How the Charism of St Benedict was embedded in the culture of the School:
Thoughts and memories of Julie McLaughlin – APRE St Benedict’s School – Yeppoon.
To begin I did a lot of reading about Benedict, his life, how he developed his Rule, the Benedictine Monasteries/ Communities etc.
Sr Kym Harris a local Benedictine nun gave me books including:
Prayer & Community – The Benedictine Tradition by: Columba Stewart OSB
Engaging Benedict – What the Rule Can Teach Us Today by: Laura Swan
The Benedictine Way by: Wulstan Mork OSB
St Benedict’s Toolbox – The Nuts and Bolts of Every day Benedictine Living by: Jane Tomaine
Our Father St Benedict – M.Regina Goberna
She also gave me many more that I read, but these ones above provided great practical information that I could use easily with teachers. The last book, Our Father St Benedict, is my favourite. It is written in prose and reflects on the many ‘gifts’ of the rule. As well it has the most divine pictures that I have used continually throughout the development of our Charism.
After reading lots of different perspectives of St Benedict and sourcing different sites from the internet I decided we needed to narrow our focus to elements of his rule that we could apply practically in the school setting. Elements that would be understood by the children, that would be tangible, that they could ‘picture’, ‘draw’, ‘represent’ in some way and elements that I felt could fit with the current Religion Syllabus. The children needed to know the basic story of St Benedict and how he came to do what he did.
While putting together what I now call our “Gifts of St Benedict”, I also needed to educate the staff on St Benedict and his philosophy and how we could reflect this in our school
Sr Kym Harris was more than happy to come along to staff in-service days and staff meetings to give presentations on St Benedict. She was brilliant, enthusiastic and a great presenter. She always puts information into a meaningful context, she initially presented a basic history of St Benedict and his life, she related his story to gathering unruly footballers together and teaching them how to act appropriately in a community setting!! It really hit home with most the staff.
She then brought it back to how his communities were for the disengaged, the ones who needed help, for those seeking a better or alternative life, for those who thought society was not considering the needs of all – not much has really changed in the world!! She then went onto to explain how the communities lived by the Rule, which was based around two main areas Prayer & Work.
Kym then went onto explain that our Catholic Schools are set up to do the same, in many ways our history reflects setting up learning communities for all of the same people.
With all of this happening I wanted to make it a part of the classroom learning and general environment. We decided to bring a gift into each year level. I picked from the many gifts that the Rule discussed and tried to have those that the students could relate to the best.
These are now set as:
Prep – Peace
Year 1 – Welcome
Year 2 – Community
Year 3 – Work
Year 4 – Living
Year 5 – Prayer
Year 6 & 7 – Hospitality
Sr Kym made candles with the word and picture on them that all classes have on their prayer tables. All teachers were given professional reading and background information on the Rule and their year level gift so that they could have an understanding of what is meant by this gift.
For example, Work – is about how Benedict believed all people needed to work, to contribute to the community in which they were living. This was a basic requirement if you wanted to join the community. Benedict also believed that work was just another version of praying to God. During the day we prayed to God by working and at night we prayed to God through prayer, joining together with a meal etc.
For the classes then we needed to do more than just label each class with a gift. I decided that we should have a focus term where, along with the Religion curriculum, the classes had a focus on their gift. The teachers needed to tell the story of St Benedict. They needed to get the children to see how their gift reflected how they treated others, how they lived their life, how this related to the stories of Jesus.
Each class, as a part of their study, has to produce a display of some sort to demonstrate their understanding of the their gift. Prayer seats, reflection circles and stepping stones and mosaics have been made.
We are still building this Charism and it will no doubt evolve further over the next few years. I have also found that Benedict has strong links to St Francis of Assisi – I believe St Francis took many of Benedict’s beliefs about how we treat our world, environment etc. and used this as a basis for his beliefs.
Websites:www.osb.org www.ewtn.com www.historyguide.org www.catholic.org www.historymedren.about.com www.wikipedia.org