Reflection on Our Foyer Painting
Whether or not people like the painting that is a feature of the foyer, they certainly notice it. It is modern but not abstract, and combines conventional portraiture with a certain amount of symbolism. It gives an impression of strength with its definite lines, rugged masculine features and bold reds, browns and blues. The work of a well known Sydney artist, Mr Mohr, it is painted on copper and has as theme the life and work of St John Baptist de La Salle.
Christ serene in majesty forms the central figure. On the right is St. de La Salle im an attitude of loving adoration and supplication, an attitude familiar to him for it is certain that he often spent whole nights in prayer, and had recourse to prayer when persons and events turned against him, endangering the very existence of his institute. To the left of Christ is the work the work of St de La Salle at two different levels, the material and the human level. Symbols and names recall places important in his life or the development of his work.
When he was only thirty seven he left his birthplace, the provincial town of Rheims, for the more cosmopolitan atmosphere of Paris where he continued his experiments in simultaneous teaching and teacher training, and also started teaching “vocational” subjects to young men already at work. This teaching was carried out on Sundays.
St Yon in Rouen was the scene of a remarkable ensemble of institutions which showed him to be a man of genius at least two centuries ahead of his time. Here he established a boarding school catering for the needs of the rising merchant and professional classes who had no use for the traditional classical education of the day. On the same property was a foundation for the correction as opposed to the mere punishment of juvenile delinquents. His methods were as modern as the distinction he made between correction and punishment. He insisted on the need of treating each lad as a person and valuing him as such. He was sure that this consideration would draw what was best out of the boys and gain their respect and love. After that they would reform themselves. And he was remarkably successful.
Nearer to Christ are reminders of Avignon, in de La Salle’s day a papal possession, and of Rome. Not only did he found schools in both places but they are symbols of his unswerving loyalty to the Pope, which is more remarkable because of the atmosphere of Gallicanism and Jansenism then rife in France.
The human level is seen in the group of Brothers at the side of the picture. They represent another aspect of his life-work: the founding of an Institute of men who carry on his educational work in many different countries till the present day. The different ethnic groups represented remind the viewer that the Institute is composed of men of different races and cultures.
The Saint and the Brothers are all looking towards Christ and behind him they catch a glimpse of the heavenly Jerusalem which they hope to attain and to which they direct their pupils.
Various rainbows, beside tying the parts together like the steel girders of a modern building, also draw the eye to Christ and then to St de La Salle. The rainbow, too, is the symbol of hope, an outstanding virtue of de La Salle in the almost continuous opposition from well-meaning but short-sighted men as well as from self-centred and incompetent ones. Hope and trust, expressed in complete abandonment to Providence, characterised him.
An open book is a symbol of the Rule of the Brothers or perhaps the Gospel which de La Salle said specifically is the “first Rule of the Brothers”. Behind it is a suggestion of the cross, a reminder that every way of life has its less pleasant moments.
Finally there is a touch of local colour in the Southern Cross of which Christ is in the centre. The purpose of the de La Salle Brothers in New Zealand is to make Christ the centre of people’s lives, and that is why the motto of Francis Douglas Memorial College is CHRISTO DUCE - Christ is my leader.
Written by an unnamed member of the Brothers for the FDMC Magazine 1966.