FOR YOUTH AND THE POOR:
The De La Salle Brothers in Australia, Papua New Guinea and New Zealand 1906-2000
by Peter Donovan
(Available from Lasallian National Centre, PO Box 77, East Bentleigh Vic 3165. $59.95 plus postage)
Past students of the Institute of the Brothers of the Christian Schools (FSC), known in Australasia as the De La Salle Brothers, will welcome this history written by Peter Donovan with its foreword by Archbishop Eric D'Arcy, an old collegian of De La Salle, Malvern.
It is long overdue because the De La Salle Brothers have made an enormous contribution to the work of Christian Education in Australia.
The author covers the period from the time the first community, made up of Irish and French Brothers, was established in Armidale, NSW, in January 1906. Cardinal Moran was responsible for introducing the Brothers to Australia but he offered the first community to Bishop O'Connor of Armidale, who knew them well in his native Ireland.
The French Brothers did not last long, due to cultural differences, departing for Colombo on 23 April of the same year, and so the Irish leadership in Australia remained unchallenged until 1958, when the first Australian-born Visitor, Br Baptist Will, was appointed.
Peter Donovan has structured the history essentially along the time-lines of the successive Visitors, beginning with Br Paul Andrew Phelan (1911-1924), through his three Irish-born and seven Australian- or New Zealand-born successors. In this format the author deals with high policy and the difficulties, challenges and frustrations, as well as the many successes and highlights which eventuated in those first 60 years, as the numerical strength of the District climbed to its peak in 1967.
Since the early 1970s, of course, successive Visitors and their Provincial Councils have had to grapple with declining brothers. Painful decisions to withdraw from foundations where the brothers had established a presence over three or four generations have also had to be made.
Donovan has not produced a sugar-coated history. The tensions and failures which naturally arise in an organisation run by human beings, with all their faults - even one animated by such high ideals and founded by a great Saint in John Baptist De La Salle - come through in an honest and compassionate way. The book is well illustrated throughout and has a very readable style.
In the final analysis this book is a tribute, not so much to the leadership of the District, but to the "rank and file" who followed the Rule, were faithful to their prayers, went where they were sent without question, lived and worked in spartan conditions, and cheerfully endured long days of teaching and studying. To them a great debt of gratitude is owed.
The following words from the late Br John (formerly Hugh) Corkeron, writing to the then Visitor in 1991 on behalf of his community, say it all to this reviewer: "We believe we are serving the working class, the poor and quite a number of marginalised youth in a manner that gives them an opportunity of choosing Christ and His values, as well as showing parents that material satisfaction is not everything. We believe that is what the spirit of faith and the spirit of zeal demand of us.
Michael Bohan is a Melbourne Catholic father of six and was educated by the Brothers at DLS, Malvern, in the early 1970s.