De La Salle Brother receives the highest honour from Pope
During a visit to Rome in June 2023, Br. Peter Bray received the Papal Cross of Honour. This is the highest honour the Pope may give to an individual, religious or lay.
Br Peter, a De La Salle Brother from the ANZPPNG District, the current Vice Chancellor of Bethlehem University in Palestine, says that his fifteen years in that position at Bethlehem University were a great gift and blessing, but the most challenging years of his life because of the complexity and unpredictability of the situation.
He said, "I feel truly blessed to have had the opportunity to work here and to have been able to experience the wonder of God's spirit at work among young people. I have never been in a place where it is so obvious that what we do is worthwhile. To see secondary school students arrive on campus and then watch some of them grow, over the course of four years, into extraordinary, confident, articulate, engaging, committed, and resourceful young people, is a great inspiration to me. When I have this experience with these young people, I can put up with all the other things that are part of being here!"
In 1973, when Israel still occupied all the Palestinian territory, the Bethlehem University was established. This institution, the only Catholic University in the Holy Land, was the first University to be officially registered in Palestine. This Catholic, De La Salle-inspired, coeducational university aims to serve the Palestinian people through education.
In an article published in 2022, Br. Peter mentioned that while the work was challenging, it was most evident that it was a worthwhile effort. He is inspired by the students who attend and for the way so many of them treasure their education.
"I spoke to one student some years ago shortly after his family home had been demolished by the Israeli military for the second time," Br. Peter recalled. "He said: 'They have taken my home, they have taken my land, they have taken my freedom but they cannot take my education!' Hearing him say that and experiencing the value he attached to the opportunity he had with Bethlehem University leads me to want to make the best possible opportunity available for our students."
Br. Peter was born on 7 November 1945 in New Plymouth, NZ. He grew up in the little town of Waitara on the west coast of the North Island, beneath the shadow of the island's most impressive mountain, Mount Taranaki.
In his extensive career and ministry as a De La Salle Brother, he has been engaged in such challenges as serving as the director of the Wellington Catholic Education Centre, in New Zealand, as a member of a Lasallian formation team, and as the head of three Catholic schools in both New Zealand and Australia. He even managed to squeeze in time to get an EdD in education from the University of San Diego.
Br. Peter has received three honorary doctorates: one from Lewis University, Chicago, Illinois, in 2013; one from St. Mary's University, Moraga, California, in 2017; and one from Australian Catholic University, Sydney, in 2023.
He has written for many scholarly and professional publications, with published works starting in 1994 and continuing until 2020.
In May 2008 Br. Peter was appointed Vice-Chancellor for a five-year term to begin in January 2009. Later, the appointment was extended to ten years and then to fifteen years, at the request of Brother Robert Schieler, the Superior General at the time.
On 31 December 2023, Br Peter’s third term will conclude. Paraguayan Brother Hector Hernán Santos González, FSC, EdD, has been chosen as Bethlehem University's ninth Vice-Chancellor. He will formally begin his new position on 1 January 2024.
The ANZPPNG District Council recently wrote to Br Peter to express appreciation for his leadership at Bethlehem University.
"In light of the recent announcement of the appointment of a new Vice Chancellor for Bethlehem University, the Brother Visitor and the District Council wish to acknowledge and affirm the faithful work you have done in your role as Vice Chancellor of Bethlehem University over 15 years. Your leadership at Bethlehem University has been an inspiration. We, as a District, are proud of you.
On your many visits back to our District over the years, where you delivered numerous presentations on Bethlehem University, many people have experienced first-hand your passion, selfless dedication and love for the people of Palestinian, especially the students entrusted to the care of our Lasallian mission there. We are well aware that you have faced setbacks and ongoing challenges in fulfilling your ministry in a complex environment. Yet you have been able to maintain equanimity amid these challenges. No doubt, it is your faith that has sustained and nourished you throughout these fifteen years.
You often quote from John 10:10, "I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it to the full." We hope that as you prepare to leave Bethlehem University that you will look back at your time there and experience a deep sense of gratitude for the blessings you have received and also an awareness of the ways in which you have been a blessing for so many people by providing them with the opportunity to live life in all its fullness.
May God continue to bless you in your important and challenging work in your remaining time at Bethlehem University, and we look forward to having you back in the District."
Br Peter said his focus now is preparing for the transition to Brother Hernán and he will leave decisions about the future until next year.