on the training of educators as well. Marists viewed their training and improvement of their educational skills and abilities as a crucial element of their education system. This is why summer vacations were put to good use for improving his Brothers’ store of knowledge and their educational methods through such means as individual and group work, examining committees, and conferences (In the Footsteps of Marcellin Champagnat, 10). In such a way, they used vacation training to enhance their professional skills as educators. At the same time, additional training and education contributed to the further progress of their spirituality, enriched their experienced and increased the effectiveness of their performance and interaction with their students and local communities.
As it has been already mentioned above, Marist school relied heavily on Mary lifestyle and she was perceived as a role model for Marists (Winters, 2012). Her actions and views laid the foundation to Marist spirituality and comprised the core of their teaching. In fact, Marist spirituality and education system was a system of educational values taking Mary as model, the servant of God and educator of Jesus in Nazareth (In the Footsteps of Marcellin Champagnat, 11). In this regard, it is worth mentioning the fact that the founder of Marist teaching also viewed Mary as a model, whose lead he attempted to follow throughout his life. Marcellin Champagnat lived among children and young people, loved them with passion, and devoted all his energies for them (In the Footsteps of Marcellin Champagnat, 15). At the same time, he did not manifest or feel any superiority in relation to children and the youth. On the contrary, he treated them as equals, even if they held the lowest social standing and had little idea of spirituality, God and faith. He believed his mission was to educate children and the youth to make them aware of God and of spirituality. Marist spirituality and its promotion were primary concerns of Marcellin Champagnat.
His followers also focused their efforts on the most disadvantaged social groups. The Marist Brothers focused their attention on the poor. Today, they also stand on the ground that their preference is to be with those who are excluded from the mainstream of society, and those whose material poverty leads them to be deprived also in relation to health, family life, schooling, and education in values (In the Footsteps of Marcellin Champagnat, 16). The idea of helping the disadvantaged people, outcasts expelled by the society originates from Mary’s attitude to people. Marist Brothers just followed her lead and attempted to help those, who did not believe that anyone could help them.
Today, Marists confront new challenges, such as global interdependence, living in pluralist societies, secularization, and the advent of new technologies. Such developments set new horizons and, despite their ambiguities, create new possibilities (In the Footsteps of Marcellin Champagnat, 16). These challenges can affect students and educators but Marist spirituality attempts unchangeable being grounded on traditional Christian values. At the same time, due to the efficient adoptability, Martist school can adopt changes that will make its education system efficient.
In this regard, it is worth mentioning such threats as threats for the healthy growth of the young, such as the rapid pace of change, a culture of individualism and consumerism, insecurity in family and work prospects (In the Footsteps of Marcellin Champagnat, 16). These threats affect consistently children and the youth but Marist Brothers come prepared to those challenges. At any rate, they stand on the firm ground that traditional Christian values are stronger than provisional threats and the strife of the contemporary society to individualism and consumerism. On the other hand, Marists have already started to adopt its education system to new requirements of the highly individualistic and consumerist society (Ross, 1976). To put it more precisely, they have started implementing practical aspects of education to meet current needs of students and society. In such a way, Marist school prepares students to the severe life in the real world but, along with basic learning and training, students also receive spiritual education, which is the distinct feature of Catholic schools, while Marist school holds the leading position in this regard. Unlike many other Catholic schools, Marist school combines and matches its education with spirituality (Sporre, 2003). In other words, students can learn some practical aspects, such as math, for instance, along with spiritual education.
In fact, Marist spirituality and school focus on clear signs of hope, which they find in a growing acknowledgement of human rights, including the rights of children, and efforts to provide universal education for children; wonderful examples of progress in the service of human life, and a growing awareness of our responsibility for the environment; the efforts of peace-makers, and of people working to overcome injustices; the desire of the poor and marginalized to become actively involved in their liberation and development in the face of repressive structures; so many people, especially the young, committed to building bridges of solidarity among different peoples and offering their services as volunteers (In the Footsteps of Marcellin Champagnat, 17). In such a way, Marists believe that they can contribute to the improvement of the current situation in the society suffering from consumerism and degradation of basic moral values (Finder, 2004). Unlike public schools, which focus on practical aspects of education, Marist school complements those practical aspects by spiritual education that is very important in the contemporary educational environment. In fact, such a combination of spiritual and practical aspects of education puts Marist school in an advantageous position compared to both civil, public schools and religious, Catholic schools. Marist school avoids pitfalls of the spiritually-oriented education many other Catholic schools slip to (May & Aikman, 2003). On the other hand, Marist school provides broader education compared to public schools because the school develops not only specific knowledge and skills of students as public schools do, but also Marist school contributes to the development of spirituality in students.
