The main objective is to work together to face the challenges presented by an increasingly secularised world, and to safeguard both the Catholic identity and the Augustinian imprint in the schools
Over the 10-11th March, the principals of the Augustinian schools of Europe met for the first time in Madrid to strengthen ties, and to discuss how the educational centres of the Order could actively collaborate.
Chaired by the Assistant General, Fr. Javier Pérez Barba, the meeting, which was attended by around 23 participants from Ireland, Malta, Belgium, Czech Republic and Spain, took place in Colegio San Agustín in the Spanish capital. Unfortunately, the principal from Austin Friars School in Carlisle, England had to withdraw from attending at the last minute, but the new General Councillor for Northern Europe, Fr Ian Wilson (who has been a trustee at the school for a number of years), was present and represented the province of England & Scotland.
It was during his presentation that the General Councillor, coordinator of the Commission of Apostolate and Evangelization of the Order, and driving force behind the meeting, cited the importance of reinforcing Catholic and, especially, Augustinian identities in our schools, "particularly when we see that here, in Europe, the age of the friars who have dedicated their lives to education is going up, while the secularisation of the society in which we live and from where our educators and teachers come, is increasing at a dizzying speed". It is in this context, as Fr. Javier - who was for several years director of Los Olivos School in Malaga - commented that it is now critical to face head-on in our schools such important challenges as evangelisation and pastoral action, within the context of continuous ongoing missionary engagement.
"Every pupil is a treasure for us"
After the words of welcome by the Provincial of San Juan de Sahagún, Fr. Domingo Amigo, it was time for presentations of the day-to-day life of various European centres.
The first to speak was Fr. David Cortis, director of St. Augustine of Malta. This educational establishment has a rich 175 years of history and currently has just under 800 students. In his presentation, Fr. Cortis wanted to underline the need to continually address the personal reality of each of the students: dysfunctional families, problems of different kinds, learning difficulties... These diverse and often competing issues all demand attention, and our school offer must keep expanding if we are to serve each student in the best way possible.
"From our two campuses in Malta, we want to take a multidisciplinary approach to students so that each one of them can develop their aptitudes and talents in an holistic way," Fr David later told the General Curia's communications office. "It is in this way that they will have the tools to succeed, to have the resources to deal with life. Every student is a treasure for us. Regardless of our resource limitations, we will continue to do our best to bring out their best from an holistic, humanistic, Augustinian perspective".
Sharing his impressions of this first meeting of Augustinian school leaders, Mark O'Brien from Ireland told us what the experience meant to him: "To be here, in Madrid, and to get away from the immediate distractions of the school environment for a few days allows me to be able to see with the rest of the directors our common touch points and the challenges that we face. Without a doubt, it’s a great opportunity for all of us … [Moreover] I agree with Fr Javier in terms of secularisation. It is something that is affecting us deeply in Ireland. That is why we have to go back to what the schools stand for, without ignoring the dynamic context in which we find ourselves. In order to meet both these challenges, our educational provision cannot be less than excellent."
"We have to train our management teams and teachers in the spirit of St. Augustine"
Fr. Valeriano Aldonza, Councillor for Education of the Province of San Juan de Sahagún and member of the Organisational Commission, gave a general status report on the 17 schools in this circumscription, and the work that he believes can be undertaken with other European centres. "Augustinian principles, our values - interiority, solidarity, truth, friendship - don’t stop at borders. And that is why we are going to work on a common project. We already have a lot to share, and a lot more ground to cover, but we can now start to see a direction of travel, and some actions to take," Fr Aldonza acknowledged.
"Now the question for us," continues Fr. Valeriano, "is how can we continue to transmit our Augustinian identity even without the presence of religious? Regrettably, there are fewer and fewer of us and that is why we have to train our management teams and teachers from and in the spiritual and religious point of view, embracing the spirit and values of St. Augustine. For us it is critical to maintain our principles. The day when we cannot pass them on to future generations, sincerely, we will not be interested in running schools".