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A Meditation on Ardent Love of Neighbor and a Culture of Inclusion and Diversity: Part One From Marist School President Fr. Rowland, S.M.

Marist School President Father Bill Rowland, S.M.  shares a letter with the Marist School community about "ardent love of neighbor and a culture of inclusion and diversity" (part one).
A Meditation on Ardent Love of Neighbor and a Culture of Inclusion and Diversity: Part One

Dear Marist School Community,

“If therefore they are and wish to be true sons of this dear Mother, let them continually strive to draw upon her spirit and breathe it: a spirit of humility, self-denial (or self-renunciation), intimate union with God, and the most ardent love of the neighbor; and so they must think as Mary, judge as Mary, feel and act as Mary in all things, otherwise they will be unworthy and degenerate sons.” (#49, 1872 Constitutions of the Society of Mary.)

Each year, Marist School focuses on what we call a Marist theme that is necessary to cultivate if we are to follow Jesus in the spirit of Mary, his mother. Again, this year’s theme is ardent love of neighbor. In my latest communication to you, A Meditation on Ardent Love of Neighbor and the Pandemic, I alluded to certain events at Marist last year that revealed racial insensitivity and other expressions of intolerance that needed urgent and immediate attention. I promised that in September, I would follow-up with a reflection on this year’s Marist theme and apply it to creating a culture that is overtly anti-racist and expressive of the values articulated in the Diversity Statement that was approved by the Marist Board of Trustees in 2004. Let me reference it here and then relate it to this year’s Marist theme.

Marist School seeks to foster a community of inclusion that respects the dignity of the individual in the areas of age, gender, religion, ability, socioeconomic status, race, ethnicity, culture, and sexual orientation. This obligation to build a community of inclusion is based on Sacred Scripture, the teachings of the Catholic Church, and the spirit and traditions of the Society of Mary. All members of the Marist School community are responsible for advancing an understanding of and a respect for diversity. (Diversity Statement)

I should add that these sentiments were recently ratified and given greater prominence in the fourth priority of Strategic Plan 2025, which was recently approved by the Board of Trustees:

We intentionally build a diverse student body at Marist School and seek ways to highlight the blessings that diversity brings to our community."

Inclusion and Diversity 

What do we mean by inclusion? Let’s look at one expression of its opposite, the sin of racism that is of particular concern to us. In 1979, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ pastoral letter, Brothers and Sisters to Us, stated then and repeatedly afterward, that racism is a sin, “… a sin that divides the human family, blots out the image of God among specific members of that family, and violates the fundamental human dignity of those called to be children of the same Father. Racism is the sin that says some human beings are inherently superior, and others essentially inferior because of races. It is the sin that makes racial characteristics the determining factor for the exercise of human rights. It mocks the words of Jesus: ‘Treat others the way you would have them treat you.’ Indeed, racism is more than a disregard for the words of Jesus; it is a denial of the truth of the dignity of each human being revealed by the mystery of the Incarnation.” 

Racism excludes certain groups, based on their race, from being accorded the rights and dignity that is theirs, not because it is given to them by us human beings, but, instead, by God who is the Father of us all. That means we should honor the dignity of our Black students and students of color by ensuring that they are included, along with our other students at Marist, in feeling safe and secure from enduring slurs, put-downs, or insults based on race.

Failure to do this runs counter to achieving the goal of having an inclusive student body that we have committed to making a reality at Marist. That, in turn, undermines our stated goal “to highlight the blessings that diversity brings to our communities."

Ardent Love of Neighbor and thinking, judging, feeling, and acting like Mary

Now we can look at how the Marist theme, ardent love of neighbor, relates to ensuring that the culture at Marist reflects what I just said. Fr. Colin, the founder of the Society of Mary, wanted Marists to be distinguished by their most ardent love of neighbor that he links with thinking, judging, feeling, and acting like Mary in all things. 

God’s passion to set things right

Keep in mind that the word ardent means enthusiastic, passionate, devoted, dedicated, steadfast, or committed. In the Bible, there are times when God’s passion is expressed as “anger” that is usually directed toward Israel’s infidelity or the injustice being inflicted on the poor. Now, we are tempted to equate God’s anger with our experience of human anger that is often rooted in our egos being wounded and expressed in ways that are hurtful, vengeful, or even violent. That would be a mistake. “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways,” says the Lord. “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, And my thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:8-9)

Bishop Robert Barron, auxiliary bishop of Los Angeles, argues that it is more accurate to understand God’s anger as God’s passion to set things right. That would be another way to understand what Fr. Colin means by an ardent love of neighbor. Let me apply this insight to our commitment to “build a community of inclusion.” 

What is the foundation upon which Marist School will build an anti-racist culture?

When the decision was being made to select an outside consultant and to review every aspect of Marist School to ensure that the school culture is in line with the school’s Diversity Statement, someone asked if the school leadership had the stomach to see this through, given the resistance this would surely spark. These words of Jesus came to my mind, “Everyone who hears these words of mine and doesn't do them will be like a foolish man, who built his house on the sand. The rain came down, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, and it fell—and great was its fall.”

On what foundation does Marist School’s obligation to build a community of inclusion and diversity rest? It rests upon and is meant to be an expression of God’s passion to set things right. In our context, it means to put an end to hateful, abusive, intolerant, homophobic, and racist speech and behaviors directed to those students in our school community who are the most vulnerable because their numbers are small and they are easily identified. God’s passion to set things right is included in the Marist value, ardent love of neighbor, that undergirds the school’s policies, curricula, practices, behaviors, and exhortations designed to promote diversity and inclusion. It is the ardent love of neighbor that animates the school’s leadership and those who share that commitment to set things right. That means ridding the school of speech and behavior that is racist, homophobic, or otherwise intended to demean and dehumanize another student for whatever reason.

This desire to set things right is also one of the reasons for the very existence of the Society of Mary:

“This least of congregations, graciously approved by the Sovereign Pontiff Gregory XVI on 29 April 1836 from the very beginning, was given the name Society of Mary. This very name sufficiently indicates the banner under which it desires to serve in fighting the battles of the Lord, and what its spirit should be.” (1872 Constitutions of the Society of Mary, Article 1, #1)

Racism is an evil power, and its expulsion from our nation and our school is one of the battles of the Lord that the Society of Mary will engage in and in the spirit (banner) of Mary. The divine passion to set things right is being expressed in our efforts to foster a culture of inclusion and diversity at Marist School “that respects the dignity of the individual in the areas of age, gender, religion, ability, socioeconomic status, race, ethnicity, culture, and sexual orientation.” This is what it looks like to think, judge, feel, and act like Mary in all things. That is the Marist Way.

A work of Mary and a work of mercy

Our efforts as an institution, families, and individuals to build a community of inclusion and diversity at Marist School is an expression of an ardent love of neighbor. At the same time, it is a work of mercy and a work of Mary. I will say more about that in Part Two.

In the name of Mary,
 
 
Fr. Bill Rowland, S.M.
President

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Marist School

3790 Ashford Dunwoody Road, NE
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An Independent Catholic School of the Marist Fathers and Brothers