Marist spirituality comprises the core element of Marist school and education (Yagelsh, 2006). In this regard, compassion is one of the milestones of Marist spirituality and philosophy. In opening their eyes and hearts to the depths of suffering of young people, Marists begin to share God’s compassion for the world (In the Footsteps of Marcellin Champagnat, 17). They feel compassion in relation to their students and, more important, they also teach students to be compassionate in relation to each other as well as other people.
Marists attempt to distract children and the youth stumbling in poverty from their burning, socioeconomic problems. Marists teach their students that they can become disillusioned with their own poverty and the human weakness of the poor until they learn real solidarity – together, “no longer “us” and “them”, we recognize the cause of the poor as God’s cause” (In the Footsteps of Marcellin Champagnat, 17). In such a way, Marists attempt to reconcile children and the youth with their severe social environment and their socioeconomic problems. Marists attempt to ease the psychological pressure on children and shift their focus to God and spirituality, which they taught them.
In this regard, Marist school helps to complete the transformation, where necessary, of existing institutional structures and other ministries to reach out more effectively to young people who are truly vulnerable or marginalized because of family or social circumstances (In the Footsteps of Marcellin Champagnat, 17). In such a way, Marist focus on helping the poor, marginalized groups educating them and bringing them the word of God. In actuality, the poor are in the urgent need of help because the authorities and the government cannot provide them with the sufficient support. Economic problems aggravate the position of the poor even more (Swassing, et al., 1979). As a result, they feel being desperate and abandoned that leads to their marginalization. In such a situation, Marists may be very helpful because they can teach the poor and show them the way to spiritual balance and peace, regardless of their desperate poverty and daily struggle for survival.
Marist spirituality focuses on the promotion of religion and religious values, which are closely intertwined with the personal development of individuals. They pay attention to such issues as promotion of human growth which is integral to the process of evangelization. In promoting Gospel values, all Marist educators contribute to the mission of every Marist project to build God’s Reign on earth (In the Footsteps of Marcellin Champagnat, 18). In such a way, they view evangelization as an essential element of education. In fact, evangelization contributes to the rise of spirituality in students (Doll, 2001). Taking into consideration the desperate position of students, such approach is quite effective.
In fact, Marists offer the holistic education, drawing on the Christian vision of the human person and of human development (In the Footsteps of Marcellin Champagnat, 19). They provide students with broad education offering them ample opportunities to enrich their spirituality and find their way in their life. The idea of providing a truly holistic education, we include environmental awareness as well as physical and health education in our students’ learning experiences (In the Footsteps of Marcellin Champagnat, 28)
At the same time, the major goals of their educations may vary depending on the individual. With the active co-operation of the young people themselves, Marists seek creative ways:
- to develop their self-esteem and inner capacity to give direction to their lives.
- to provide an education of body, mind and heart, appropriate to the age, personal talents and needs of each one and to the social context.
- to encourage them to care for others and for God’s creation.
- to educate them to be agents of social change, for greater justice towards all citizens in their own society, and for more awareness of the interdependence of nations.
- to nurture their faith and commitment as disciples of Jesus and apostles to other youth.
- to awaken their critical consciousness and assist them to make choices based on Gospel values (In the Footsteps of Marcellin Champagnat, 19)
Marist philosophy of education includes diverse, although religion-oriented methods of the involvement of students in the learning process. They choose to be present among young people in the same way that Jesus was with the disciples on the road to Emmaus:
- respectful of their consciences and stages of understanding,
- passionately immersed in their concerns,
- walking alongside them as their brothers and sisters,
- gradually unfolding for them the richness and relevance of Jesus’ transforming vision of the human person and of the world (In the Footsteps of Marcellin Champagnat, 19)
Their main principle of working with students is to listen and to challenge. They combine these two principles, while working with students. To put it more precisely, at first, they encourage students to speak of their problems and listen to them carefully. They analyze those problems and challenge them. For instance, if students suffer from poverty and cannot afford staying in the stressful environment, Marists can offer challenge their environment and start acting and changing their life instead of complaining all the time. They offer them an alternative way of personal development (Frankena, et al., 2002). Instead of slipping to criminal activities to avoid poverty, Marists can offer spiritual enrichment, which makes the material and financial position of the individual unimportant and absolutely irrelevant. As a rule, Marists shift the focus on their students to faith and God as the major source of inspiration and reconciliation. It is God and faith that helps Marists to cope with their problems and they attempt to teach their students to use the assistance of faith and God to tackle their problems. In a long run, Marists expect their students can change their behavior and shift toward spiritually rich and virtuous life.
