by MARK McKEON, FSC
On Good Friday, April 7, 1619, St John Baptist de La Salle rested peacefully and this year, 2019, is 300 years since his death. This is officially known as the tercentenary year. St John Baptist de La Salle is the founder of the Brothers of the Christian Schools, now known as the De La Salle Brothers.
On May 24, 1900, De La Salle was canonised by Pope Leo XIII as a saint and on May 15, 1950, was proclaimed by Pope Pius XII as patron saint of teachers. De La Salle, a Catholic priest from Rheims, France, started schools for the poor children who roam the streets. He is renowned for his writings about the establishment of schools and the life formation of the youth.
Today, the Lasallian community is worldwide with schools in more than 82 countries and with more than a million students from tertiary to secondary to primary education.
Lasallians take pride in the following statement — “for the human and Christian education of the young, especially the poor.” This tercentenary year is therefore a celebration of his life and dedication to education. Lasallians all over the world celebrate this momentous occasion through various liturgies and activities this year.
On May 15 this year, the De La Salle Brothers, in association with the Lasallian community in New Zealand, consisting of De La Salle College (Mangere), John Paul College (Rotorua), Francis Douglas Memorial College (New Plymouth), Lasallian associates and former teachers and students of these schools, gathered at the Cathedral of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Hamilton for a celebration of the tercentenary.
Mass was celebrated by Cardinal John Dew, with concelebrants Bishops Stephen Lowe and Patrick Dunn as well as priests formerly or currently associated with the Lasallian schools. Deacons Martin Wu and Vui Hoang carried out their ministry at the Mass.
The celebration started with a call to prayer through the sounding of the conch-shell, the beating of the pate (island wooden drum), the procession of the statue of St John Baptist De La Salle carried by head prefects from the three Lasallian schools and the procession of the De La Salle Brothers into the cathedral.
Kane Raukura, the chairperson of the New Zealand Lasallian Sector, presented the icon of the founder that has been gifted for the celebration. This icon will be used as a prayer focus for all Lasallian events in the New Zealand sector and will move around the three New Zealand Lasallian schools.
The Br Visitor (Head of the Lasallian District of ANZPPNG), Br David Hawke, FSC, a former student of De La Salle College, Mangere, then welcomed everyone to the celebration, particularly the main celebrant and the concelebrating bishops and priests.
The celebration was vested with cultural expressions to emphasise the uniqueness and the colourful identity of the New Zealand Lasallian Community.
Every guest was adorned with garlands, hymns were sung in various languages, there was the inculturation of the Samoan Ifoga, the reflective Gospel drama by John Paul College and the Fijian liturgical dance for the presentation of the gifts.
The Mass concluded with the blessing of the icon of the founder. After the Mass, the Lasallian schools were gladly hosted by Marian School and Sacred Heart Girls’ College for lunch.