Acclaimed Teacher/Formator, Lasallian Researcher: “story teller & story writer” Br. Gerard Rummery
The humble hamlet of Blayney, New South Wales, is reputably one of the coldest corners of the state. Its fine Georgian courthouse of 1880 was the workplace of Richard Rummery’s father. Brother Gerard, born in Blayney, was to fulfil his ministry in a far more global setting.
A strong Catholic family, the Rummerys moved regularly – to Orange, Lismore, then Burwood, Sydney, due to their father’s work in courthouses. The young Richard, one of ten siblings, found himself in the primary section of De La Salle College Ashfield during the World War 2 years. The added reason was that his father had been an Old Boy of DLS Armidale.
Gerard remembers the impression Brothers had on his learning years – especially Brs. Philbert, Gabriel and Christian Moe. Christian taught him, as his invigilator, enough algebra within a few minutes, to cope in a Maths test, after his return from sickness. Two of his brothers found careers in teaching and the law – one as judge of court. But Richard, in 1946, went at 15 years of age to join a cohort of 29 hopefuls, training to become De La Salle Brothers.
THE CLASSROOM TEACHER
In 1951, when not quite 20 years of age, Br. Gerard began teaching at the flagship Brothers’ college at Malvern, Victoria, where he was to spend 14 fruitful and achieving years. Classes could be 80+ students initially. There were musical skills applied and singing eisteddfods, within a broad brief of humanities teaching. He completed his B.A. over 5 years in evening classes, under well-reputed professors at Melbourne University.
Under supervision for his Dip. Ed. at two prestigious high schools - Camberwell and Melbourne – he was told by his lead teacher : “you tell the kids too much…you should be telling them to research themselves”. Here was a career lesson that became a hallmark of his philosophy and practice of education, and his many Lasallian involvements.
The 1960’s had produced strains in education generally – and in Catholic education- of continued booming student populations, and a resort to lay teachers in quickly increasing numbers. For the Brothers, finding suitable formators for young Brothers’ teacher training was stressful. This with large numbers of trainees.
Aloysius Carmody’s overseas appointment and the lack of enthusiasm of Brs. Oswald and Stanislaus in their appointments to the Brothers’ “Scholasticate”, led to an injection of new blood in the system which was becoming sclerotic. In January 1965, he was appointed by Br. Baptist, Visitor, to the teacher training Scholasticate of the Brothers at Castle Hill. Initially the protégé of Br. Christian, by July he had become the Director of the trainee Brothers, in a team with Br. Ambrose Payne. (Disclaimer: I was a student of this triad of professional teachers over 3-4 years).
Both highly intelligent, they had completed their Masters of Education on the side, by 1968. Together, they pioneered, Br. Gerard points out, a new more sophisticated, varied structure for trainee Brothers. They, with other religious orders, were convinced that professional teacher training was critically needed in Australian Catholic education. Gerard argued at District Council level for full-time bachelor studies for young Brothers, that professionalized and expanded base-education studies. The first Scholastics, sent to UNE Armidale to complete degrees, set a stage under his urging. (cf. also Peter Donovan, For Youth & the Poor, pp158-9).
Young Brothers attended Macquarie University in its opening year, 1967. (A completed B.A. with education units allowed achievement of a Dip. Ed. with the Victorian Education Department). There were twice-yearly practical placements in Lasallian schools, Gerard perhaps remembering his lighthouse moment at Camberwell High School. Some young Brothers had a customised training to fill out their skills.
Br. Gerard, showing future leanings, was editor of the Brothers’ catechetical review “Our Apostolate” and tutored in Diploma of Education at Sydney University (1967-68). Both he and Ambrose were sent to absorb the new directions of the Institute following the Second Vatican Council in 1968/9. Significantly, Gerard’s standing led to his release to pursue a doctorate in religious education in Europe in 1969. Ambrose remained to lead the Scholasticate, and ultimately become a driving force and the leader of the Catholic teacher training colleges in giving birth to the Australian Catholic University.
