At the Provincial Chapter 1998, the Flemish province of the Salesians of Don Bosco (BEN) founded the Don Bosco Formation Centre. The number of pupils studying at Salesian schools is over 15,500. In addition, they depend on 2,500 lay teachers paid by the government. In the youth care sector, the Salesians, in cooperation with some 250 lay staff members in about ten institutions, are committed to the education of young people at risk. Only a small number of Salesians are still active in education and youth care themselves.
These lay staff members can be true Salesian educators when they are encouraged and trained to do so. The lay management is committed to protecting the Salesian identity of their work in the future, but are asking to be guided and supported in doing so. The Don Bosco Formation Centre was founded to provide this support and formation.
The Don Bosco formation centre has 4 core tasks: study, formation, support to the boards and development of incentives for the implementation of the Salesian education project.
The study component envisages a continuous update of the Salesian heritage. This requires an ever-renewed return to Salesian sources centred around the figure of Don Bosco, his thought, action, writings, charism. It also involves entering into dialogue with contemporary human sciences and the experiences of those who are working with young people. In concrete terms, this task of study has led to the publication of a year book, which bundles a number of articles in view of stimulating reflection on salesianity.
The centre wishes to organize and support formation initiatives in order to make people familiar with the salesian approach, so they can dedicate themselves to the contemporary education of young people in the spirit of Don Bosco.
The formation programmes follow two tracks. On the one hand, they offer specifically Salesian formation. On the other hand, they offer formation programmes for the tasks of educators, teachers, social workers and executives.
Out of the long-term formation courses, the Don Bosco course is undoubtedly the most important one. It includes a formation package of 17 days, spread over two school years. It is intended for people who are working in a Salesian work context. The programme offers them a chance to deepen their knowledge and experience concerning Don Bosco and his pastoral-pedagogical approach so that they are able to expand their Salesian sensitivity and expertise and integrate what they have learnt in their own context.
Maintenance and further development of the Salesian identity of a Don Bosco school or institution obviously depend on the motivation of the people who are working there, but also goes hand in hand with the development of the entire school or institution as an organization. The Salesian factor must be integrated in all aspects of the organization (mission, policy planning, strategies, style of leadership, staff policy, procedures, culture, etc). Based on this idea and in response to concrete needs and questions, policy support has developed into a third task of the formation centre. Preparatory thinking (development of vision) and concrete support for executives and their organization constitute the core of this task.
An important task of the formation centre is supporting the implementation process of the new pastoral pedagogical project. In 2001, a totally reworked and rewritten version of the pastoral-pedagogical project of the province was published, with the title ‘in dialogue with Don Bosco’. However, publishing a nice story alone is not satisfactory. This vision should also be realized and integrated in practice. Therefore, the formation centre was assigned the additional task of realizing the implementation of this vision.
After a first introduction to the education project, many requests reached us for incentives to further deepen and integrate the ideas expressed in the project. People in the field also asked for visual incentives for the project. To satisfy these needs, we commissioned an own ‘reflection canvas’ by analogy with the well-known ‘hunger canvases’. We also developed a website containing all useful information about the work of art and a wide range of ideas for working with them.
One of the most recent realizations is the Don Bosco game, developed by and for teachers and pupils of the Flemish Salesian schools.
The general aim is to stimulate people in a fresh and inviting way to (re)immerse themselves in the pastoral-pedagogical project and the Salesian spirit in view of a better integration of this approach.