Rethinking Specialised Studies (PE nr. 1089 – 2018/03)

I thank the Society of Missionaries of Africa for having given a new breath of fresh air to specialised studies by sending confreres for further education especially up to the level of a Ph.D. This shows that it is reading the signs of the times. I, therefore, welcomed my appointment to do a Doctorate in Moral Theology. Knowing that, in our Society, very few confreres do further studies and taking into account my age, I consider this appointment as a grace not for my own personal satisfaction but to better serve the Society.

How can I reconcile the training acquired and the pastoral aspect of the mission? There is no divorce between my specialisation and pastoral work. The confreres who serve in specialist areas are at the service of the Society on the same terms as those who work in parishes and other types of mission. Doing studies does not necessarily imply that I expect to be appointed to a teaching post rather that I ought to be ready for all sorts of mission. My specialisation in social ethics looks to solidarity with the poor, the vulnerable and the marginalised which goes far beyond the study of Theology.

Even if our society is making some efforts, it still has a long way to go if it is to improve its policy on specialised training with a view to getting the best outcomes. It should give a more positive vision as set out in our Constitutions and the last General Chapter. On the other hand, the Vade-Mecum on Formation echoes a more negative vision regarding this subject and gives the impression that such studies are not an integral part of the mission. We should look again and rethink about this subject.

I agree that we should send confreres for further studies in line with the needs of the Society and only after serving at least one term on mission. However, when they complete their primary degree and, if it is probable that they will be appointed later for further studies up to Ph.D. level, they should do so straightaway. This is neither new nor revolutionary in the Society because some have already done so. We become missionaries at an advanced age and it is rumoured that one who has already reached the age of Abraham cannot (with some exceptions) be considered for doctoral studies. In the universities, where our candidates are studying, a B.A is no longer considered a sufficient qualification for teaching. Moreover, those with higher qualifications could be a source of revenue for the Society through their salaries/ emoluments.

Some confreres have done their doctorate in combination with other responsibilities such as Rector, Provincial or Formator. Even if the reasons for such appointments are valid, this way of doing things is counter-productive because they struggle to finish their studies. This is not only a loss of income for the Society but it also a waste of time for the confreres, even a source of frustration for them. It is difficult to see how such confreres will finish their studies after completing their mandate and we do not know if this combination will bear fruit.

The 2016 Chapter made the point that there be more diversification in specialised studies in areas such as Philosophy, Theology, Islamic Studies, Pastoral Work, Development, Justice and Peace, Economics, Administration, Accountancy and even those who work in a parish need some training in Pastoral Theology. This diversification could help resolve the problems of appointments to key posts instead of fishing for confreres from Formation houses. This does not mean that these confreres are suitable for these tasks because there are no courses preparing one to be a Provincial or Superior General.

A second component concerning the diversification of specialized studies is to avoid sending too many confreres of the same nationality for further studies. Our society is renowned for its internationality; this should be reflected in appointments for studies to preserve the Society from a spirit of narrow nationalism and tribalism.

Library at Leuven University

In the past, the Brothers specialised in material things which is some way disdained their vocation; today they are specialising in more honourable occupations. All the same, they are not given the opportunity to study Philosophy (even if one has done so) or Theology. They are often appointed to Formation houses as Formators or Bursars. It would be good if they were given the chance to specialise as well in these subjects. These subjects have been monopolised by the priests (clericalism). Moreover, many respected theologians today are lay people. The Brothers could bring another witness and aspect in these areas.

Our Society was founded to liberate Africa from all its chains. Nevertheless in the academic domain much remains to be done. I am struck by the fact that it is rare to find a book written by our confreres at least in ethics. If we are working for the good of Africans, it is also important to free them from ignorance. I dream that the Society will found universities some day in order to transmit its spirit through education. Africa does not have many top class universities especially those conferring degrees at Ph.D. level. The majority of the local clergy and missionaries go to the West for specialist studies.

What I have just written are my own poor personal opinions, but I hope there is something in what I have said that will launch the debate at the heart of our Society regarding specialised studies. It should not be a taboo subject but ought to be debated at grass roots level instead of resulting from a top-down approach.

Anselm Ngetwa, M.Afr.

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