Transgressing the Church’s Hierarchical Structure

Do you ever find yourself at odds with the government or Church hierarchy? Or prevented from exercising a ministerial role in your faith community? 


You're not alone! 


These unfortunate realities were also part of the real life 17th century experience of John Baptist de La Salle, the patron saint of educators whose legacy inspires the Mission of Manhattan College.


During Mission Month we at Manhattan College are invited to consider how the way De La Salle responded to realities in his life may possibly be for us a source of hope and inspiration as we journey forward in our day and time as persons of faith and zeal.  Along these lines, the following reflections by Alfred Pang Kah Meng, PhD Candidate in Theology and Education at Boston College, offer some Lasallian thoughts for consideration.


Alfred Pang writes:


In reading about the recommendations for reforming seminaries of the Catholic Church offerd by C. Colt Anderson (professor of Christian Spirituality at Fordham University) & Christopher M. Bellitto (professor of History at Kean University) [reference Commonweal article noted below], I can’t help but think about how the witness of St. John Baptist De La Salle (whose 300th death anniversary we celebrated on April 7, 2019) is an inspiring resource.


De La Salle, the Patron Saint for Teachers of Youth, transgressed the church’s hierarchical structure when he resigned from being a Canon, gave up his wealth, and moved in to be with poor laymen (who later called themselves Brothers) to serve poor children as educators. His willingness and readiness to obey a layperson as Superior was regarded a scandal by the clerics. On his deathbed, he “learned that the Archbishop of Rouen had withdrawn his authorization to celebrate the sacraments for the community because of a dispute with the local pastor.”


In all of this, De La Salle never clung on to his ordained priesthood as a matter of prestige and power. His priesthood remained secondary to discerning in faith God’s mission for him through people and events in his life. The ordained priesthood made sense to him only in light of God’s mission to the people, particularly the poor. For the sake of God’s mission, De La Salle was willing to abandon the status of priesthood to be with his poor Brothers.


It is this radical discernment of God’s mission in the Spirit that needs to be recovered as a practice in seminary formation. Too often, the ordained priesthood is seen as the end and goal of seminary formation. It isn’t. Seminary formation is only a part of an ongoing discernment of one’s call to life in God for service to others.


Reform in seminaries must involve structural changes for sure. But true reform begins from the heart; it takes place from within and out. The witness of De La Salle offers us possibilities of how to do that spiritually: a mysticism that does not hold on too tightly to the ambition of being priest but an openness in faith to be a faithful servant on mission, even to the point of having one’s sacramental duties as priest relinquished.



“The Reform Seminaries Need” by C. Colt Anderson & Christopher M. Bellitto, Commonweal Magazine, April 1, 2019


Facebook posting on April 6, 2019 at 11:18 am by Alfred Pang Kah Meng, PhD Candidate, Theology and Education, Boston College


Alfred Pang's Research Interests Include:

- Theology and Childhood Studies – Implications for Educating Children in Faith

- Lasallian spirituality and pedagogy

- Theology, Gender and Sexuality – with a focus on ministry with LGBT Catholics

- Pedagogy of accompaniment toward healing in urban education


For More Writings and Contact Information for Alfred Pang:


Biography of John Baptist de La Salle:

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