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26/02/2015

Looking back: the 7-week General Chapter of 1973

1973 with pope

Fr. Albert Bourgeois, superior general during the 1973 General Chapter, meets Pope Paul VI during the chapter delegates' audience with the Holy Father.


As the congregation prepares for the XXIII General Chapter we take a look back at the 1973 chapter. 


The Second Vatican Council and Pope Paul VI charged every religious community with the work of renewal, including updating their Constitutions or Rule of Life.  Over many years and three General Chapters, the Priests of the Sacred Heart struggled with this challenge.  Fr. André Perroux, SCJ, one of the principal authors of the current Rule of Life, spoke about his experience in an interview with Fr. Stefan Tertünte, SCJ. The interview was published in the December 2014 Dehoniana:
 
André Perroux“There was fear of a document that would be too normative and that would snuff out the dynamism of life. To start with, the word “rule” in the title horrified many delegates.  It was a fear that we would be under too much uniformity, that we would be backing an orientation that was too institutionalized, too reactionary: we would be limiting ourselves if we developed a new text.
 
“[The General Chapter of 1973] was a long Chapter, almost seven weeks.  At the beginning we did not know much where we were going to end up, we needed to get to know each other, to listen to each other.  From the beginning we were in agreement not to maintain a division between spirituality, seen in a doctrinal or abstract way, and the apostolate.  Once we were taken up with this idea of integrating spirituality and apostolate we could present our religious life in this unity.  
 
“Well, we had to have an inspiring text.  What scriptural text were we going to take that most nourished the experience of Fr. Dehon?  We took time to re-read several works by Fr. Dehon and finally we opted for Galatians 2:20: I still live my human life, but it is a life of faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me 
 
“We sought above all to re-express the spiritual aim of the Congregation as Fr. Dehon wanted by recovering certain key words like oblation, union with Christ in Eucharistic celebration and adoration, fraternal life, mission, and all of that fed by a spirit of love and of reparation or immolation. 
 
“At the end of June 1973 it was hot, very hot.  We had worked a lot, everyone was tired, and some wanted to return to their Provinces.  After dinner one evening, Fr. Dijkman said to me, ‘André, from your [contributions to the discussions] we can see that you are ready to draft the Rule of Life, at least a rough draft to submit to a vote.’  Seeing my surprise, he humorously added, ‘Do you want a bottle of Bols [Dutch liquor], or better yet a case of beer?  One or the other; it’s your choice.  Then I will accompany you to your room and you will not come out until you have written a text that brings together and completes all that we have approved up till now.’ 
 
“We laughed.  But I sensed the impatience, and also the confidence in me.  I got down to writing, taking up the paragraphs we had already approved in the general assemblies, leaving some empty spaces for what was not yet clear for me—the whole night.  Around four in the morning I had filled forty-seven long pages with writing.  Unable to sleep, I left my room to seek a little rest in the silence and fresh air of the garden.  I saw a light on the third floor, and it was Piet Adam.  I said, ‘Piet, I am going to ask for your help.  I just wrote a draft of our Rule of Life, and I do not have a typewriter, but you cannot read this because there is so much that is indecipherable, covered with erasures and abbreviations.  If I dictate it to you, can you type it?’  He did and around seven-thirty we finished.    
 
“Fr. General had the text photocopied and distributed to each Chapter member.  After weeks of work, a good part of the text was not new to them, and besides, this was only a provisional text.  During the coming years it would be very important to study, to experiment with, to critique, and to modify it.  On July 4, 1973, the text was voted on, 76 of 78 in favor.
 
“The Chapter of 1979 approved an important modification in the plan of the Rule of Life: to start with the faith experience of Fr. Dehon and with our initiation in the Gospel in the Church.  So, we tried to express the faith experience of Fr. Dehon, and how we can express and live this “spiritual aim” in and for the world.  On the whole, the Vatican gave a positive judgment and the approbation was not delayed.  We were one of the first Congregations of some importance [at that time we had more than 3,000 members] to present our new Constitutions.  Consequently, the Congregation for Religious recommended that several Congregations, mainly women’s, come and get advice from us.”
 
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