New Spiritan superior says order renews emphasis on education
By Sarah MacDonald
Catholic News Service
DUBLIN - The newly elected superior general of the Congregation of the Holy Spirit said the missionary order has renewed its emphasis on education as a tool of evangelization and as part of its commitment to empowering the poor.
Speaking from Bagamoyo, Tanzania, near the end of the Spiritans’ monthlong general chapter, Father John Fogarty, 60, said representatives of the 60 countries, where 2,800 priests, brothers and professed students serve, are negotiating a new global vision for Spiritan education.
“We have never had a policy on education and so this represents a significant step forward for us,” he told Catholic News Service in a telephone interview in mid-July.
The former provincial of the recently merged U.S. province, who had just been re-elected for a second term in June before being selected to lead the congregation, explained that the commitment to education is “being driven” by the order’s African members, who now make up more than 50 percent of the congregation.
They were responding to the fact that many governments in sub-Saharan Africa have asked the church to get involved in education again, as educational standards have dropped since the nationalization of schools following independence from colonial rulers.
The order has had a “growing sense that education is a very important aspect of empowering poorer people to take responsibility for their future in society and for shaping their own societies. This renewed emphasis is a recognition of education as a tool of liberation for the poor.”
The general chapter was the first to be held in Africa. The new Spiritan council, which will be based in Rome for the next eight years, has three African members.
“Our involvement in education is expanding here in Africa in a significant way,” Father Fogarty said. “Here in Tanzania we have opened up several new schools in recent years, as well as in Ghana and Nigeria, where there is also a new university being built in Ibo land in the Delta region of southeastern Nigeria.”
The university will offer higher education to those who might not otherwise have an opportunity to obtain it, he said.
The Spiritans also run education projects for street children, as well as literacy programs in refugee camps.
“One of the big challenges for us is that we are so diverse as a congregation. We have somewhere in the region of 800 students in formation around the world,” he said.
Father Fogarty, who served as a missionary for 10 years in Ghana, said the congregation’s two educational establishments in the United States - Duquesne University, Pittsburgh, and Holy Ghost Preparatory School, Bensalem, Pa. - were actively engaged with the issue of maintaining their ethos and commitment to the Spiritan charism and identity.
Duquesne “is a leader for us worldwide in terms of articulating a strategic plan on how the Spiritan ethos and identity can be enhanced and promoted,” Father Fogarty said.
It also is lending its expertise to Nigerian scholars on the issue of interreligious dialogue, which was the other major issue stressed at the general chapter.
The Spiritans began their work in East Africa in 1860, when they bought slaves from local Arab traders in order to free them. The order then established a village in coastal Bagamoyo before establishing other missions inland.
Father Fogarty is the second Irishman to lead the congregation, which was founded in Paris in 1703.
Copyright (c) 2012 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops