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SIESC over half a century


You cannot report on half a century in a few pages. A number of problems and issues have left their mark on those years. With SIESC we have lived through them fairly pragmatically, never bothering to develop a theory of them, or keep by ourselves for ready use enough matter for a history, the records being regularly deposited at the library of Nymegen university. My purpose is to deal with those years in such a way that there may emerge a better view of the identity and originality of our international secretariat and its evolution towards a European association in a Europe so different from the mid-fifties.


1.1. At the origin of SIESC in 1955, behind the unassuming small events which Jan NUCHELMANS recalls, ten years after the end of the Second World War, two major questions were still harboured by the protagonists, so evident that they were never made explicit. How rebuild a world and, at closest range with us, a humane and pacified Europe? How live our Christian faith in faithfulness to a Catholic Church rooted in a society of a new type ? Those are the two axes upon which the building up of Europe is still under way and the aggiornamento of Vatican II Council is still to be lived up to and implemented : the twofold backcloth of the history of SIESC.

1.2. Reading the catalogue of the themes of the earliest international meetings (organized in summer since 1957), and their remembrance with a few of us make it quite clear that for the founders the way had not been laid out in advance but was in a joint effort to be opened. What mattered essentially was the encounter of those who might have been fighting a while ago and were able and had to share a vision of the future in their professional commitment as secondary school teachers, and the practice of their Catholic faith. Incidentally the word "encounter" is still the one that designates the major midsummer event in SIESC's life. It was essential, too, that there should be no duplication of what already existed in the field of the profession and trade unions, and that a common position was to be found where faith and life could most aptly articulate for us.

It was therefore around the "spiritual life" of the teachers that the Encounters got organised, a spiritual life closely embodied in the master-pupil relationship, in the shared participation in a classical culture considered then as common. An option which also made it possible not to overemphasize differences in the status of the curricula and the differences in the sets of problems and mentalities of the teachers of the member countries, whether they belonged to a state or a private school, to a secular or confessional establishment, with the manifold combinations of such terms stemming from the history of the Church and State relationships, different and often conflicting.

1.3. Parallel to that, another question was set: the connecting up of that modest liaison committee, so deeply relevant and perspicuous, to a wider ensemble which would make it more meaningful.

The first attempt, apparently self-evident, was a rapprochement with UMEC (the World Union of Catholic Teachers). But that meant for people involved in a new situation staying within the narrow orbit of the school and adhering to an understanding of teaching and the place of Catholic teachers still too imbued with the spirit of the Encyclical "Divini illius magistri", innovating in its time (1929) but no longer providing adequate answers to post-war issues. The predominance of Catholic schools in the Union made the situation hard to live with for members from State schools, notably French and Italian.

The second attempt was the right one: the rapprochement with the Mouvement International des Intellectuels Catholiques, better known under its foundation name Pax Romana (hence Pax Romana-MIIC as its present denomination). Pax Romana was then a world-wide association of considerable importance in post-war Europe and the phases of decolonisation. It had been created after the First World War by "intellectuals", that is members of the professions at University level and high-ranking officials. Secondary school teachers with a concern for the future of their pupils found there the world that would be that of the pupils they were forming. In 1959 the liaison committee, called International Secretariat of Catholic Secondary School Teachers became, while keeping full autonomy and restricting itself to Europe, one specialised Secretariat of Pax Romana alongside the other professional secretariats of lawyers, scientists, engineers and artists. SIESC thus entered the OIC (ICO)'s , the International Catholic Organisations entitled to have access to the major international authorities and it was able to put a good show there.


