It’s the reason why Christian Brothers Academy in Lincroft, New Jersey is here today: unselfishness.
In the late 1600’s, St. John Baptist de La Salle founded the Brothers of the Christian Schools for the purpose of educating children who have been born into poverty. De La Salle and his Brothers succeeded in creating a network of quality schools throughout France that featured a quality education with integration of religious instruction with secular subjects, well-prepared teachers with a sense of vocation and mission, and the involvement of parents.
In 2017, Christian Brothers Academy still fits that description flawlessly, with a focus on an exceptional educational experience that is accessible to all deserving applicants through merit scholarships and need-based financial aid.
Now, students in the greater Jersey Shore area, attending a nationally-awarded college preparatory school continue to live out de La Salle’s mission through dedicated service immersion opportunities at CBA.
In the month of October, Academy students set out on two strikingly different service immersion trips that had the same focus: to assist those who are less fortunate with the hope of creating a better life for them. One group stayed close to home in Camden, New Jersey, while the second group flew to a fellow brother school in Montana.
For three days, Rory Dunigan ’19, Jack Houston ’20, Owen Rigney ’20 and theology teacher Mr. Matthew Butler stayed at the Romero Center in Camden. The Romero Center’s mission revolves around providing a variety of programs to young people in a poor area, with the overarching theme of ideals first set forth by Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador.
The immersion for these students and Mr. Butler began at the crack of dawn during their first day in Camden. They were to complete the day with only three dollars for food to mirror the challenges faced by a majority of low-income individuals in the area. The men visited multiple different local shelters that day to serve food, putting their own need for nourishment in the back of their minds. The CBA group also took a tour of the poverty-stricken city, listened to a passionate plea by citizens for a safe baseball field for their children, and visited a nursing home for the physically disabled where the men were tasked with doing room visits.
“We all need reminders to take the time to serve others with our lives,” Butler said. “Sometimes, the stranger that you think you are helping is actually helping you. It was a powerful experience for myself and the students.”
In particular, Butler and the students were stuck by the fact that even though the CBA group was rotating through different shelters, they continued to come across the same people. And while those people were just trying to get through yet another day in poverty, many of them were hopeful and thankful for the group’s time.
Just as serving the poor is a staple of the Lasallian tradition, the idea of brotherhood is also a main focus. CBA is part of a worldwide network of elementary, secondary and collegiate schools that are taught in the Lasallian tradition. There are a few hundred schools in the United States alone.
Two of these Lasallian schools connected last week when CBA took its annual trip to the De La Salle Blackfeet School near Browning, Montana.
The group of students, led by Campus Ministry Director Mr. Tim Sewnig and Spanish teacher Mr. Ciro Saverino ’10, spent a week at the fourth through eighth grade Lasallian school, working with the students and assisting with the upkeep of the school.
Browning is the capital of the Blackfeet Indian Reservation, home to 12,000 Blackfeet. The current community contains chronic unemployment, welfare dependency, poor housing, domestic violence, and addiction. The parents of the Little Flower Parish on the reservation asked the Brothers of the Christian Schools to start a school, in hopes of developing their children’s talents while providing hope for the underprivileged community.
While on the reservation, the CBA group worked in the classroom with the students, helped lay a new sidewalk on the campus, took part in mass at the parish, and listened to guest speakers from the area. They were also invited to dinner with the school president one evening.
“I was so impressed with the school model, the principal Mr. O’Brien, the president Brother Dale, and the faculty,” Saverino said. “I highly encourage other students to consider making the trip. And as you can tell from the pictures, Montana is a beautiful state.”
The Academy men were assigned different grade levels to mentor during the week. Senior and Student Body President Gerald Sharpe was assigned to a fifth grade class, where he was impressed by the enthusiasm of the students regardless of their situation at home.
“They never failed to come into school smiling and ready to work, which was truly inspiring to me personally,” Sharpe said. “The amount of potential the students have is remarkable as well. We are there to tutor the students and serve as assistants to the teachers. But, ultimately, we offer hope to the students that there is a better future ahead.”
The trip was completed with a beautiful, mind-clearing hike through Glacier National Park.
While the students at CBA are lucky to be surrounded with such a great sense of community, the administration, faculty and students know that it is important to be immersed in these less fortunate cultures. In fact, it is so important to the CBA community that it is a line in the “Academy Oath,” which new students recite and sign when entering CBA.
“To serve and stand for those in need,” the Oath reads.
The students and faculty in both Camden and Montana have served and stood, and Academy men, whether presently in Lincroft or since graduated, will continue to do so proudly.