"We are living in an exciting moment in Lasallian history," said Superior General Brother Ãlvaro RodrÃguez EcheverrÃa, FSC, head of the international Institute of the Brothers of the Christian Schools, during an April 26 visit to Saint Mary's College.
Brother Ãlvaro, who holds the highest office in the Christian Brothers, noted that the number of Lasallian institutions of higher education is growing, particularly in Latin America but also in Asia and the United States. Higher education is now more important than ever, he said, "because young people need it more than ever. They need our presence."
Brother Ãlvaro's visit to Saint Mary's was part of a month-long tour of offices and schools in the United States-Toronto Region. As the leader of the Christian Brothers, he oversees 6,000 Brothers and 100,000 lay people who teach more than a million students in 82 countries.
At a meeting with the Mission Assessment Task Force to hear about how college carries out the Lasallian mission in its curriculum and special programs, he was welcomed Brother Ronald Brother Ronald Gallagher, FSC, the college president.
"It's a great honor to welcome Brother Ãlvaro," he said. "We're delighted that he has taken the time to meet with our students and those who are working to nurture the Lasallian mission at the College, and we deeply value the insights he has shared with us about the growing importance of Lasallian higher education during his visit."
Great Interest in Students' Stories
After a brief tour of the campus with student ambassador George Emmons, Brother Ãlvaro spent much of his time on campus listening to and speaking with students, and he clearly delighted in hearing their stories.
Among those he met with were Damaris Nielsen and Justin Grider of the Catholic Institute for Lasallian Social Action (CILSA). At the Mission and Ministry Center, he met with Father Salvatore Ragusa and Rebecca Sallee, associate director of Mission & Ministry, and about 20 students, including many from the Lasallian Living and Learning Community. They told him about their work with schoolchildren at Saint Martin de Porres Middle School in Oakland and De Marillac Academy in San Francisco, and he praised them for living the Lasallian values of faith, community and service.
"The most important thing is to respond to the needs of the people," he said. "You are instruments of salvation of young people. You need to discover in them the face of God."
Later, he met with students who have performed Christian Service Internships shared their experiences working with disadvantaged youths in the Dominican Republic, Mexico and the United States. Jhovany Gonzalez, who worked with teens in an after-school program in Albany said that when he left, one of the boys said, "You've been like a father to me." The internship experience has transformed Gonzalez's life. When he entered college, he said, "I thought I was going to go into business, get a car and a high-paying job. Now, I'm looking into working for nonprofits. It changed me for the better."
Brother Ãlvaro praised the students for living out their Lasallian beliefs in the real world and said, "I hope you can spread the experience to others."
For his part, Brother Ãlvaro has experienced difficult times of his own in the real world. Born in Costa Rica, he joined the Christian Brothers when he was 12 years old. After graduating from Universidad La Salle de Mexico, he became a teacher and mentor in Mexico and Guatemala. In the 1970s and '80s, he worked in Guatemala and Nicaragua during an undeclared war between death squads and the people of those countries that took thousands of lives. He was elected vicar general in 1992 and superior general of the Christian Brothers 2000 and 2007.
Value of Openness
Throughout the day, Brother Ãlvaro emphasized the need for the Lasallian community to be open to all people. "The Lasallian community is a little Christ in which we can experience the possibility that we can live as brother and sister despite our differences," he said.
"It's possible to be Lasallian even if you're not Christian," he added, recalling conversations with Muslims in Lasallian institutions in Pakistan where, he said, "they read the Koran and the Bible" and in New Zealand, where the Muslim head of a Lasallian school bid him farewell by saying "Brother, pray for me."
For Brother Ãlvaro, the most important missions of Lasallian colleges are learning, research, and finally, transformation. "We must create people who wish to transform the world, illuminated with Gospel values," he said. "But to be transforming, we need to be transformed."
At a farewell luncheon at the Soda Center with Brothers, faculty, staff and administrators, Brother Ãlvaro praised Saint Mary's as "a very Lasallian place that is living in a strong way the values of faith, service and community."
Photos by Gabrielle Diaz '11, Max Crowell '12 and Shomari Carter '12
Read Brother Ãlvaro's address on higher education for the International Association of Lasallian Universities.