A Catholic Monthly Magazine

Becoming the Person God Intended

By Rachel Farrington

Marist Youth Leader, 2021

As a young and impressionable third former at St Bede’s College in 1966, Fr Mark Walls SM can remember Fr Bill Spillane regaling the students with stories of the St Bede’s legends -- Herb Lee’s 10 second 100 yards in 1924, Reg Warren’s unbeaten record at Inter-school sports in the 1940s, Dave Gledhill’s penalty against Xavier College in 1959. Most stirring of all, though, was the story of what would be Fr Cormac Hoben’s last words to the boarders on the night before his sudden death in 1945. An apparently impromptu, impassioned speech to the boys after their study and night prayers ended with the words, “Boys, I want you to become the best possible version of the person God created you to be.”

The memory has endured, even to the time and place of Fr Bill’s story, and the words have now been enshrined as the principle and mantra of the Young Marists’ programmes. They permeate Marist Youth Leader and Young Marist Neighbours, all the other programmes and forums and seminars that we run, and even, now, the vision and mission statements of the schools in our Network.

“We want you to become the best possible version of the person God created you to be.”

On 16 January this year, 135 students and over 20 staff members descended on Hato Pāora College, Feilding, to learn about and engage in ways of doing just that. The students come to Marist Youth Leader from all over Aotearoa; from Timaru in the South and Whangārei in the North, Hastings in the East and Whanganui in the West. They come from boys’ schools, co-ed schools and a girls’ school. They come from Māori families, Greek families, Croatian, Samoan, Filipino and Fijian families. Some are Catholic, some Ringatū, some Sikh, and some aren’t quite sure. 

During the programme, this diversity of lived experience brought to Marist Youth Leader is woven together through the process of unpacking and understanding our common foundation of ‘being Marist.’ Students are placed into community groups named after significant Marists – the likes of Colin and Chavoin, Mariu and Te Āwhitu. The stories told during the week are those of people – servant leaders – who have operated as if hidden and unknown in the world but who have had huge positive influence and impact on their communities.

Marist Youth Leader is a week-long process. After establishing these foundations and giving the students the opportunity to put them into practice, the programme builds up to the Sacrament of Reconciliation on the penultimate night of the week. Here, the students experience first-hand the profound relationship between vulnerability and servant leadership. Stepping into the arena of vulnerability allows each of us to determine with what we most need the Spirit’s help in order to become our best possible self.

So, on the final evening of Marist Youth Leader, during the Graduation Eucharist, each student is commissioned with a gift of their choosing to take with them into their year of leadership and beyond. Their palms are anointed with oil and, in front of their peers, they are sent forth to become the best possible version of the person God created them to be.

“Mikaere, take your gift of aroha and go and become the best possible version of the person God created you to be”

“Elise, take your gift of courage and go and become the best possible version of the person God created you to be”

“Sione, take your gift of servant leadership and go and become the best possible version of the person God created you to be”

Armed with these gifts they step forth into the year ahead, equipped with the knowledge that the biggest impact they can have is through the relationships they form, nurture and nourish with the people around them.

It’s made clear to the students that if we were to bump into them on a busy street in twenty years, we wouldn’t care what job they have, what suburb they live in or how much they earn. What we would really be concerned with is what kind of parent they are, what kind of boss or neighbour, what kind of coach or team member or employee. Whether they become a barrister or barista, a councillor or counsellor, a physician or physicist, a cosmologist or a cosmetologist, the central tenet of the Young Marists’ ministry is that it’s not what you do that is most important, but rather why you do it and how you are as a person.

Both Marist Youth Leader and Young Marist Neighbours, among other retreats and programmes, expose students to, and guide them in, the why of ‘being Marist’ – the how and the what is left up to them. Only then, when we are guided by our why – to act justly, love tenderly, and walk humbly with our God – are we able to become the best possible version of the person God created us to be.   


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