2.1. From then on SIESC's activities have centred round its Council who meets twice a year in autumn and at the time of the Summer Encounter, and its executive Board. Both were later on defined by a 1978 Convention between member associations and since 1994 by association statutes under French law, for lack of association statutes under European law. The national member associations choose their delegates who together constitute the Council; the Council elects from among its members its executive Board consisting of a male or female president, two vice-presidents, a male or female general secretary, a male or female treasurer. The honorary presidents, former presidents or vice-presidents, are invited to sit with the Board, not for the sake of honour but in order to be of service in the reflection and out of a sense of continuity; the sub-editor of SIESC-TODAY bulletin does, as a matter of course, sit with the board. The whole life of SIESC finds imaginative support and implementation with the Council in a corporate endeavour of the latter, not always devoid of tensions, but finally generous, fraternal and efficient.

2.2. The most public activity is the Summer Encounter set in close proximity with the last week of July, the only time when all European teachers are on holiday. It is organised every year in one of the countries of the member associations. The themes are chosen by the organisers in partnership with the Council. It is worthwhile looking through the list; it points to the successive matters of interest that reflect both the particular sensitivities of the organizing countries and those of the associations as a whole.

These last years the summer Encounters have brought together about a hundred colleagues from 12 to 15 different countries of Western, Southern, Central and Eastern Europe. Participation reached an exceptional peak at Innsbruck in 1989, with 228 participants.

One of the permanent difficulties is the languages. Originally two official languages were sufficient: French and German. During the encounters the language of the hosting country comes in addition. English is more used by those who understand neither French nor German. Whenever possible during the meeting, written translations are distributed; otherwise one has to go through several oral translations: a test of patience, also a recognition of the cultural plurality constitutive of Europe, which we mean to preserve while extending our grateful thanks to our colleagues interpreters and translators.

But that difficulty once under control does not hinder convivial intercourse. The interest of the summer meetings, along with the lectures, lies in the extreme freedom of communication among participants, not only within the international multilingual work groups, but also in moments of happy convivial relaxation. It is at such moments that networks of relationships materialise and see to keeping themselves in good condition. Through them grows a sense of international responsibility and of the responsibility of teachers towards the future. SIESC's way of acting is not that of lobbies and declarations of principle, but consists in the formation of men and women active, where they live, in their own country and at a European level, in the field of international institutions and education.

2.3. In order to be active on the international plane, the SIESC Council as such intervenes in the international life. Its way of intervention assumes the form of written statements, of answers to inquiries and of a direct participation of some of its members in the life of international bodies within the framework of the International Catholic Organisations. The ICO's put up a good show in international life but our participation remains limited on account of the fact that an active presence requires the kind of energy and alertness we cannot afford.

SIESC, in the capacity of a member of Pax Romana-MIIC, had a share in the works of the extra-parliamentary commissions of the Council of Europe on educational issues; it contributed to Jacques DELORS' White Paper on "Education is a treasure". It actively attended the Pax Romana-MIIC assemblies and work groups and through its reports contributed to the common tasks.

It is within the framework of the ICO’s of teachers that SIESC has supplied and is supplying its largest contribution. SIESC there meets 4 other international organisations: the International Federation of Catholic Universities (FIUC/IFCU), the International Office of Catholic Education (OIEC/IOCE), the World Union of Catholic Teachers (UMEC/WUCT) and the JEC international. Jan NUCHELMANS who, at one time, was president of the work group of the teachers' ICO's wrote a memoir on those ICO's in 1997. Worth noticing there is the part assumed by SIESC, notably at a seminar organised at Délémont, Switzerland, in 1997 and presided over by Jan NUCHELMANS on "Religious formation in schools".

SIESC is still an active member of those ICO's and, among the shifting presidencies, assumed, some years ago, the presidency of the work group.

2.4. In order to account for SIESC's activities, a bulletin was created in 1988 by the then Secretary General Susanne ZEITZ-KAMMERER. Bilingual (Franco-German) at first, the bulletin has run into three editions: French with SIESC-ACTUEL, German with SIESC-AKTUELL, and English with SIESC-TODAY. The subediting is ensured by Agnès ROSE, the page-setting, printing and dispatching being carried out by French colleagues. The bulletin and its two yearly numbers report on the activities of member associations, whether associated or invited, account for the international activities SIESC took part in, not forgetting its own activities, notably through an account in its January number of the previous Summer Encounter. A two-year subscription is included in one's enrolment for the Summer Encounter and individual subscriptions add up to the public of the sendees along with the associations and international bodies the bulletin is sent to.


