Breaking the Cycle of Poverty: The Marianists in India (Read More)

October 10, 2012
Breaking the Cycle of Poverty: The Marianists in India (Read More)

For more than 30 years, the Marianists have been helping some of the world’s most vulnerable people create a better life through education.

By Jan D. Dixon

In March 1979, after hours of agonizing discussions, a group of Marianists gathered for prayer in a chapel in St. Louis. The question that brought them to their knees: Was God calling them to serve in India? Mission work in other parts of the world also begged for attention, and if the answer to go to India was “yes,” it would mean an enormous financial and personal commitment. It also would require a leap of faith.

There were many reasons to say “no.” But one fact stood above the rest: India is home to one-third of the poorest people on the planet.

“Nearly half a billion people in India live in utter poverty,” says Marianist Father Jack McGrath, assistant district superior for the District of India. “Christ had a special love for the poor, the weak, the suffering. So any person who loves Christ will follow the path of helping those whom he loves — and India has hundreds of millions of them.”

On that fateful day in 1979, the Marianists made a decision: In the spirit of Mary, they would go to India as ministers to the poorest of the poor.

The tenacity of the human spirit

When the first Marianists set foot on Indian soil in 1980, they began laying the groundwork for formation programs and ministries. More than 100 native Marianist brothers and priests now serve in India, an outgrowth of those early efforts, and a variety of programs, schools and outreach ministries to assist the neediest segments of society — especially women and children — have taken hold.

The Marianists sponsor seven primary and vocational schools that mainly serve the needs of tribal groups, some of the most disenfranchised people in India. They also sponsor a parish, two skills training centers to help unemployed youth learn job skills, day care and afterschool programs for children living in the slums and self-help groups and empowerment programs for women. Three years ago, they launched a rural development project in north central India that is becoming a model for addressing issues of rural poverty (see story on page 6).

The goal of these ministries is to uplift people’s lives through education. While the Marianists have gifted India in many ways, says Marianist Brother Augustus Surin, district superior for the District of India, “the biggest gift is a quality Marianist education, one that emphasizes the dignity of the whole person and helps young people grow in self-knowledge and self-esteem.”

According to the 2011 census, India has grown to a staggering 1.2 billion people. While a surge of economic prosperity has created a growing middle class, a third of the population — 410 million people (more than the entire population of the United States) — still live on $1.25 a day or less.

Though the numbers seem overwhelming, Father Jack isn’t discouraged. “We think the Indians are capable of breaking out of this cycle of poverty with education, job skills, new competencies and a sense of their own goodness. We have witnessed this already. There is tremendous vitality in the Indian people. Though the misery is huge, the discrimination relentless, the corruption unbelievable, we are confident they can break through.”

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