Some 35 years ago, I was sent by St. John’s University to attend a high-level workshop on technology and education.
I went fully expecting to learn about all kinds of new technologies. I did not! But I learned something far more important. Technology was but one part of a larger shift in the way of looking at the role of teachers.
It was the first time I heard the expressions – “Sage on the Stage” or “Mentor in the Center. ”
I was trained in a “sage on the stage” atmosphere of a teacher as one who passed on knowledge.
I had not heard of a new trend in teaching described as “the mentor in the center”. Here the emphasis is on helping the student learn how to learn.
I came back to some degree a changed person. With varying degrees of success, I began, where it was possible, to shift from a lecture approach to an engagement approach with students in their process of discovery of wider horizons.
Vincent’s Tuesday Conferences – Saging or Mentoring?
I have long known that Vincent’s Tuesday Conferences were at the root of his reform of the clergy in 17th-century France.
What I did not know was that the Tuesday Conferences were not just weekly lectures for priests who showed promise. They were not in the mode of the “sage on the stage!
In these conferences, Vincent rarely spoke except at the end. They were rather like round table discussions of men who shared their experiences and questions about what it meant to be a parish priest at that time,
When I realized this, it dawned on me. Vincent was more of a mentor in the center than a sage on the stage. He obviously encouraged them to learn from one another rather than be awed by his eloquence.
A modern-day example
Let me tell you a story, a true story. It is a story connecting the dots of one person’s life with the Vincentian Charism or culture.
It is the story of a married woman who was interested in learning more about a group of women who called themselves Sisters of Charity. She was considering becoming a “lay associate.”
In conversation with a Sister she respected greatly, she heard the story of Vincent instructing one of the first groups of the long line of women who became known as Daughters of Charity, Sisters of Charity, or some variation.
She heard the words of Vincent about how they were to have…
- for monastery only the houses of the sick,
- for cell a hired room,
- for chapel the parish church,
- for cloister the streets of the city…
She burst into quiet tears, tears of recognition. After a few moments, she was able to explain what had happened.
It was a moment of awakening for her! She connected the dots of her life with this Vincentian thing.
In those words of Vincent, she recognized the lives that she and her husband had lived for years serving the marginalized in the southwest of the United States.
At the same time, the Sister learned a new meaning of formation. She realized immediately that she was not “forming” this woman to become an associate of the Sisters of Charity. She was merely helping her to recognize or name the charism she and her husband had been living for decades.
As we approach growing the Vincentian movement among people from all walks of life, we are each called to be mentors to each other and more than lecturers.
How do we become mentors helping people connect with the charism of St. Vincent?
Click below for an early audio version of this Vincentian Mindwalk