[If the following text seems a tad stilted, I apologize in advance. I translated it hurriedly from the original Spanish at the blog I write for the translated version of my autobiography]
On the first of April the Irish Institute in Mexico City celebrated its 45th anniversary with a gala dinner in Mexico City.
I landed in Mexico in December 1966 to start the new school with Marcial Maciel, Fr. John Walsh and Fr.. Juan Manuel Fernandez Amenabar (RIP). I served as "prefect of discipline" of the primary section for about six years. Shortly after, David Hennessey, another Irish Legionary joined us. Later, I returned from Rome to manage the Institute when Fr Amenabar became seriously ill. Those years were very important in my life – it’s when I fell in love with Mexico, made a lot of great friends and when my work was a source of great personal satisfaction. Throughout my time in Mexico, I was never able to return to Ireland for a family visit. In those days, one’s fellow Legionaries became one’s “family”. Indeed during my 20 years in the Legion I spent less than a sum total of 20 days with my biological family.
I dedicated quite a few pages of my autobiography "Driving Straight on Crooked Lines: How an Irishman found his heart and almost lost his mind" to the founding of the Irish Institutes of Mexico City and Monterrey.
Fr John Walsh, LC, my colleague for 10 years at the Irish Institute (we shared a room at the Legionaries house on Fuente de Flores # 19, in Tecamachalco), blessed the food at the gala dinner. He said, "Friendship is an important link .... For me personally, on this anniversary it was very important to return to the school."
Fr Vincent McMahon, LC, who was prefect of discipline in 1968, was also a colleague and friend. He is currently a well-liked pastor and spiritual director of a diocesan seminary in Holland. Fr Vincent said, "Revisiting the place where I worked after 45 years is always an event. Meeting again with colleagues and friends is a special blessing from God. The Irish Institute was the Legion’s second school, and the first of its kind: an original and revolutionary educational concept. It is a source of great comfort and heartfelt gratitude to see the classrooms full, the enthusiastic young people, the professional team of teachers and staff. The Irish Institute is a Catholic school. The reason it exists, is to transmit Gospel values, to facilitate each student’s personal encounter with Christ. This has been the motivation of all who have worked here, and therein is the greatness of the Institute "
I believe that some 600 people attended the dinner. Among them were alumni, students, staff, employees, teachers and directors who have gone through the school. Many of them traveled from Spain, the United States and various parts of Mexico to attend the event. Juan Musi, a graduate from the class of 1992 and President of the Alumni Society, and others made speeches. Fr Joel Lopez Torres, LC, current director of the school (since 2009), said the "Irish Institute is not just a school, it is a lifestyle, we are one big family and that's what makes us a very special school."
The three Legionary priests referred to friendship, reunion with colleagues, and the large “family” that is the school community. Reading the Legionaries remarks I found myself reminiscing about my time at that particular school. I was a faithful Legionary of Christ for 20 years. My experience in the Irish Institute was perhaps the most important in my life. I was just 20 years old when I was assigned to start the school. There I met Fr Alvaro Corcuera (currently Director General of the Legionaries) when he began his studies in elementary school. Contributing to the beginnings of this important Legionary school and then coming back to reorganize it (after Fr. Amenabar became ill), marked a very important time in my life and in many ways affected my future.
Even though it came as no surprise, not being invited to the event provoked a certain feeling of nostalgia bordering on sadness. I was in Mexico on business at the time and could have easily attended. Just before the event, coincidentally I met another former Irish Legionary, also founder of the school - David Hennessey, who was the first prefect of studies. I thought how nice it would have been if we had received an invitation to participate. What great memories we could have shared!
Why do I mention all this? Why does it matter that we are not invited?
The Legionaries of Christ are in a reform process under the guidance of the Vatican, following the revelations of the scandalous life of Marcial Maciel, the founder of the congregation. Part of the "legacy" of the founder is that Legionaries could not trust each other. We could never be "friends." Those of us who eventually left the congregation - an extremely painful process – following the dictates of our conscience, became, "traitors" in the eyes of our fellow Legionnaires. Maybe it was not said overtly, but that was the harsh reality. Brothers for 20 years, then discarded in the dustbin of history and deleted from the collective memory the morning after leaving the congregation. Such treatment is not fair, nor charitable, nor Christian. Meanwhile, the Legionaries lost a great treasure in human capital.
The past is past. However, if the Legionaries of Christ really want to discover their charism - which according to the same Maciel was based entirely on the virtue of charity - I suggest they should make a major effort to reconnect with their many ex-brothers who for one reason or another left the congregation. What better way to repudiate the dysfunctional aspects of the methodology of the founder – reuniting, acknowledging, and thanking those who were their companions, our “family”. Young Legionaries, like the current director of the Irish Institute, Fr. Joel Lopez, see further mounted on the shoulders of the many "giants" who preceded them. The more "mature" (old!) men such as John Walsh and Vincent McMahon, if they were honest and sensitive enough to admit it, must realize they miss their former colleagues who shared the same adventures, training, and prayers.
It could be a very enriching experience for all be able to come together again and exchange ideas. It's almost hard to believe that such a "modern" congregation would not have an "alumni association". The Legionaries would receive great benefits. The alumni would have opportunities for networking, discovering business opportunities and for those that are married, the chance to introduce their new families (spouses and children). Beyond these simple human motivations, the Legionaries would offer a tangible sign that they reject the "old" ways and are willing to demonstrate genuine commitment to reform.
If they were to act graciously and sincerely the many former Legionaries might feel appreciated, respected by their former "family." A lot of Legionaries would feel less guilty. Perhaps we all might even experience true charity, something we did not have much opportunity to practice following the old methodology. I am not "holding my breath" but I live in hope!