Building on Collegium: The International Lasallian University Leadership Program

Editor’s note: John Wilcox has been a keen supporter Collegium in a wide variety of ways since its founding: as participant, mentor, liaison, and board member. He has developed a new International Lasallian Leadership Program, launched in June 2007 at Casa La Salle in Rome. This article explains that program and its connection to Collegium.

The International Lasallian University Leadership Program is a two-week educational program for faculty from universities founded by the Brothers of the Christian Schools. [In the United States, these De La Salle Christian Brothers schools include Christian Brothers University (TN), the College of Santa Fe (NM), La Salle University (PA) Lewis University (IL), Manhattan College (NY), Saint Mary’s College of California and Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota.] The program will take place in Rome at the De La Salle Generalate in mid-June. Faculty members from many of the 57 Lasallian colleges and universities around the world, 41 of which are in “developing areas” of the world, will participate and will return to their home institutions to implement collegially designed strategies with the support of a network of fellow faculty members from around the globe. 

Conference sessions will be facilitated by a leadership team of the Brothers of the Christian Schools and lay partners from a cross-section of universities. The brothers as well as lay partners will provide the theoretical background and the instruction on Lasallian spirituality and the Catholic intellectual tradition. Program elements will include plenary content sessions with small group discussions, disciplinary meetings where participants will group by academic discipline, as well as prayer, worship, and retreat times.

Adaptation of Collegium

Modeled on the Collegium approach, the conference is a formation or immersion program in the Catholic intellectual tradition and an invitation to a personal commitment by lay faculty. The program applies it to the heritage of St. John Baptist de La Salle and to a new embodiment of the Lasallian charism to give a human and Christian education to the young, especially the poor. We know that Collegium has responded to many changes in the religious, spiritual, intellectual, and personal sense of self among the many hundreds of graduate students and faculty who have gone through the program. The evolution of Collegium has taken place in a larger context of change within Catholic and secular higher education, religious institutions, the United States, and the global community.

The Present Situation

The International Lasallian University Leadership Program is a response to rapid change and growth in Lasallian higher education institutions worldwide. Of the approximately 900,000 students in the 900 Lasallian ministries in over 80 countries, 500,000 are in Lasallian tertiary education, the fastest growing sector in the Lasallian world. Across the world, 57 institutions of higher education carry out the distinctively Lasallian mission of educating students who are poor or the children of the working poor and may be the first generation in their family to attend college or university. These institutions, inspired by Saint John Baptist de La Salle, have long been staffed by a mix of lay educators (partners) and Christian Brothers. The number of vowed brothers is decreasing and the number of partners has been rapidly increasing. If present trends continue, lay faculty will form the bulk of those staffing Lasallian universities by the year 2020.

The Brothers of the Christian Schools have themselves taken serious initiatives in order to acquaint partners in the secondary schools, child-care agencies, and, to a lesser extent, in the universities with the distinctively Lasallian mission, and to engage these lay people to carry out the essential calling of the founder. These initiatives are necessary because the lay faculty is critical to developing a robust group of institutions that are distinctively Lasallian and Catholic, where, as one writer put it, “the person is at the center of our inquiry in a community where we love one another.” The significant challenge addressed here is to develop a program that meets the particular and unique needs of the universities.

Without a cadre of lay faculty who understand and commit themselves to a Lasallian- Catholic perspective on education, the ability of these universities to maintain and develop a culture and curriculum faithful to that perspective is in grave danger of disappearing. The disappearance will not occur suddenly but over a period of many retirements and new hires. On the positive side, there are already Lasallian communities of partners on a number of university campuses.

Program Design

Alongside Collegium, another program, the Buttimer Institute of Lasallian Studies, begun in 1985, had a strong influence on the Lasallian design. 

The Collegium program is deeply Catholic in orientation but not specifically Lasallian. Its first Colloquy took place in 1993. What differentiates Collegium from an academic conference is the Catholic spiritual grounding of the program, a grounding that is similar to that of the Buttimer Institute. Morning and evening prayer, periods for meditation and reflection, daily Eucharist, and a daylong retreat make Collegium unique in higher education. The retreat is a turning point in the lives of a number of participants, a time during which they see more clearly the relationship between teaching and personal spiritual development. While many of the participants are Catholic, a significant proportion is of other religious traditions or of no tradition. Nevertheless, the level of enthusiasm and positive feedback has been consistently high over the last thirteen years.

The Buttimer Institute takes place over a three-year summer cycle for two weeks. The participants are mainly secondary faculty and administrators but do include some college faculty. The program’s interweaving of prayer and study is similar to that of Collegium, but with a decided focus on the life of De La Salle, his pedagogy, spirituality, and the founding of the Institute of the Brothers of the Christian Schools. However, there is a challenge in recruiting college faculty, especially younger ones, because the time commitment over three summers competes with research work and the responsibilities of family life.

The new program incorporates elements of both predecessors, and works to respond to a pressing need: the continuance and growth of Lasallian/ Catholic universities. It is designed specifically for college faculty, to address the Catholic intellectual tradition and spirituality and to foster and incorporate Lasallian Studies and spirituality. Over a two-week period at the Generalate of the Christian Brothers and at the center of Catholicism in, Rome, faculty will be immersed in a culture that is the foundation of the Lasallian educational mission. An invitation has been extended to a broad ecumenical and inter-religious cadre of faculty. While it is imperative to develop a core group of Catholics, the program must be such that it embraces other committed Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, practicing adherents of other faiths, and secular humanists. Individuals will be selected who are capable of and motivated to maintain a cordial and open relationship both with the Lasallian mission and with the Church that is its spiritual home. Moreover, the invitees will represent all 57 Lasallian colleges and universities, a much needed development in a “world that is flat.”

Anticipated Results

Following the Rome program, participants will create a network so that they can communicate and collaborate with one another during and after implementation strategies have been put into place. We hope that online resources for building community and for initiating formation programs will help faculty participants in their work. To this end, the program will develop a website, to which alumni participants can refer faculty on their home campuses and on which faculty can find relevant articles on the Catholic intellectual tradition, on the Lasallian Heritage, and on the linkages of the two with the work of higher education.

The Leadership Program will strengthen Lasallian communities of brothers and partners on the home campuses, including the development of ongoing programs of formation and enrichment at the home institution. Continuity of Lasallian higher education will depend on an identifiable group that commits itself to regular meetings, shared prayer, and continuing formation, as well as outreach to the rest of the community.

As a result of this initiative, we hope that a network of “Lasallian professors without borders” will develop. Collaborative research projects of concern to Lasallian higher education as well as to the wider Lasallian world will result from this networking. Thus, from the outset it should be clear that this program is in service to the international Lasallian education mission and will not proceed at the expense of other formation programs that have developed in various districts and regions around the world.