3. Today SIESC, like any living body always on the verge of imbalance and always recovering a balance in a moving world, has to cope with several challenges. Making a "living together" possible, although no simple achievement, is not enough. A future is to be provided for.

3.1. SIESC is deeply involved in the challenge set to our associations of Catholic teachers which constitute its membership. Associations are known to be mortal and in order to go on living, they need to adapt or even transform themselves, the life of associations, teaching and the forms of Catholicism being, the three of them, unstable.

Originally, that is in the decade that still had roots in pre-war times, a certain number of associations in Western Europe had a twofold objective: be at once an association with direct intervention upon professional activities and an association devoted to the intellectual and spiritual support and encouragement of its members. Several of them did not persist in this twofold function, and the professional and trade-unionist function has been alone maintained; such was the case with one Belgian association, also with the founding Dutch association. Only two major associations still hold to day this twofold function: VCL, an Austrian association, and UCIIM, an Italian association.

Most associations have difficulty in renewing their membership. Generations, on the one hand, are modifying their forms of behaviour at an increasingly swift rate; associations grow old without any renewal of their membership and people to day willingly pass from participation in an association to another with different interests. Our associations, on the other hand, are not immune against the crisis of Catholicism and the erosion of its groups.

According to the countries, situations and degrees of vitality vary. The Catalan association of the Graduadas de Barcelona failing to renew its membership has decided to put an end to its activities. The male German association of the Philologengilde in consequence of tensions with the episcopate has been dissolved. The small Luxemburgian association saw its membership plummeting. The regional organisation in Autonomies for Spain and dioceses for Portugal did not permit the creation of national associations or of an association for the Iberian Peninsula. The dynamism of the French Paroisse Universitaire springs more from its retired than from its active members. The Italian UCIIM has noticed a sharp decrease in the number of its members, etc...

Lastly in the second half of the 20th century and beginning of the 21st, education itself has been in a state of permanent crisis; reforms and projects of reform follow upon one another as do governments, while teachers lose the sense of their mission and their esprit de corps.

SIESC has gone its own way, not anguished and assuming the twofold crisis of Church and School. It has chiefly been borne along by the international and European state of affairs and by the contribution of the countries of Central and Eastern Europe as they emerged from Soviet communism.

3.2. The second challenge and big chance for SIESC is the arrival of colleagues from the so-called East. Already before the fall of the "Iron Curtain", contacts had been made with Polish people, chaplains more often than teachers. It was at Fulda in 1991 that colleagues from the former Communist countries were at the heart of the Encounter, at first Poles, Rumanians and Slovenes; they had been invited through the Pax Romana-MIIC network and the interviews they had with Gabriele PEUS, then president of SIESC. An impressive warm-hearted meeting. Later came Slovaks, Ukrainians , Croatians and Albanians.

The point was to find a way to associate the colleagues of the East and the nascent or renascent associations to SIESC's activities, to the Council and its activities and to the meetings organised since 1995 in the East (Usti nad Labem, Czech Republic), now in the West. But on either side due consideration had to be taken of their respective histories before and after the Second World War, together with the cultural and economic situations.

3.2.1. The main difficulty was and is the differences in the level of resources. The cost of our encounters, including travelling expenses and accommodation, which certain of our western colleagues already find too high , is beyond proportion with the salaries of the new European countries. There was no other solution than share expenses by having Western colleagues shoulder a percentage of the travelling expenses and accommodation, limited external subsidies coming into account only in a few special cases. In view of the economic level of the different countries, we at the Council jointly determine the rate of assistance and the number of subsidised colleagues per country.

