LUMEN Issue 3 - June 2012 | Page 25

23 person might not be the life he was meant to lead . He also concedes , “ I was never one to excel academically ”, and this was another indication that he might be called to take a road less travelled . This of course , referred to a religious vocation . Even so , he was not intimidated by this possibility . He suggested that while some of us might see it as “ something other people did ”, this was never the case for him .
Fr . Gerard grew up into a family already familiar with the religious vocation . Two of his uncles are priests and one of his aunts is a religious sister . Naturally then , his family has since the very beginning been extremely supportive . His vocation story is not a dramatic or tumultuous one , originating from a simple realisation that the lifestyle enjoyed by most is not one that suits his disposition .
Drawn above many other things to the communal dimension of the Redemptorist way of life , Fr . Gerard recognises that if not for his team , it would never have been possible to accomplish what they have done . Without a doubt , the appeal of this was the result of his Josephian experience . The core of his social circle he says , “ continues to be the people I met when I was in SJI ”. Moreover , the Redemptorist mission of ‘ reaching out to the youth regardless of their religious background especially to the lost and abandoned ’ is one that resonates with Josephians .
The retreats the team has organised in Catholic schools often carry the theme of ‘ What kind of man do I want to be ?’ as opposed to ( for instance ) ‘ What kind of Christian do I want to be ?’ The difference between these two essential questions makes it very clear that a universal message is preached . The focus is not on Christians , but everyone regardless of their race , religious persuasion or social background . The message is one of ‘ choice ’, rather than one of a strictly religious morality . A typical retreat would tackle issues relating to faith , family , sexuality and self acceptance - issues pertinent to anyone experiencing and struggling with adolescence . A phrase that came up often in our conversation was what Fr . Gerard passionately calls ‘ the life-giving way to live ’. The implication of this statement distinctly contrasts the message of a strict Christian morality , immediately including everyone and not just Christians . The difference lies in the belief that any decision made by the individual should be made in full awareness of the consequences that one may eventually have to face . Students are not taught that any decision made must be made in consciousness of the reality that they will eventually be answering to God . Rather , the only person that they should be answering to is themselves . The slightly unconventional dimension that such a message entails reminds us that with everything we do , we do in the context of our relationships to those around us . The Josephian ethos is distinctly evident in this , since we are called first to be “ men for others ”. This is not done to reject the Christian dimension of our value system . Instead , this ensures that everyone discovers a sense of community and solidarity in the approach that we are all encouraged to take towards the important decisions we make in life . Accordingly , Josephians realise the immense responsibility that comes with each choice they make . Fr . Gerard is a firm believer in this .
This comes as no surprise , considering that he comes from a family that has produced numerous Josephians - almost too many to count . As such , it was a foregone conclusion that his secondary school of choice would be none other than Saint Joseph ’ s Institution .
It was during his time there that the beliefs he continues to hold firm were cemented . While cynics may be quick to dismiss this as the outcome of growing up in a very Josephian environment , the conviction in his voice is beyond question . Playing the devil ’ s advocate , he
refuted my suggestion of being ‘ brainwashed ’. The Josephian approach has never been about force-feeding or dictating a set of values that the student should abide by . With regards to character building , students are constantly reminded that they are free to make their own choices . The concept of choice is strongly emphasised , and values are always proposed rather than imposed . He suggests very simply that as long as students are made to realise that they possess the capacity to make mature and calculated decisions under their own personal prerogative , they will be able to do it .
This is the tone and attitude that has characterised his work with other Catholic schools , where it is more common for the Redemptorist Mission Team to encounter students who are ‘ at risk ’, and less open to direction . Such students may either come from broken families , are involved with gangs or even caught in potentially abusive or destructive relationships . The reality is that such occurrences are less common among Josephians , and so it is with these other schools that his work becomes more challenging . These students are those ‘ who are convinced that there is no way out of their circumstances .’
He admits that the extent of his efforts is limited , simply because the team ’ s involvement with these students ends with the conclusion of the retreats they organise . Any kind of commitment to these students is consequently left to the schools themselves to follow up on . It is with regards to this that Fr . Gerard expresses his regret at not being able to do more . With only a team of four that reaches out to over 16 different schools , he admits that there is only so much that the team can do .
Despite this , he says that he derives from his work an extreme sense of satisfaction , knowing that he is not only preaching to the lost and abandoned , but also reaching out to them . He encourages all Josephians to do the same in whatever capacity they can .
This page : Touching base with the Sec 3 Josephians in 2011