Tucked between Yonge Street and Avenue Road in Toronto's Summerhill neighbourhood is a school rich with beauty, stunning architecture and history. The serene campus of De La Salle College "Oaklands" is an oasis in the midst of a bustling city.
Heritage House, De La Salle College "Oaklands"
However, there is something else distinct about this school, related to the president's 17th century-style neck tie. Walk into the school's stunning Heritage House and you'll find Brother Domenic Viggiani, FSC sporting a "rabat," which is not a fashion throwback, but a part of his religious habit. The school was established by the Brothers of the Christian Schools and Brother Domenic is a living and visible legacy of the Lasallian tradition.
Brother Domenic Viggiani, FSC
The religious order was founded in France by St. John Baptist de La Salle, now the patron saint of teachers. In the 1600s, the young priest encountered a group of men who were teaching poor children in parish charity schools. Recognizing the shortfalls of education at that time, he helped set standards for Catholic education and eventually began an order known as the Brothers of the Christian Schools (or the De La Salle Christian Brothers) dedicated to creating a network of schools throughout France.
After the order established a presence in North America in 1837, five Lasallian brothers came to Toronto in 1851 to start a grammar school. The school existed at a number of sites before landing at the current campus in 1931. Originally an all-boys school, it now operates as an independent, co-educational, university preparatory school.
De La Salle Oaklands, 1939
Beginning as a teacher at De La Salle College "Oaklands" in the early 1980s, Brother Dominic has a 35-year history in education. After teaching abroad, he returned as Head of School in the 1990s. But his experience at the school goes back even further; he attended De La Salle as a student, where he was taught by the brothers who influenced his vocation to religious life.
"I was attracted to the community life and the mission of education. It was a kind of unified workforce of people dedicated to a specific mission," he says.
This desire to work with the brothers in education and an interest in international mission prompted Brother Domenic to enter formation. The priesthood was never a consideration; Catholic education as a religious brother was where he was called.
Herein lies the beauty of consecrated life: its diversity allows each individual who is called to find a path that fits with their gifts and desires. The freedom of religious life allows men and women to serve with the total gift of themselves. Brother Dominic notes that religious have a great ability to respond to needs in the developing world, where others may not have the freedom to go.
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These days, you won't find brothers in the classrooms at De La Salle College "Oaklands." A decrease in vocations has meant lay people now continue the work that was started by the brothers. Currently there are about 70,000 lay people working in Lasallian schools in 80 countries worldwide.
"Over the last 30 years, a lot of work has been done to foster the same kind of spirit among lay people. [We send teachers to a] program to understand our traditions, the life of our founder and the principles upon which are schools are based."
These programs run by American brothers are reinforced at a local level, with new staff of De La Salle College "Oaklands" undergoing an orientation on the life of the founder and Lasallian education. The vast collection of writings by St. John Baptist de La Salle and other brothers also serve as useful resources to keep the mission of the schools alive.
Religious life, Brother Dominic notes, often responds to the needs of the present time. Historically, in the Archdiocese of Toronto religious communities were involved in providing education to the immigrant population. The school continues to welcome students from various ethnic and socio-economic backgrounds. Some are Catholic and others are not. Educating a range of students is part of the school's mission to prepare young people to strive for a diverse and inclusive society as they venture into the world.
"Our institutions are Catholic, but we do allow non-Catholics and non-Christians to attend because we see that as the work of the Universal Church, to be that witness to non-Catholics about the proclamation of Jesus Christ," Brother Domenic says.
Although there are fewer rabats floating around De La Salle College "Oaklands" these days, the legacy of St. John Baptist de La Salle lives on in lay people carrying on the tradition of quality Catholic education and in the alumni who have gone on to live happy and productive lives in the modern world.
Throughout the Year of Consecrated Life, each month we will feature one religious order present in the Archdiocese of Toronto.
Marlena Loughheed is a communications coordinator in the Archdiocese of Toronto's Office of Public Relations and Communications.