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Ask a Marianist

10:16 AM  Sep 24th, 2012
by Thomas M. Columbus

Readers had more questions for Carol Ramey ’68, director of the North American Center for Marianist Studies, than we had space in the Big Questions section of the Autumn 2012 issue of University of Dayton Magazine. Here are additional questions with her answers:

What do you understand by your commitment as a member of a Marianist lay community? What difference does it make in your life? Is there anything special about your way of being Catholic as a lay Marianist? —David Fleming, S.M., Dayton, Ohio

My Catholic faith is the foundation of my Marianist commitment, and my Marianist commitment deepens my Catholic faith. Parish life is one component of my quest for God and meaning. Marianist spirituality fulfills a longing in me for an experience where the Word of God is broken open through conversation among peers; where prayer is creative and varied; where trust for deep faith sharing builds among members; where we read the Scripture and the newspaper together, where we ponder and plan activity against the injustices of the world and the church.
The Marianist style of community is prophetic, I think, to the larger church — offering the Marian dimensions of church as complement to the Petrine and the Pauline traditions. Had I not met the Marianists, I wouldn’t have the hope I have for the church because I’ve wouldn’t have witnessed what it could be.

How/when did the Marianist charism capture your imagination? What aspect of Marianist charism do you feel is most needed in the world today and why? What have been the benefits and challenges of lay people being more integral in Marianist leadership around the world? —Crystal Sullivan, Kettering, Ohio

I was drawn to the Marianists at UD in the early ‘60s. I was captivated by the congruence between the Marianist lay community on campus and the documents coming out of Vatican II. The opportunity to change the church and world was electricity for we who were on the threshold of being in the world as contributing adults. I was intrigued by how Marianists spoke of Mary — she was admired as much for her courage and risk taking as she was for her humility and receptivity.

For me, the elements of the charism are a package deal. Each of the five pillars — faith, community, inclusivity, Mary, and mission — is critical for our times. But, community is probably at the center right now — both church and culture struggle with bringing people to a sense of deep purpose and belonging, handling complexities and limits, and living in peace and justice within local and global diversity. Community is both a destination from which to draw strength for the mission and a vehicle by which contemporary approaches to ministry and concepts for social structures for equality can be created.

Lay leadership is at the roots of Marianist life. Blessed Chaminade trusted the capacities of lay to promote zeal, education and practical resources for the early communities, which operated quite well for 16 years before the Marianist religious were founded. The purpose of the orders was to support the growth of the communities, not lead them.

Today, frankly, the most evident benefit is that most of the ministries are continuing despite the fewer numbers of professed Marianists available for leading the apostolic works — dedicated and professionally prepared lay individuals are insuring this for the future.

The challenges are around integrating Marianist spirit into all aspects of institutions’ operations — for example, most Marianist board by-laws require the participation of vowed religious on the boards — this taxes leadership right now. Ongoing educational and formational efforts to support leaders in mission integration need funding and qualified resource people.

How has your position at NACMS evolved over the years? What is the most important function that NACMS serves? —Celine O’Neill, Kettering, Ohio

The reason we exist has stayed the same — we continue to see our core mission as education in Marianist history, spirituality and apostolic approaches.

What have changed are the methods of delivery and our audience. Staff and I have had some steep learning curves — virtual learning, electronic publications, new technologies and avenues for networking, how to meet the interest in information and enrichment among an increasing diverse audience, providing scholarship in Marianist studies and current interpretations of the founders’ thoughts, and staying up-to-date on the Marianists around the world. Our audiences now are a mix of lay and religious, young and old, Catholic and those from other faith traditions.
Doing all this in a cost-containing manner has become more challenging. Serving a growing number of people is gratifying. And we know we need staff members who grew up with or have learned about the newest, latest, electronic devices and the “cloud.”
You have committed a great deal of your life to becoming an expert in Marianist history, traditions, and values. How has Marianist culture influenced your own life as a lay person. —Marge Cavanaugh ’67, Arlington, Va.

The learning and habits go back and forth between my life and work. The culture of the workplace reinforces how I pray, how I apply my talents, how I try to foster good relationships with friends and family and how I strive to put “first things first.” The experiences of lay community, family life and sense of mission and ministry as a lay person help me talk and write about the charism and its manifestations in terms that most people can understand and live out.

In many ways my work has enhanced my personal life choice to be a lay person. In short, my Marianist background assures me that doing ordinary things during ordinary days can be holy.

The people and resources to which I have access through my work help me understand and follow through on the responsibilities that accompany saying “yes” to the universal call to holiness. The Marianist silences and virtues really help keep me on track.

