Two hundred and eighty (280) Brothers from the three East Coast Districts came together in Retreat at La Salle University in Philadelphia from July 27 to August 1. This was the second time in two years they had gathered as part of the process of creating a new District in Eastern North America. The week was superbly organized by Project Coordinator Brother James Butler and his various committees. The entire community at La Salle University provided a warm welcome and excellent hospitality throughout the week. Their staff was always available, offering friendly service and guidance.
Chapter 21: 1-19 of John’s Gospel provided the retreat’s theme where Jesus tells the apostles to cast their nets on the other side of the boat to catch fish and where later Jesus asks Peter three times if he loves Him. Each day was divided into presentations, panel reactions and small group discussions. Keynote presentations were delivered by Brother Michael French, Director of the International Lasallian Studies Center in Rome and Brother Thomas Johnson, Vicar General. Brother Michael spoke on the topic of our mission for today and Brother Thomas spoke on the role of each Brother as leader and steward. Committee chairmen gave status reports on their committee’s work. Committees include: Mission and Ministry, Community Life, Senior Brothers, and Governance and Finances.
Affiliated member (LI-NE District) Father Robert Joerger presided at the liturgies and offering substantive and inspiring reflections. Running through his homilies of each day were three questions: Yahweh’s “What do you want me to give you”? Jesus’ question to Peter, “Do you love me”? and “When did you last see your founder”? (an adaptation from a recent film titled When did you last see your Father?)
A significant part of the week’s program was the sondage (straw vote) for potential leaders for the new District. During a prayer service on the third day of the retreat each Brother placed the name of one brother from his own district and one brother from another district on a ballot. At the commissioning service on the final day of the retreat the 25 brothers with the most nominations were called forth. These men will come together for a leadership workshop in October, 2008 as the next stage in the process.
On the final morning group leaders from the 18 small groups that met in response to each presentation came forward highlighting their discussion in succinct three minute presentations. The group feedback can be summarized under the following Recommendations.
1. that the new District will establish a new ministry in a new location.
2. that the vitality of our community life be a priority.
3. that greater specificity be given vocation promotion and that greater focus on vocation promotion and initial formation be part of the planning towards the new District.
4. that an office of communication (for internal and external purposes) be established.
5. that the pastoral role for the new Visitor be emphasized.
6. The respective roles of the mission and district councils need better articulation.
7. bring greater clarity to the identity of the Brother and associate in the mission.
8. need to develop criteria for selection of associate delegates to councils, chapters, and assemblies.
9. that an approach to wholistic medicine be an aspect of our care for one another.
10. that greater attention be given to pre-retirement planning.
11. that periodic reviews of the new structures be undertaken to ensure their effectiveness.
That the retreat achieved its objective can be attested by the comments of several brothers but felt by most in attendance:
“When I look around I feel I belong. The 2006 Holy Week at Fernwood, Pennsylvania, was symbolic and necessary. But in the two years since something has happened to me, to us. I feel we now belong to one another.”
“I feel a sense of vibrancy and hope. As a group we are willing to face the cost of doing what we are doing, coming together as a new District. We know we will have to make adjustments in the proposed structures and models as we go forward, so we go forward in hope.”
At the 2006 Holy Week retreat the gospel passage of the apostles on the lake in the storm and Jesus bring them safely to the other shore served as a theme. In his final homily of this retreat Father Joerger suggested that perhaps we have already made it to the other shore. Maybe it just looks a little unfamiliar.