When St. John Baptist de la Salle founded his Brothers of the Christian Schools in 1684, he imposed upon them a rule that was meant to keep them humble. Only the humble, he figured, could achieve what his teaching institute was designed to do: educate the poor and those of middle class in a program that would equip them simultaneously to face the world and to prepare for heaven. Today the Christian Brothers, bound by vows but not in Holy Orders, continue LaSalle’s great educational tradition throughout the world on the elementary, secondary and university level.
On December 10, 1989, Pope John Paul II canonized yet another member of this teaching brotherhood: the Brother Mutien-Marie Viaux, a Belgian. In one sense St. Mutien-Marie was not a typical Christian Brother; in another sense, he was a perfect representative of his community.
Louis Joseph Viaux was born in Mellet, Belgium. His father was a blacksmith; his mother kept an inn. Both were exemplary Christians. Both belong to the social class that the Christian Brothers had been founded to educate–the poor and middle class rather than the rich.
Joseph joined the De La Salle brothers at age 15. He entered at their school in Malonne, Belgium, receiving the religious name of Brother Mutien-Marie. At Malonne he was to spend all the rest of his years.
It was taken for granted that Brother Mutien would pass his religious life in the classroom. After all, he had taken vows as a member of a teaching community. But try as he might, Brother Viaux proved to have no gifts at all as a formal teacher. Nor did he have gifts that some of his confreres did as a writer of theological or spiritual books. Nothing he did during his life served to draw him out of the shadows and into public light. He was simply not “newsworthy”. “He accomplished nothing out of the ordinary,” said the Belgian bishops on the occasion of his canonization.
But if Brother Mutien was not gifted as a pedagogue, he made a vast contribution to his students as a mentor. For he was obviously a man of deep prayer, and prayer motivated and rendered fruitful all his activities among the students.
Judged “good for nothing”, Brother Viaux soon proved himself “good for everything” outside the classroom. Daily he supervised the playground, the organized walks, and the boarders’ dormitories; and it was he who rang the school bell that punctuated the day’s schedule. Thanks to his prayerfulness, these commonplace duties became infused with spiritual life. All who knew Brother Mutien noted the profound impression of goodness and peace that he made on everybody with whom he came into contact. Called the “brother who is always praying”, he imitated Jesus in putting himself humbly and totally at the service of his little scholastic community. He was especially attentive to the students,, “hurting none and forgiving all.” He encouraged each of them to live up to the full potential of the gifts God had given them.
St. Mutien-Marie may therefore have been inept on the podium, but he was skilled as an instructor by good example. A wise man once said, “Example is the school of mankind, and they will learn at no other.” Are we building up the character of others by our own good example?
–Father Robert F. McNamara