I often try to bring the joys and struggles of my lay life experiences to how I interpret things Marianist in my work. Being a woman, wife, mother and grandmother often provides me with stories and images that I use to relate Marianist history, traditions and values.
How did your time at UD lead you to your present role at the North American Center for Marianist Studies? Do you have interaction with present UD students that are as involved with the Marianist family as you were when you were a student? How is their involvement similar to yours when you were a student? How is it different? —Ed Brink ’82, S.M., St. Louis

My Marianist education at the UD took place in and outside the classroom. My history and political science majors prepared me in the timeframe of the Marianist founders and with an understanding of how change happens in a society. Theology and philosophy exposed me to the traditions of the church as well as the vast changes on the horizon. My extracurricular activities were primarily situated within the Sodality. Several SMs accompanied us and taught us about things Marianist. I left UD primed for the work ahead. I left UD committed to forming Sodality-like communities wherever life took me. I continued to learn from mentors. With SMs, I co-presented yearly seminars for S.M. and F.M.I. novices on Marianist lay life. In 1988, a Marianist brother asked me to consider working at NACMS as an editor. I said “yes!” Six years later, I became director.

I have some contact with involved students through programs for them on campus. I see great similarities between current UD students and my cohort. My formation was structured a bit differently than the present programs for students — in a large group, we heard talks and held discussions in a small building called “The Shack.” Small groupings around specific ministries met to plan good works, but we had the young Brother Ray Fitz nearby who was challenging us around systemic change to society!

The Marianist student communities are reminiscent of off-campus houses that many of us chose to live in together to support the faith journey. The cadre of faculty and staff who work with the students now in both formational and mission includes more lay folks, as most of our mentors where S.M. on the faculty and the F.M.I. who worked in the women’s dorm.
And like my experience of leaving UD behind, most graduates today must create communities in which to continue their Marianist interests. Of course, we didn’t have Skype; we had to make do with newsletters!

The following are the questions and answers — some in a longer form — that appeared in the Autumn 2012 issue of University of Dayton Magazine.

I’ve heard it said that the Marianist charism is a gift for both the church and the world. Can you explain what that means? —Tony Garascia, South Bend, Ind.

Scripture tells us “The gift you have received, give as gift.” (Mt 10: 8-19) Blessed Chaminade did just that — he shared the elements of the charism by providing a complex of methods designed to bring ordinary people together to sustain them in a deep faith life, to instill in them a hopeful disposition toward the world, and to inspire in them a determination to work with zeal for whatever would address the needs of the times.
As the church is for the world and operates within the world, the benefits of this gift extend into the culture.

The Marianist approach for transformation of church and culture continues to blend living within a faith-based community with a mission to serve the world, pursuing virtue in ways that equip us to interact with the world as catalysts for positive change, and a style of organization that brings diverse voices to important conversations. And, the gift gives us a woman, Mary, who prods the church and the world to scatter the proud, to give the hungry good things, and to raise up the lowly.

As in Chaminade’s situation, we need both laity and religious to bring his vision to life. Chaminade taught that through our common baptism, lay and religious have equal rights to and responsibilities around giving the gift we have been given.
Would you briefly compare and contrast the Marianist and Jesuit orders and what they offer to students and to the world? —Doug Davidoff, Arlington, Mass.

My study over the years has been focused almost exclusively on Marianist spirit and education. My knowledge of the Jesuit approach to life and education is very limited. However, the fact that both spring from Catholic tradition creates a common foundation from which the Holy Spirit offers the gifts of the Jesuit and Marianist charisms.

Both work to build the Reign of God through fidelity to the Word and responsiveness to those in need. The Gospel is proclaimed and strong faith is developed in ways central to all their ministerial works. Sodalities — what we call “lay communities” were part of both. The two orders sponsor educational institutions which integrate academic programs with living life as a whole person — one who is supported and challenged in the physical, intellectual, moral, social and creative aspects of life in a global reality. Students in Catholic schools usually thrive because all elements of the human experience are incorporated in a faith based environment. Each charism, though, offers the opportunity to learn about the Gospel and life by stressing particular elements of the Jesus’ teachings.

Marianists emphasize formation in faith and family spirit (community and equality within diversity). Additionally, they provide a culture in which one finds quality, integral learning; education for service, justice, and peace; and a facility to adapt and change as needed. All five characteristics — inspired by the Spirit — give witness through a focus and intensity throughout the school that will brings everyone more deeply into the Christ life. Marianists call all this “Mary’s Mission” — as she bore Christ into the world and taught him, she teaches us how to form Christ within ourselves and others and bear Christ into all times, places, and circumstances.

Do you think Chaminade was a good delegator of authority and, if so, what might we learn from him? —Joseph Stefanelli ’43, S.M., Cupertino, Calif.

Yes, I do. His design and implementation of the Three Offices from the first days of the Bordeaux Sodality and his inclusion of this method of organization into the Constitutions of the FMI and SM gives clear indication that he was a great delegator. As I understand delegation, it is meant to distribute the workload, to prepare people for more responsibility and leadership and to draw out the various gifts of all those involved in an enterprise. It allows for distinct perspectives to be honored and discussed. Through the deliberation, the best of the practical ideas and spiritual wisdom can surface and be weighed in light of a common good. Chaminade’s Offices do all of that and more.

