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Marist Bulletin - Number 93

 

Antonio Castagnetti Morini, fms Rector of the Marcellin Champagnat University, Lima, Peru
25.09.2003

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A HUMBLE WORK, OF GREAT HUMAN SIGNIFICANCE

Bro. Lluís Serra

Brother Antonio Castagnetti, 82 years old, was born in Reggio Emilia, Italy. He had two brothers who also were Marist Brothers; both have now died. He also had two sisters who became Salesian Sisters—one of them is still living in Italy. After finishing his initial formation in Gassino and Grugliasco, he was sent to Peru in1939, and has lived there ever since, except for two brief parentheses: one as teacher in the Spanish-American Juniorate of Vallalodid (Spain), and another in the U.S.A. After studies in Physics and Chemistry, he gained a Doctorate in Education at the San Marcos University of Lima. He also has a Masters in Psychology from Columbia University, New York. He was Provincial of Peru, and is currently Rector of the Marcellin Champagnat University in Lima, Peru.

The professors are demonstrating and are into their second week of a strike (at the moment of the interview; subsequently the situation was to deteriorate further). Is there justice in the claims they are advancing?
The professors are badly paid. You have to qualify to obtain a professional degree. I think there are plenty of teachers, but few well prepared ones who are honest and have a good pedagogical mystique.

In 1990 the Marcellin Champagnat University was founded in Lima. What were its objectives?
The objective is precisely to prepare teachers who are at one and the same time Christian humanists and religion teachers. This university is the last stage in the evolution of a Teachers’ College which began in 1948 and which, in 1983 became an Institute of Higher Education, and was subsequently transformed into the University we have now.

What courses are offered in it?
We are dealing with a single faculty university: the Faculty of Education (even though the founding legislation allows the establishment of other course offerings). The degrees offered are a Bachelor’s degree, a Licentiate (professional qualification), a Master’s (two years after the Licentiate), and the Doctorate. Students graduate with a double qualification: one in a teaching specialization (Pre-School, Primary, Biochemistry, Physics-Mathematics, Language & Literature, Psychology, Philosophy, Social Sciences & History, etc...), and another in Religious Sciences. More than 3000 religion teachers have graduated so far.

How many students do you have?
A total of 430 students follow regular courses here in our Miraflores centre, with 1000 following distance courses requiring attendance amounting to six weeks per year during seven years. All examinations are held at the main centre in Lima, with the balance of the assessment on the basis of correspondence work. We don’t want to grow so much that we are unable to offer a high standard of service, but we are open to new possibilities.

Can we talk a little about these possibilities? I understand that you have many students coming from the length and breadth of Peru, and notably educational and pastoral leaders in the forest or in virtually inaccessible areas...
Yes, they come from all parts of Peru and also from different ethnic groups such as Aguarunas, Huambisas, Chayahuitas, Ashanincas, etc. We are bringing together leaders of Christian Communities and Health professionals, many of whom come from forest regions and work in mission areas. For their accommodation in Lima we have a residence for 350 persons where we can offer board and lodging for $usa2.00 a day. These are marvellous people make a tremendous contribution to human and religious development in zones of extreme deprivation.

What values are pursued by the students in their educational project?
They are all related to our vision of Christian Humanism. They include: family life, mutual understanding, achievement, responsibility, academic seriousness, affection, presence, etc... We try to unite family spirit and pride in oneself.

Are students of lower social status able to gain access to your lecture halls?
Amongst those attending there are students from the so-called “C” and “D” social levels; this would be the lower middle class. For example, no one comes to the University by car. On the other hand, there is a graded system of scholarships: half scholarships, quarter scholarships, scholarships for those working, and so on. We observe an afternoon-evening timetable, from 4pm to 9pm to offer more possibilities to our students.

From what you say, I find it hard to see how your University can be economically self-sufficient. How can it possibly be viable?
As a matter of fact, there are people and institutions who channel funds to our University, such as Adveniat, the archdiocese of Cologne, Kirche in Not (“Church in Emergency”), the CEI (Italian Episcopal Conference) and the NCCB (National Conference of Catholic Bishops [.U.S.A.]. Take into account also that the text materials are distributed free, and are givento the students separately at the beginning of each subject. This makes a total of 80 books per student completing the entire course.

Is your University well-known?
I can give you a few significant indicators. Firstly, many colleges—both state-run and private—ask for teachers graduating from our University for they see how well prepared they are. Secondly, we spend practically nothing in advertising, but rely on word-of-mouth publicity, both for the regular courses and the distance courses.

What is the role of research in your University?
This is precisely an area which I would like to strengthen. There are 23 people who have already concluded their doctoral courses, and in June the first three present their dissertations; two of them being Marist Brothers. I am very happy with the Catholic Education Congresses which we have held here. The last, in February 2002, was on the theme of “Jesus Christ: Violence of the Peaceful”.

What do you think should be the profile of future educators?
We wish to form people who are honest, hard-working, cultivated, and who are Christians, patriots, and humanists. All this is more demanding because we have to make up the deficits suffered by our students in their earlier education (e.g. some never had a book during their entire years of schooling). We also seek to equip them with a real mystique of education and a sense of professional ethics.

How many Brothers are working in the University?
At this moment, five. The total faculty would number about 60.

Brother Emili Turú, Councillor General, recently visited your University, and described it as an apostolic work of which “as Marists we can be proud.” What was he referring to?
Possibly to the social effect it achieves through its commitment to the improvement of Peruvian education via the preparation of good teachers, catechists and religious educators. He may also have been referring to the simplicity of a humble work with such a large human significance. Perhaps again because of the multiplier effect of this task in today’s Peru where god teachers are in short supply. There are so many children and so many unmet needs.

I liked the standard of technical equipment evident in the classrooms. I’ve just witnessed how Br Marino Latorre conducts his Cultural History classes utilizing video, CD, power point, music, and computer... The class was being addressed through sight and hearing.
Yes; we do not seek to entertain, but to teach better. The technical resources are in service of a more complete education.

Brother Antonio’s 82 years have not dimmed the impishness of his outlook, nor the clarity of his dream of a better future through the preparation of good teachers and catechists. In his office there are pieces of Peruvian handiwork. He has two remarkable pieces constructed from the remains of a car-bomb detonated by terrorists at the entrance to the University. One is a crucified Christ. The other, a monument to peace, topped by a dove. A peace which continues to be yearned for all over our planet.

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