Classroom Calling

Jan. 12-18, 2006
Classroom Calling
By Luke Eggleston/ SUN staff writer
SUN photo(s) Paul Finch
De La Salle Christian Brothers Continue a Tradition of Educational Excellence

The dire straits faced by the very poor in the France of the Sun King, Louis XIV, compelled Saint Jean Baptist de La Salle to act.

Seeing education as the most efficacious way to advance the cause of the lower classes, he dedicated himself to teaching the poor and to fashioning teachers. More than three centuries later, eight De La Salle Christian Brothers sustain that pedagogical tradition at Christian Brothers Academy in DeWitt.

“We try to instill in our students the need to be the best possible person that you can be,” said Brother Thomas Zoppo, FSC, who is the school’s current principal. Brother Thomas elaborated they buttress their stress on intellectual excellence with an emphasis on moral character.

Brother Thomas is in his third year at the helm of the CBA but also spent an abbreviated term there in the 1980’s as the school’s assistant principal. Saint John Baptist De La Salle was appointed to the position of canon in Reims, France at the age of 16. Eleven years later, he was ordained to the priesthood. At 29, he received his doctorate in theology. Shortly after, he founded a religious community committed to teaching the poor in Reims. In 1680, De La Salle founded the Institute of the Brothers of the Christian Schools. Five years later, he established a school committed to teaching teachers.

Pope Leo XIII canonized him on May 24, 1900 and Pope Pius XII proclaimed him patron saint of all teachers of youth in 1950. The Christian Brothers working in the tradition of De La Salle must be distinguished from an order of a similar name, the Christian Brothers order founded by Blessed Edmund Ignatius Rice of Ireland.

Although he lives in community with the other De La Salle Christian Brothers in DeWitt, Brother Leonard Marsh, FSC, is the only Brother in the Syracuse community not directly connected with CBA. A native of Brooklyn, N.Y., Brother Leonard is the chair of the Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures at Le Moyne College.

Brother Leonard was inspired to his vocation by his mentors at Bishop Loughlin Memorial High School. Some 40 Brothers were on the faculty at that time. From a young age he was impressed with their dedication and interest in students and by age 17 he had already committed to the order.

“I grew up in the Brothers and matured as a religious man with the Brothers,” he said. After teaching at Manhattan College for many years, Le Moyne College was an attractive locale for Brother Leonard because it presented him with a professional challenge as well as a nearby community in which to live. “Le Moyne fit like a glove,” he said.

There are more than 950 De La Salle Christian Brothers in the USA/Toronto Region. Headquartered in Rome, the order boasts some 6,600 Brothers in 80 countries worldwide. While the Brothers in France and many other parts of the world continue to minister to the poor through education primarily at the grammar-school level, the mission in the U.S. has been somewhat different. Brother Leonard noted that when the Brothers first arrived in the U.S. in 1948, they continued to teach the poor. American bishops, however, wanted them to establish secondary schools and institutes of higher education.

The students from these schools, with their stress on excellence and practical knowledge, typically went on to prosperous careers. In turn, the products of these institutions would turn around and give back to the places that equipped them for their professional lives. Thus, places such as CBA in Syracuse, CBA in Albany and the La Salle Institute in Troy became elite schools.

At the turn of the millennium CBA celebrated 100 years since its foundation by publishing a book detailing the school’s history entitled 100 years: Pride in Our Past…Faith in Our Future.

The De La Salle Christian Brothers arrived in Syracuse in 1867 upon an invitation from Father James D. O’Hara, pastor at St. Mary’s Parish, which would later become the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception. The Brothers were charged with the education of troubled youths in the city. In the late 1880’s and early 1890’s, however, improvements to St. John the Evangelist Church, the diocese’s first Cathedral, created such financial strains that Father Michael Clune, the rector, was forced to ask the Brothers to leave their posts. But the Brothers left an indelible imprint in Central New York and, in 1900, they returned to found CBA. Since then, CBA has made itself one of the most famous institutions in Central New York. Its myriad successes both scholastically and athletically are well known.

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