…a landowner went out early in the morning
to hire labourers for his vineyard. (Mt. 20: 1)
The decree on religious life, Perfectae Caritatis, promulgated by the Second Vatican Council, recommended taking into account the characteristics of the world of that time (1965). And what, in Quebec, came to be called the Quiet Revolution, a time of turmoil and of social, ecclesiastical and religious unrest, provided us with more than we needed as background.
The Quiet Revolution with its slogan "Things have to change!” affected the world of education as never before. With little or no regard for the religious communities who had, until then, played a surrogate role, the government decided to assume its responsibilities. In 1964, it created the Ministry of Education and established greater cohesion in its public education network. From then on, it would be the State that would control the programs, the choice of textbooks, the way to validate diplomas, etc.
As a result, classical colleges would disappear to make way for Comprehensive High Schools and CEGEPs. The public network would extend to outlying regions. Teachers’ training would take place at the university level, marking the end of Teachers' Colleges and classical courses. The secularization of education was in process, with the confessional status no longer reflecting a multiethnic society.
A lengthy ordeal to overcome! Discontent among teachers and challenges for religious authorities! "The time of great uniformity and control is past" (Dominique Laperle). Beyond emotions, frustrations and uncertainties, we needed to bounce back, consider the future, negotiate, be creative, and practice detachment. The Sisters committed themselves to shaping a new institutional structure, something that did not happen without clashes, trial and error, resistance or the departure of sisters who deplored the slowness of the process.
In his book Entre concile et révolution tranquille (Between Council and Quiet Revolution). Médiaspaul 2015, Dominique Laperle made the following comment:
The Sisters, who were now a minority in the school system and called by Vatican II to intervene differently, taking into account the signs of the times, cautiously undertook a process of redefining the apostolate. . . Many members of the congregation saw this trial as a way to reread the work of the foundress and to revive it from a new perspective.
The 1967-1968 Chapter sessions gave rise to serious reflections. There were discussions around transformation of religious life; new ways of living for and with the people of that time; the need for a unifying and dynamic spirituality to better understand the meaning of one’s vocation as a woman educator, committed to the work of the Church in the midst of the People of God.
Thus, the concept of charism would be broadened so that education would encompass liberating action, the development of the whole person, and an insertion into the life and pastoral mission of the Church. The school setting would no longer be the main area of mission. Fields of action became diversified in order to respond to a variety of calls from places where faith and justice merged. New life was breathed into mission.
And since then, the Acts of our General Chapters have tried to set a direction with renewed calls to openness and commitment. Among the values promoted, we note: contemplation in action; solidarity with women, migrants, and refugees; justice and systemic change. We also observe socially responsible investments; interdependence for mission and a more just world; new forms of SNJM association; integral ecology; and the use of modern technologies as a means of communication and of looking at our world.
We can even dare to say that our poverty in human resources has become a richness since our mission today is shared with laypeople - associates, volunteers, consecrated laypersons and partners, whether administrators of private schools, professionals working in our infirmaries, our various other employees, etc. Collaborative relationships have been created with organizations, NGOs, other religious congregations, and networks, such as Justice and Peace. After consensus, corporate stands have been publicly affirmed: for access to water, against human trafficking, for migrants and refugees. These stands have become, for us, a common ministry.
With my current outlook, I ask myself:
How have desert times opened us up to the paths to life?
How have our “community living” and our mission been enriched?
We thank you, God,
for calling us to deepen our understanding of mission
and to work at building a better world.
Help us, in our everyday actions, to become
channels of life, of peace, and of love.
Simone Perras, s.n.j.m., in collaboration with the PLT