Dom Olivier-Marie Sarr, OSB
Abbot of Keur Moussa (Senegal),
President of the Structure Sainte-Anne
The Structure Sainte-Anne,
The Formation of Teachers
in the Monasteries of West Africa
To respond to a real need of well-formed monks and nuns to teach in their respective monasteries the superiors of the Francophone monasteries of West Africa a few years ago had the fine idea of creating the Structure Sainte-Anne (SSA). This article is intended to present its mission, its objectives, and some prospects for the future.
Its Mission, an Initiation
‘As Saint Anne initiated on the ways of Wisdom the Virgin Mary, who gave the world the Eternal Wisdom of the Father, so this structure aims to initiate brothers and sisters of the monasteries of West Africa to form their brothers and sisters in the search for God by instruction in monastic theology.’ (Statutes of the SSA)
By these words the superiors of the Francophone monasteries of West Africa wished to define the objectives of this platform and at the same time to explain the choice of a name of this structure placed under the patronage of St Anne. The analogy with the role of St Anne is used to motivate the choice of a method dear to Africans, that of initiation. This term in fact evokes an essential link in traditional African education. Initiation is the process of transmission which corresponds to a rite of passage. We can understand it in two ways, the passing of a ‘minor’ to adulthood by the transmission of a tradition or of knowledge generally reserved to adults. To apply this to the African monastic tradition, the SSA wishes to offer a formation for monks and nuns, Benedictine and Cistercian, of Francophone West Africa who are already dispensing a course or who are preparing to do so. In other words, it concerns brothers and sisters who have had the benefit of a philosophical and theological course in loco provided by their seniors in monastic life, possibly with important contributions from external teachers, or by attendance at a seminary or Catholic University.
In general, on completing several years of formation, these newly-formed monks and nuns are called to transmit in their turn the knowledge acquired. Of course, completion of a formation, often with very good marks, does not in itself guarantee the ability to prepare and pass on the content received and often well assimilated. It is at this level that the SSA comes on stage, since its founders put four principal objectives before themselves:
1. To form the teachers to prepare a course on the Bible, monastic theology and liturgy, stressing above all the content and the pedagogy, and offering some directions of research.
2. To allow the monasteries of Francophone West Africa to benefit for some years from brothers and sisters specialising in the above subjects.
3. To stimulate intellectual life in the monastic milieu.
4. To contribute to the development of monastic reflection in Africa.
To fulfil these objectives it is essential that the formator should have acquired a good method of work and a solid, scientific methodology to seriously prepare a course by working out a plan balanced and well-structured, and a rich and up-to-date bibliography. Since method constitutes, with pedagogy, the key to the transmission of knowledge, we have tried – for the session initially planned for this summer (but postponed to next year at the same period because of the health crisis) – to consecrate a month-long module to methodology. It seemed to us essential to offer our young teachers the didactic, pedagogical and methodological tools which they need to be able to succeed in the task confided to them. However, we must not halt there, for other construction-sites must be explored.
In view of the irregular timing of these sessions (about every four years), the distance between monasteries, limitations of finance and logistics, the SSA must continue to be a permanent tool to serve the formation of teachers in our different monasteries. Consequently it is called upon to arouse and create a real solidarity between the different members on the subject of intellectual formation. Such mutual help must consist, for example, of putting together and making available a list of teachers in our monasteries and allowing them, each in his or her particular specialisation, to work together, help one another, exchange courses and teaching material. To that end we plan to create an internet platform with the objective of offering to all our monasteries of West Africa the opportunity of consulting or visualising courses, reading or downloading a bibliography, articles and reviews with the help of the Athenaeum of Sant’ Anselmo, the AIM and other equivalent structures. In this way we can supplement the deficiencies of our libraries. Not only that. We are well aware that certain monasteries sometimes lack competent personnel on the ground for the studies of their young people in formation. It would fall to the director of the SSA and the animating team to advise superiors on the structures existing in our region which contribute to a successful integration of monastic and intellectual life. The studium of philosophy and theology at the monastery of Our Lady of Bouaké is a good illustration of this.
In fact the initiation outlined above is a process of maturing. It is dynamic, and it offers a range of possibilities which ally tradition, progress and initiative. Of course the challenges of yesterday are not those of today, but formation always remains a vital need for our communities. It is the task of SSA to adapt and respond to fresh needs of our monasteries in the matter of formation of teaching monks and nuns.