But that economic difficulty is fundamentally of lesser consequence than the difficulty arising from the condition of the social tissue after decades when people lived without being able to implement their initiatives and exercise their social responsibility, without being able to trust the others, having to live under political and administrative supervision and the control of the police: the difficulty to learn associative activities afresh. There was also the need to think over a new form of education that would no longer be that of the past years, while school books remained the same, mentalities were slowly evolving and administrative practices therefore were dying long: the difficulty therefore to restore a system of education. And in the Church, after the persecution, the point was to avoid dreaming of a pre-war bygone state of affairs when the Church did in most cases enjoy a privileged or even dominant social position, but to set about implementing the aggiornamento initiated in the West by Vatican II Council in view of a Church strong for being poor and a servant. Formidable tasks, lived through in a slightly different way in each country, that no one could carry out in the place of others, but which demanded solidarity from us all.

3.2.3. Colleagues from the East were at first invited almost on an individual basis; the problem to solve was their entrance into SIESC with their associations, in the respect of the projects of the ones and the others. The Council decided that alongside member associations there would be room for purely associated associations, less committed to SIESC's associative activities and being therefore able to ascertain whether joining SIESC fitted their expectations. The Council also decided to admit members on an individual basis for those in the West and the East alike, who cannot participate in SIESC's activities through the medium of an association. And the Encounters are always open to those who wish to come, whether invited by the Council or by other participants.

Very soon Slovene and Czech associations materialised and have become members of SIESC. So far Slovakia's complex situation has not made possible a regular working cooperation. In Rumania the colleagues who come to SIESC are teachers belonging to the great association of Greco-Catholics united to Rome, the AGRU; as they constitute a teachers' union within this association, the Council has admitted the teachers' union as a member of SIESC, and for all the difficulties proper to Rumania, a close cooperation is developing. In Hungary where colleagues remarkably organised the 1998 Alsopahok Encounter, it has not been possible to bring to its completion a project of association that could result in a SIESC membership, but personal relationships and invitations continue to be friendly. In Ukraine, relationships with the teachers of the Greco-Catholic association OBNOVA are desultory. Recently the teachers' union within the Club of Polish Intellectuals, the KIK, with whom we have a long-standing relationship, has become a member of SIESC. So has the young Croatian association.

3.2.4. For the first time last year in Prague another problem has unmistakably arisen: the problem of cultural, political and religious sensibilities at variance with one another within an enlarged Europe. At Fulda in 1991 a Rumanian lady of mature experience , Viorica LASCU, had told us that it would be only in ten years' time that real problems among Europeans would become manifest, once the former Communist countries had recovered full autonomy. It was manifest on a political plane with Poland's position towards Europe and the USA over the Iraq war; it is also manifest with the text of the European Constitution and its Preamble. It became manifest to our ears in Prague with two contradictory interventions from two Czech members regarding the place of the State and the family in the School (see report of the Encounter in SIESC-TODAY n°33). It is when dialogue grows difficult that it becomes truly necessary and has to be loyally opened. As a matter of fact, it is well known that the burden of history as it was felt and experienced grows heavier with the years: it is on this point that dialogue should decisively bear .


If the foundations on which SIESC rests stay firm, its task is not finished. It behoves the persons in charge and all those who help SIESC develop in the various countries to go on placing it to the service of the world and the Church of the 21st century, humbly in its own proper position.

Here terms need adjusting: the words "International Secretariat of Secondary School Teachers" do no longer sound as dynamic as they used to 50 or 40 years ago. We keep the known initials SIESC and have them followed by "European Federation of Christian Teachers". So, without losing our identity, our designation becomes more legible and accurate. Our participants are not merely secondary school colleagues; Protestant, and perhaps some day Orthodox teachers, can find themselves more at ease in an association whose name expresses ecumenical openness; and non-Christians can better understand us under a not so strictly denominational epithet.