RESEARCHING IN EUROPE
The higher research studies he began at Cambridge, U.K. led him to explore a new landscape in religious education and catechetics. This involved research in several European catechetical institutions, prior to taking up his final topic for his doctorate studies at Lancaster University, under the reputed Ninian Smart. Gerard was breaking new ground, while absorbing, as well, the new theologies of Vatican 2, the Catholic Church’s openness to other faith traditions, and the excitement generated with the Brothers’ totally-modernised new Rule. He completed his doctoral thesis in 1972– and published “Catechesis and Religious Education in a Pluralist Society” (1975).
At this time, Br. Damian Lundy became a dynamic and very much and too-soon lost friend (who died young with cancer). Together, they shared the new vision of catechetics for young people, involving youth music and immediate youth concerns, through Christian retreats and peer youth ministry. (This author attests to their impact through being mentored by both).
Leaving Europe for home, he was seconded on staff to teach the January to May 1973 session at the International Lasallian Centre (CIL) in Rome. This call, from the outstanding Lasallian researcher and teacher, Br. Michel Sauvage, was a great compliment. Gerard says clearly that he admired Michel’s depth of research and his wisdom. From this point, his ability to explain the matrix of De La Salle’s spirituality and pedagogy, burnished for youth of a modern century, this in an era of great flux in catechetics, proved an augur for his future work.
Coming back home later that year, after having absorbed the Lasallian catechetical vision and practice in the USA, he was fully primed to lecture at the new inter-Religious Polding College in Castle Hill, the embryo of the premier Australian Catholic university – A.C.U. Over four years he taught Religious Education, and renewed the Brothers’ catechetical magazine, renaming it “Word in Life.” It now emphasised the role of Scripture and the Church’s dialogue with all faiths in the secularist society. Br. Gerard’s sophisticated talents were recognised by being called to Rome headquarters, to be on staff at CIL (1978-82), and then Director of the program for three more years.
PEAK YEARS ON A WORLD STAGE
It could be suggested that the next two decades were the peak years of his international ministry. His election to the General Council of the Institute in 1986 spoke of his status among Brothers. His role involved responsibilities of animation, formation and oversight for the English-speaking District of the Brothers in Asia. He also was the contact Brother with De La Salle Brothers in Hungary, Romania, Czech and Slovakia.
With his facility in several languages, and his expertise as a tertiary lecturer in several fields, he presented the new vision of the “Lasallian Family” and the “Shared Mission”, together with the critical modern research in John Baptist de La Salle’s vision and practice, that from a perspective of moral and religious education, and world religions. His research followed a growing line of Brothers – the great Maurice Hermans, Michel Sauvage, Luke Salm, Miguel Campos and many others.
There were calls on his erudition and teaching expertise in most countries of Europe. He became a Foundation Professor of the Buttimer Institute, USA (1987), and the Lasallian Leadership Institute USA (1998-2006). In Rome, he was named a member of the Vatican Preparatory Commission for the Synod on Consecrated Life (1993-94).
LASALLIAN FORMATION: TEACHING & ANIMATING- AT HOME & ABROAD
With the quickened need for continuing formation under the umbrella of “Shared Mission” taken up at the 1993 General Chapter of the Brothers, Gerard founded in his home District “Lasallian Education Services”, with Ms. Trish Carroll as Director. From this developed a solid friendship.
In the 2000’s, Gerard’s contact and friendship with Jeffrey Callagan, an American Brother, bore fruit with the latter working in the District for the Lasallian Education Services. Jeffrey’s dynamism as a teacher made impact with lay colleagues, as Gerard’s had done over many years. Both gave depth and lucidity to the Lasallian formation agenda in ANZPNG (as it was at the time).
