An inspirational Youth Leadership Programme started by Fr Mark Walls SM
Marist Youth Leader
- How and when did the retreat originate?
Actually, the motivating factor in writing the programme came from a conversation I was having at St Bede’s with Justin Boyle in early 2002. We were bemoaning the fact that we (he as the new Rector and I as the new Chaplain) had inherited a bunch of nice young men as school leaders who had no idea what leadership was about. I mentioned that I had been thinking about writing a leadership training programme that might involve students from all the Marist schools. Justin immediately leapt on the idea and proclaimed that we would have the first one in December of that year, so I’d better get going and write it! I did so over the next few months, and I presented the first MYL in December 2002.
- What is the format and purpose?
MYL is a week-long residential programme. It follows a process, and involves input from the leadership team, reflection time, interaction using various group dynamics, and then practise at putting the learning into action. The participants work mainly in designated groups. It’s pretty intense --- 7.20am start each day with Mass, and the last activity of the day finishes about 10.30pm. The leadership team is made up of ten young adults (usually university students) and myself. Our training and preparation are on-going throughout the year.
The purpose of MYL is training for leadership, immediately for the last year at school, but really in the long term for life. The programme itself gives the participants a solid framework for personal management, leadership and teamwork, as well as some good experiences of youth-relevant liturgy, and a variety of indoor and outdoor activities. There is a strong emphasis on learning, but there is also a huge amount of fun.
- How many schools/ students are offered this opportunity?
There are nine schools involved – all the schools in which Marist Fathers taught over the years, as well as Marist College in Auckland, a Marist Sisters' school. Usually there are between 130 and 140 students and between 20 and 40 staff. We present MYL to our Australian schools each year (none last year because of Covid) as well and that’s another 90 students. We have also done the programme in Fiji and the United States. Over 4000 students have participated over twenty years.
- What are the highlights for you and what is your role?
The main highlight is the students themselves. They are always so motivated to do a good job and so positive. There’s some apprehension to begin with, but MYL is a process and it is great, as the week goes on, watching the penny drop as the students “get” what real leadership is about. My other highlight is the young leadership team that presents the programme. The members are so committed, so competent, and so determined to model what they are teaching. They are an inspiration to me.
- What are the main student benefits in your opinion?
The biggest benefit is that the students learn the real meaning and practice of servant-leadership. Leadership is not about lots of noise and big personalities and domination, but rather it’s about the Gospel, about serving those we are called to lead, about taking social justice seriously in daily life, and essentially turning the kingdom of niceness into the Kingdom of God. Our schools are all nice --- and the real challenge is to move from appearance to principle. I think the students eventually make that move, at least intellectually, but the schools then have the challenge to help them do it practically.
- What date did it occur this year and where was it held?
Every year now MYL is held on the same dates, 16-22 January. It used to be held at St Bede’s until the earthquakes made that impossible, and then we moved to Hato Pāora College just out of Feilding. The programme sits very comfortably amidst the Māori culture, and the cross-cultural experience for the students is a huge attraction as well.