Founders Day: Youth and education, the legacy of Bishop de Brésillac

“We have the task of helping young men and women of Africa receive good training, well-grounded in God for a purposeful life.”

Next year the universal church will hold a Synod of Bishops to reflect on youth and vocation in the church. We hope it will be a moment of devising new ways for ministering among this vital group in the church. I therefore chose to give a short reflection on our Founder in relation to his ideas on educating the youth so that, we too can draw some inspiration from this “great servant of mission” in our ministry among young people. Bishop Marion de Brésillac was a champion of education during his time in India.

Africa, our mission land is experiencing a great revolution in the education sector. Schools and other institutions of learning spring up every day. Some of these structures are owned or managed by the SMA. Though this is a positive development, some fundamental concerns remain unclarified: the aim of education, the kind of education we give, and how beneficial it is to the human and spiritual formation of the person.

In a letter to Bishop Clement Bonnand of Pondichery in 1843, our founder stated the aim of education as being “the combination of knowledge, be it religious or natural; be it moral or scientific that allows the soul to be exploited for the good of all the faculties that God has endowed it with…” (LE, 0091). In other words, to educate a person involves the sharpening of the human faculty, inherit in every human to attain a certain level of perfection. For Brésillac, to attain perfection is to have the truth which is God and this Truth sets everyone free (cf. John 8, 32).

Fr. Phonsie Flatley SMA with teachers and children in Ilorin, Nigeria

Our Founder further divided education of the human person into two major parts: the heart and the spirit. The education of the heart is essentially religious and it is directed towards moral upbringing of the person making him or her, a proper social being and a believer in God. On the other hand, educating the spirit involves the unearthing of practical talents for the development and the wellbeing of the person (cf. SM, 429-430).

Drawing from the founder’s ideas, we can respond to the concerns raised above regarding education. On our missions today, it is important that our schools become centres that form the mind (the faculty) of the youth towards a fulfilled life which is found only in God. We have the task of helping young men and women of Africa receive good training, well-grounded in God for a purposeful life.

Bishop Brésillac also demonstrated that, education must not only be a ‘rabbinic’ recital of literature or natural sciences but, a transformation of the moral intellect of the person. For Africa to be permeated and transformed by the Gospel of Christ, our learning structures must give good moral and religious training to the youth. This will help combat the inordinate loot of public resources and, to a large extent help establish justice and peace; eradicate poverty and all other social canker that have become the bane of Africa’s progress.

As SMA members and associates, we have a charge “to uproot and tear down…’ (Jeremiah 1,10) structures and policies that continue to be affronts to better education of young people in Africa.

Let us celebrate the 161st Anniversary of our foundation with a renewed pledge of helping the youth of Africa to know the truth so that the truth will set them free. Happy feast day!

Dennis Senyo Etti, SMA