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Around Mentone with Br Peter Gilfedder

Posted on 10 June 2016
Around Mentone with Br Peter Gilfedder

Br Peter Gilfedder has some truly remarkable stories to share from his over 65 years as a De La Salle Brother.

An Old Boy of De La Salle College Malvern, Br Peter is a gifted theologian, linguist and teacher educator who has spent lengthy stints in Italy, France, Papua New Guinea, Burkina Faso and the Ivory Coast.

His journey began in 1950 when he became a Brother after undertaking his novice and scholastic training in Sydney before being sent to Adelaide as one of the pioneer Brothers when St Michael's College was first established in 1954.

Br Peter's strong interest in theological studies took him to Rome in 1965 where he studied at the Jesus Magister Pontifical Institute and then to Lyons in France where he completed licentiates in theology and in religious education in 1970.

The Melbourne-born Brother believes the good language teaching by Brothers at De La Salle Malvern helped to give him a strong grounding in French and Latin which greatly enhanced his theological studies.

"The professors of theology in Europe encouraged us to read the writings of the great theologians in their first language because a lot of the meaning can be lost in translation", Br Peter explains.

In 1970, Br Peter returned to Australia where in 1971 he took up the position of first Director of the Initial Training Programme at the Oakhill Training College.

He also played a pivotal role for 10 years in teacher education during the early time of the Catholic College of Education at Castle Hill, developed by Br Ambrose Payne, which made a contribution to the formation of the Australian Catholic University.

But Br Peter singles out that some of his most rewarding years as a De La Salle Brother were spent in Papua New Guinea, where he was Principal of the Holy Trinity Teachers College (HTTC) in Mount Hagen for ten years, 1985-1994.

"In the early 1980s, the new Diocese of Kundiawa was formed around while I was at Rosary High School Kondiu and the Bishop appointed me as Catholic Education Secretary and Religious Education Coordinator for the whole diocese which was a really good preparation for HTTC", Br Peter explains.

"I came away inspired by the dedication of the teachers and the pupils, with many walking long distances to access education every day".

One of Br Peter's greatest challenges came ahead of him in the mid 1990s when the then Superior General Br John Johnston established the Mission 100 Plus program, which encouraged Brothers from around the world to volunteer in areas of greatest need. Br John requested Br Peter to travel to CELAF the African Lasallian Centre in Abidjan in the Ivory Coast where he lectured students in theology - in French - from French-speaking countries such as Rwanda, Madagascar and Congo.

"Many of the students from Rwanda were highly traumatised following the massacre that took place in the country only a few years beforehand", Br Peter said.

"But it was very rewarding there being able to see nuns and De La Salle Brothers undertaking courses a few going as far as doctorates through a Jesuit university of which CELAF was part of the Education faculty.

Br Peter returned to Rome in the late 1990s where he held the position of Executive Secretary to the Superior General of the De La Salle Brothers for nearly ten years, which included some assistance in the work of the General Chapters of 2000 and 2007.

Br Peter has seen great changes over his nearly seven decades as a De La Salle Brother and he is very optimistic about the future of the Lasallian mission in today's world.

"I marvel at the empowerment of the Lasallian partners and the way in which all the great Lasallian formation resources and writings are so much more accessible today than they were in past decades", Br Peter explains.

"This is in no small part due to the efforts of theologians like Br Gerard Rummery and Br John Cantwell who have helped engage the teachers of today with that rich and ongoing Lasallian story".

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