The Christian Brothers of CBU, CBHS, and De La Salle Elementary school at Blessed Sacrament.
More than 300 years ago, John Baptist De La Salle wandered the streets of his native France and noticed that many young boys were in the streets and not getting an education. De La Salle started off as a priest and had become a Canon in the Cathedral of Reims, but he left the canonry to start a movement in education as he became the first Brother of the Christian Schools. During his life, he created a system of schools that, among other things, integrated religious and secular subjects and emphasized professional educators. In 1900, De La Salle was named a Saint by the Catholic Church and in 1950 was named the Patron Saint of Teachers.
Today more than 5,000 Christian Brothers serve in 84 countries. In North America, more than 70,000 students receive a Lasallian education in seven colleges, 54 high schools, 16 middle schools, and 4 elementary schools.
Christian Brothers use the founder’s methodology for education, which rests on three pillars: faith, community, and service. All three of the tenants are closely bound together, particularly community and service because building strong communities, both inside and outside the educational institution, is often achieved through service. Also, there is still great emphasis on helping needy boys receive a quality education.
Boys in Memphis have the rare opportunity to receive a seamless Lasallian education, from kindergarten to a college degree. Factor in a graduate degree at Christian Brothers University (CBU), and it’s even more impressive.
The Lasallian tradition reaches far back in Memphis history. Christian Brothers College opened in 1871 on Adams Avenue downtown, serving boys from the age of 8 through college. The school moved to its current location, on East Parkway and Central Avenue, in 1940, and 25 years later the high school broke off to have its own campus, Christian Brothers High School. The college became co-ed in 1970 and changed its name to Christian Brothers University in 1990.
At the co-ed De La Salle Elementary School at Blessed Sacrament Parish in Memphis, children, many of whose families can’t afford private school, are able to attend.
“De La Salle represents the baby Lasallians in Memphis and in many ways embodies the heart of the Lasallian mission: to provide a high quality, Catholic education to youth, especially those who might not have the means to receive it otherwise,” says Daniel Salvaggio, principal at De La Salle. “Ninety-seven percent of our students receive financial assistance to attend.”
The K-8 school — the only Lasallian elementary school and one of two schools serving middle-school-age kids in the South — was started with the help of Christian Brothers from Christian Brothers High School (CBHS). “Our reason for the schools is helping the poor, which is our job,” says Brother Roman Jarosz, a teacher retired from CBHS.
At De La Salle, students start off young learning the importance of faith. “Our teachers strive to infuse gospel values into everyday interactions and lessons,” Salvaggio says. “Through weekly mass and community and individual prayer, students explore and develop their relationship with God.”
The boys engage in a variety of service projects. “Classes participate in neighborhood cleanups, collect cans for a food drive, and raise money for our twinning school in Kenya, to name a few activities,” Salvaggio says.
Students are also taught the importance of helping to make their community a better place in which to live, something they are taught by example. “In addition to our small, individual school community, we enjoy and benefit from our close association with CBU and CBHS,” Salvaggio says. “Volunteers and students from both schools help to make De La Salle a better place, while gaining valuable experiences that enrich their lives.”
Once the boys reach high school, the Lasallian traditions have become an integral part of their education.“Our Lasallian tradition is based on relationships, informing young men to be leaders,” says Chris Fay, principal at CBHS. “It’s a tradition we have inherited, and we’ve had a lot of great teachers to help keep that legacy alive.”
Service hours are required for CBHS students, including community service, which involves participating in activities of a recognized charity, and most are outside the school. They can even be done in communities other than Memphis. “They may wind up in Nicaragua,” says Jarosz, who runs a tutoring program called Kids Helping Kids.
Other service requirements include volunteering on an individual basis, such as delivering meals to the elderly, working at a soup kitchen, or tutoring boys at another school.
“Within all our religion and ethics classes, we teach about Lasallian spirituality,” Fay says. “Our Assistant Dean of Students, Steve Marking, has implemented a new freshmen orientation in which students learn quite a bit about our founder and spirituality. More importantly, for a day and a half they live it, working in the community with each other building trust and forming those lifelong relationships.”
At the co-ed CBU, the faith element of the Lasallian tradition is demonstrated at the beginning of every class, when the professor recognizes the importance of faith in some way. “It could be a little reading from scripture or a little reflection,” says Brother Dominic Ehrmantraut, special assistant to the president and coordinator of university events.
He also emphasizes that it doesn’t matter what denomination or religious affiliation students have. “Faith cuts across all different religions,” he says, but masses are offered regularly.
CBU is the only Lasallian university in the South. Students there engage in community building inside and outside the university, Ehrmantraut says. Internally, they engage in clubs and other organizations offered on campus.
Students also participate in a variety of community service program, be it working for a clean-up day or with other schools or churches. For the second year, CBU has deemed September “30 Days of Community Service,” and each day during the month, a group of students will do volunteer work for a local charity. “Every organization on campus participates,” Ehrmantraut says.
The climate at the university is tied together by the Lasallian tradition and ultimately goes back to the first piece. “Our community here at the university is centered around faith.”
The Lasallian Volunteers, a group started in Minnesota, are college graduates who work in Lasallian elementary schools. In exchange for their service, they are allowed to go to any Lasallian university in the U.S. to earn their master’s degree at no charge.
“At CBU we have a former Lasallian Volunteer from Nigeria working on his master’s degree,” says Brother Dominic Ehrmantraut, special assistant to the president and coordinator of university events. Two other Lasallian volunteers, both from the U.S., also are attending CBU this year.
Daniel Salvaggio, principal at De La Salle Elementary at Blessed Sacrament, served as a Lasallian Volunteer in Albany, New York, after he graduated from Christian Brothers High School in 2002. “Throughout my time in the program I grew in many ways. Living with the Brothers and interacting with other Lasallian partners gave me strong examples of what it means to live with passion, purpose, and faith,” Salvaggio says. This volunteer work allows men to share their experience learning through the Lasallian tradition with boys who are just getting started.
Although the work was sometimes trying, Salvaggio says it was an experience that shaped his career. “I began to understand that serving is a difficult task,” he says. “It takes determination, grit, and a truly giving up your own desires.”
The Lasallian Volunteers are the equivalent of some other service organizations, but the emphasis stays on the tie between religion and education. “It’s like a junior Peace Corps,” says Brother Joel McGraw, who has been a teacher at CBHS for 40 years.
Currently, two Lasallian Volunteers are completing their two years of community service, both of whom work at De La Salle Elementary School.