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Friday, 05 August 2011 00:35

The blogging Marist brother

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After many years working in Marist education as a teacher, principal and academic, two years ago Brother John McMahon set up a blog.

"We looked at the blog as a policy - as a way of getting our voice out there," says Br John, who is a member of the Melbourne Province leadership and mission and life formation team. He also teaches leadership courses at the Australian Catholic University and for the Melbourne Archdiocese.

"I wanted to express my views on the Marist world and unpack and discuss the role of Marist charism and spirituality in education," says Br John.

Armed with a PhD on developing an educational vision with a Marist perspective, Br John was well positioned to write on the subject. His time as director of a program on incorporating the insights of Marist founder, Marcellin Champagnat into contemporary education, added to his credibility.

"Many lay people, particularly those working in Marist schools, say they'd like to be Marist," says Br John.

"They don't want to be a Marist brother.  But they are interested in following the Marist way and living the Marist spirituality - which has six characteristics:  God's presence and love, trust in God, love of Jesus and his Gospel, in Mary's way, family spirit and a spirituality of simplicity.

"Blogging is a way of sharing, learning and helping people new to leading and living the Marist charism to get an understanding of how it is done."

On his blog, Champagnat, exploring charism in education, Br John writes on various aspects of the subject. He uploads videos and podcasts and reports on forums, courses and in-services such as a recent one in Perth introducing teachers to the Marist way.

He also discusses the meaning of the word charism - the particular spiritual characteristics of a religious order. In one post he reported on a gathering of 45 people in Melbourne where the group explored the question:  'what word best describes what we mean by charism?'  Is it a word like 'inspiring' or 'impelling' or 'animating'?'

Within 24 hours of running a course, or attending a forum, he posts a story and photo to the blog or adds a video or links to a podcast.

"The immediacy of blogging has great benefits," says Br John.  "People don't have to wait for a newsletter to come out in a month's time or even longer. So it's a quick way of getting stories out and it's a very accessible means of educating in an era when Religious are declining but our ministries are still growing.

"It also allows many voices to participate and is a way of people being heard who wouldn't normally be heard from our ministries in East Timor, Alice Springs and all over the world."

After Br John has published a post, he links the post to his Facebook page and announces it on Twitter. Through these platforms he has attracted new followers to his blog, which achieves about 35 visitors a day.

"It's not a huge amount," says Br John, "but it is many more than if I did not have the blog, and it is where young people are watching and active.

"Being in that world enables us to communicate with young people. They probably wouldn't write a letter or an email to me, but they will write a comment on my blog or Facebook page."

Br John believes it is important for Church people to participate in the world of social media.

"We are blessed today to have such immediate, flexible and global forms of communication. The call of Christianity is to evangelise and pass on this faith. Blogging and other social media is a way of doing that and it allows us to engage, interact and participate in the world.

"Having a blog has been a very worthwhile way of sharing our faith and knowledge, offering a critique of the contemporary world, engaging in conversations and discussions, and nurturing our life and our ministries."

You can find Br John's blog on the Melbourne Marist website.