He had confidence in persons who, like Adèle and many members of the sodalities, were much younger than he. He relied as persons such as Marie Thérèse, to whom he entrusted important work, even though she did not have the background he did. Chaminade was aware of most of what was going on, but he did not seem to micro manage the situations.

What can we learn? I hope that leaders learn that delegation is part and parcel of leading, but in ways that serve both the community or organization and the individual. Chaminade really tried to avoid throwing people into the deep end of the lake. From him, we can learn that mentoring and developmental experiences, good spiritual guidance, formation in virtue and provision of practical skills must always be available. And most importantly, we have to learn how to foster a common sense of the mission. Chaminade always reminded those to whom he delegated responsibilities that their work was the work of Mary.

The Marianist finds special inspiration in the actions of a frightened, young woman who chooses to say, “Yes.” Today’s young women and men are bombarded with a multitude of choices — career, personal, social, political and technological. How do Mary and the tradition of the Marianist speak to these young men and women today? How can the Marianist charism serve as a guiding source in the lives of all people, young and old? —Kevin Wisniewski ’94, Centerville, Ohio

I believe the guiding source for today’s young people in the midst of frightening uncertainty can still be found in inspirations from Mary. The story of the Annunciation deserves serious meditation and reflection. Here are a few principles I’ve been taught by Marianists.

First, get used to living with ambiguity. I don’t mean to sound flip — life just will often present multiple options and unexpected changes. I reflect on the very ambiguous situation Mary was in with the Angel’s visit, and I see her peacefulness at the conclusion of the encounter. So, I will myself not to panic. I will myself to avoid the option that offers immediate relief from the anxiety. It was hard when I was young; it is still hard
Secondly, learn the art of pondering. I would often fall into the routine of weighing risks and benefits, which gives good information, but pondering is more about listening for the voice of the Spirit. I say the phrase, “Mary pondered these things in her heart.” Her heart — not her mind. As Chaminade counseled, I try to listen “to the attitudes of the heart.”

Trust in God is the third aspect of letting Mary influence us. Mary, after asking a simple question — “How can this be?” and after listening to a pretty unbelievable answer from the Angel, says “Let it be done according to Thy Word.” At the start of the visit from the Angel she is troubled. At the end of the visit, her destiny is defined, without knowing what that really means. She just states an act of faith.

Mary’s trust in God had to be challenged by many episodes in her Son’s life, especially as she stood at the foot of the cross. Did the ambiguity go away? We don’t know except that the frequent reference to pondering infers it was still a factor in her faith life. Accepting ambiguity and learning to ponder as Mary did, I think, will bring us to the kind of trust she had.
In your best imagination, what do you see as the future of the Marianist Family and its strong growth over the last few years? —Michael O’Grady ’69, S.M., San Antonio

My vision of the future is sometimes grandiose — I imagine the church and its hierarchy taking charism more seriously and drawing upon the gifts of each to renew and refresh what some say is an institution in trouble. Imagine lay people, well steeped in theology and living in the light of the Gospel, working alongside clergy and religious from parishes up to the Vatican offices. Imagine if the church developed a network of small communities dedicated to strong internal dynamics where faith, hope and compassion radiated out as a light on the mountain top. Imagine the same communities with robust activity for the improvement of quality of life from local neighborhoods to the scope of the planet. Imagine people flocking to these communities to see how God has worked such miracles! Now that would be the “spectacle” that Chaminade often spoke about.

I do keep a smaller version of that vision in my heart. My imagination and my vision for the future are fueled by hope — the virtue that helps us trust in movement from what is “not yet” to “ what can be.”  My hope stays alive from the experience of being with young adults who are on fire”  with Marianist spirit and who are engaging in service projects for social change. My hope comes from the commitment of long-time members in lay communities, from the spirit alive and well in Marianist schools, retreat centers, and parishes, from the faithfulness of communities and affiliate groups whose members have lived to an old age and who are going to stop meeting only because of increasing health issues and transportation problems.

How can the imagined scenario become real? Well, as you mentioned there is a spike in the growth of communities of young people. Young adults throughout the world are engaged in Marianist formation programs and starting to create new communities in our tradition.
I’ll admit to some gloom and doom moments. Too many of my fellow travelers in life have left the church over the scandals, rigidity of what is defined as moral truth, and its lack of inclusion of lay people in all the ministries of the church. My vision on some days includes all these folks coming home.

A final part of the my vision is related to vocations to religious life and the priesthood. I envision men and women who pursue this type of vocation because the world desperately needs their witness of unconditional love, simplicity in all things, and listening above all the chatter for the voice of God.

For our next issue, ask your question of Father Paul Vieson, S.M., ’62 director of the Marianist Archives. Email your question to magazine@udayton.edu.

One Response to Ask a Marianist

  1. […] University of Dayton profiled Carol Ramey, ‘68, in the school’s “Ask a Marianist” forum. Carol is director of the North American Center for Marianist […]

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