Marist spirituality focuses on breeding personal freedom and spiritual enrichment. They attempt to help the young to grow in personal freedom and a sense of the demands of life. (In the Footsteps of Marcellin Champagnat, 19). Such education leads them to discover their spiritual dimension: their personal experience of the Spirit, inspiring, encouraging, supporting, consoling; their sense of wonder at the marvels of creation and of new life; their intuitions of the transcendent, of our ultimate destiny to be with God (In the Footsteps of Marcellin Champagnat, 19). Such a blend of spirituality and individualism and personal freedom proves to be very efficient and attracts many young people not only to learn from Marists but also become educators themselves. As a result, students of Marist school make the conscious choice in favor of faith and God rather than in favor of pursuit of wealth and glory, which are often unattainable for students and the youth in poverty-stricken communities.
Furthermore, Marist spirituality promotes solidarity. They support other Catholic schools as well as non-Catholic ones as long as they promote the spiritual development of students. In settings characterized by religious pluralism, we respect the religious freedom of all, valuing positively the richness of God’s presence in the religious traditions of humankind (In the Footsteps of Marcellin Champagnat, 20). At the same time, work as educators is not just a career, it is a vocation for Marists (In the Footsteps of Marcellin Champagnat, 22). In this regard, they apparently follow the lead of the founder of the Marist teaching, Marcellin Champagnat, who taught children and the youth and led an ascetic lifestyle to get closer to the poor and to help them as much as possible.
Marists develop a personalized approach to teaching each student individually. They seek to establish relationships with them, founded on love, which create a climate for learning in an educational setting, for passing on values, and for personal growth (In the Footsteps of Marcellin Champagnat, 22). The personalized approach is efficient, especially in the contemporary educational environment, when students live and study in the multicultural environment. The contemporary society has become extremely diverse and educators often confront the problem of cultural barriers that prevent them from effective teaching. Marists have overcome this problem through focus on traditional Christian moral values which are universal, to a significant extent and acceptable for representatives of diverse cultural groups. In addition, the personalized approach helps Marist educators to respect cultural norms and values of their students and help them to enrich their spiritual world.
In fact, the personalized approach to teaching used by Marists turns out to be very effective. They are very attentive and welcoming, of listening and engaging students in dialogue. In such a way, they earn the trust of young people and foster their openness (In the Footsteps of Marcellin Champagnat, 22). As students grow confident in Marists, they are ready to follow their lead toward Marist spirituality and fundamental Christian values which bring them liberation of their earthly troubles, socioeconomic problems, concerns about the pursuit of wealth and better social standing and shift their attention to the spiritual improvement and perfection of themselves.
Marists focus on simplicity that is very important for them to gain the confidence of their students. As they work in poverty-stricken communities, they try to close the gap between them and their students as much as possible and simplicity helps them to annihilate the difference between them and their students. They promote family values and the sense of community in their students. They attempt to undertake to build community among all associated with each of their institutions and activities, including those who work alongside them, the young in their care and their families (In the Footsteps of Marcellin Champagnat, 24).
They use the organizational approach to encourage a spirit of partnership and shared responsibility, and at the same time, the responsible autonomy of each person involved in the educative process (In the Footsteps of Marcellin Champagnat, 25). A Marist school is a centre of learning, of life, and of evangelising. As a school, it leads students “to learn to know, to be competent, to live together, and most especially, to row as persons” (In the Footsteps of Marcellin Champagnat, 27).
The educational process is enlightened by faith that is the distinct feature of Marist school compared to conventional public schools or other civil schools, free of religious education. At the same time, Marists focus on the use of contemporary means of learning. They give special emphasis to educating their students in modern means of communication such as the print media, television, films, and information technology (In the Footsteps of Marcellin Champagnat, 28). In such a way, they make students come prepared to use the latest technological achievements and stay up-to-date with the progress of technology. As students learn to use new technologies and use different they develop new skills, broaden their eyesight and develop their spirituality. They worldview becomes more diverse and broader. As a result, they can make a conscious choice of their future and develop their own system of moral values.
Finally, it is worth mentioning the fact that Marist school is called on to exercise professional and pastoral leadership in Marists’ role as educators (In the Footsteps of Marcellin Champagnat, 31). What is meant here is the fact that Marists try to take the lead in the educational process and help their students to follow their lead to the enrichment of their spiritual world and better understanding of the true purpose of human life. Marists do not just provide students with basic education mixed up with theological teaching. Instead, they attempt to help their students to grow up truly independent, free persons, who have their own moral values and norms grounded on Christian ones and who have a rich spiritual world within themselves.
Thus, Marist school and spirituality comprise the integral part of Marist teaching. Marists apply the holistic approach to education providing their students with basic knowledge, developing their skills and abilities. In addition, they focus on the development of spirituality in their students referring to traditional moral norms and values of Christianity. Using simplicity and trying to be closer to their students, Marists live in austerity and use teach and challenge approach to teaching and helping their students. The holistic education of Marists is very efficient since it offers a solid practical education comparable to conventional schools but, in addition, Marist school offers spiritual education, which is not available in conventional schools. This is why Marist school and spirituality are currently holding the leading position among Catholic schools.
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