For the following decade or so, in his active seventies, Gerard workshopped and presented at innumerable audiences, in Australia, other Lasallian Districts, and at international academic & pastoral conferences. The trips were tiring, but zeal brooked no obstacles. With a hallmark humility he says, looking back today: “Wherever I went I could offer the Lasallian scholarship…(and) spread knowledge of De La Salle much more broadly.”
Br. John Cantwell, until recently Director of ANZPPNG Formation, worked in tandem with Gerard from 2003 on. He reflects:
“Gerard is well known, in his work among Lasallians in many countries, for his deep knowledge and admiration of John Baptist de La Salle, the Founder’s historical context, and his works. He is equally admired for his engaging manner of communicating not only his knowledge, but also his keen commitment to the work of ‘the human and Christian education’ of young people.
“In this District – particularly in sessions at Narooma (an Australian formation centre initiated in 1990) over many years, and within our various workplaces – this has meant a great deal to the leaders and staffs of schools and ‘yourtown’ in highlighting the profound significance of their work, seen at its best as ‘God’s work’. That Gerard has done this against the background of a studied appreciation of the world’s religions, as a pioneer in the development of approaches to religious education, and as General Councillor of the Institute, has made an enormous contribution to the personal and professional development of a great many people. That in turn has had a positive impact on a great many young people”.
From a prominent lay colleague’s angle, Tracy Adams, CEO of ‘yourtown’, offers this encomium:
"For any mission to flourish, it requires someone/s to keep the story alive; who brings the past into the present; and who nurtures individual connection to the mission. For me and so many others, Br. Gerard has been that person!
"A man whose quiet dignity, depth of knowledge and love for the mission led him to become the ultimate storyteller. But not just the storyteller; he is also the story writer, ensuring that we continue to build from the past, but not dwell in the past - bringing the people and needs of today into the story. It is from this, I think, his greatest strength has been realised, for he has instilled in so many their responsibility for nurturing the mission, and for keeping the story alive."
Gerard continued to present, with great zeal, as a professor at the USA Buttimer Institute from 1987 till 2005. He was an Adjunct Professor at ACU (2007-12). There was a call as a member of the Rome drafting commission to prepare revisions of the Brothers’ Rule of 2015, and the new Institute “Declaration of the Lasallian Educational Mission: Challenges, Convictions and Hopes”(2020).
In terms of ministry, as communicator and researcher, Gerard has been ‘a man for all seasons’. There has always been a strong sense of modernity in his vision and practice. He had to take issue with conservative figures when his convictions for change were entailed. This happened in the late 1960’s with the District Council on the change to teacher training, and in the late 1970’s with members of the Rome General Council on the approach of CIL on De La Salle’s heritage. Over the next thirty years, he was always ready to argue for modern, relevant interpretations of the Lasallian tradition, a mission endeavour sparked in him from his apprenticeship with Br. Michel Sauvage and Br. Maurice Hermans.
His publications, other than his doctorate thesis, include six major works, two memorials on two prominent Brothers, ten articles / addresses in serials and numerous editorials etc. in “Word in Life”.
Such has been Gerard’s impact as a Lasallian educator, especially in – but not at all restricted to -the English-speaking world, that he received two honorary Ed.D. doctorates – from St. Mary’s University Moraga, in 1997, and from St. Mary’s University, Minnesota in 2013. More recently, at a virtual gathering, on 7 April 2021, he was conferred “The Johnston Award”, the highest honor given in the Lasallian Region of North America (RELAN). The head of the Lasallian Education Council referred to him as “our teacher and mentor.” The ‘Gerard Rummery Institute’ was set up as the formation committee of the District Lasallian Mission Council.
Br. Gerard’s long and fruitful life in ministry as a Brother and Lasallian researcher shines strongly as an extraordinary teacher on the global Lasallian stage, both as “story-teller,” and for the future Mission, a zealous story-maker that speaks to today’s generation.
(Author: Br Gary Wilson, Creative Writer)
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