Boyology Chapter 2: Andre Coindre
Andre Coindre, the dynamic young French priest who founded the Brothers of the Sacred Heart in 1821, was a widely-sought preacher of parish missions organized to restore Christian family life and Catholic education in France after the chaos of the French revolution. The handwritten notes of his sermons include talks he gave to parents about how to form their children to Christian values which had been lost because of the secularization of society.
The following excerpts from his talks to parents show his preoccupation with forming boys. He saw that numerous congregations of religious sisters had already taken the girls under their care in schools and convents, but that boys were being neglected, if not rejected outright, because of their aggressiveness. Andre Coindre founded the Brothers of the Sacred Heart expressly to reach out to boys.
The following principles of “boyology,” which became a trademark of a St. Stanislaus education, come directly from the founder, who broadcast them during parish missions between 1818 and 1825 with his characteristic booming voice and flair for the dramatic. To appreciate these original elements of “boyology,” we have to imagine them being delivered in the pre-radio age, with great oratory skill in a 19th century church lit by torches and candle light and packed, sometimes to the point of overflow, with parents gathered outside the windows to hear how to teach, and to reach out to, their sons.
The curiosity of young boys is all the more active because their knowledge is so limited. They notice everything you do and say; they observe everything, and even guess things that are only half expressed. They are young, so everything they hear makes an impression, engraving in their minds and hearts deep traces that can almost never be erased, like new pottery which retains for a long time the odor of the first liquid poured into it. You are responsible for what is poured into their imagination.
2.3 Mind to heart
The minds of boys carry for life the imprint of the earliest maxims which you repeat to them. Such teachings will develop and strengthen only if they become deeply rooted over time, eventually passing from memory into the heart, and from there to behavior through practice and habit, eventually becoming second nature.
2.3 Product of adults
It is from adults and from adult speech that our young people have learned the very things of which they ought to have remained ignorant throughout their lives. It is through the contagion of adult scandals that they imitate models of immorality even before knowing what vice is. It is the society adults have created that heaps on them things fit only to tickle their passions and feed their self-interest.
2.4 Three questions
Are you leaving your boys on their own? Attention, they will make you pay dearly for your negligence. Are you without goodness or tenderness towards them? Then they will show neither love nor trust towards you. Are you indulging them with too much familiarity? They will ridicule you and will not honor you with admiration or respect. Are you too severe? They will gnaw impatiently at their chain, pining only for the moment of their liberation.
2.5 Three extremes
Are you treating your sons with leniency which dares neither to reprimand nor punish? They will exercise mastery over you. Are you allowing them free reign? They will become your disgrace and your torment without allowing you to express your pain. Are you frustrating them by rigid inflexibility that never turns a blind eye or offers forgiveness? You will make them impetuous and angry with a constant chip on their shoulders because you are always poised to accuse them.
Do you want the satisfaction of your sons’ becoming the happiness of your old age? Study their tendencies, accept their personalities, and maintain a reasonable temper in your corrections as in your rewards, in your reprimands as in your embraces. Restrain their hot-headed and impetuous spirits, but do not make them bitter. Be tolerant of their slowness and tardiness, but never so far as to encourage idleness and laziness. Humble their pride and haughtiness, but do not cause them to be humiliated. Control their rebellious or indocile heart, but take care not to inspire in them a habit of childish timidity.
2.7 The importance of good educators
I cannot today do better than encourage parents and enlightened teachers who spare no effort in their task of cultivating the minds of our youth and giving both to science and to literature the broadest and most brilliant scope possible. Let educators teach that the most promising future awaits the enlightened and instructed man. Let them show youth what a well-formed man looks like, as modeled in the priesthood, the military, and above all in the highest posts of government and commerce.
Religion must be taught to children. You are ready to provide them with dancing teachers; you stock their memories with fanciful tales from ancient paganism, as though Jesus Christ will ask you one day whether you have made your offspring into good dancers, accomplished poets or gifted orators. Teach the Christian mysteries, warn them against the discourses of unbelievers. Show them Jesus Christ, the expected one of the Old Testament, who reigns now in the New: that is a teaching rooted in historical fact. Relying on facts, give them an attractive, loveable, and noble idea of religion instead of a sad and dreary one.
Do not hesitate to show more appreciation to your children who are virtuous; you should applaud and encourage their good qualities by concrete signs of approval. This is a means of motivating them to greater goodness. Cherish your virtuous children in order to incite those who are not virtuous to become so; but never cause jealousies.
Be wary of flattering excessively their qualities which are purely gratuitous gifts of nature; never hold in disdain the son or daughter whom the Lord has in his wisdom deprived of grace and beautiful features. What is deserving of praise is goodness of heart and not the fragile beauty which far too often tends to engender undue pride.
2.10 Activity and work
Do not leave your children a prey to destructive idleness. See to it that, even from their early years, their time is occupied by some kind of learning or by chores adapted to their age. Motivate them to work with rewards and the enjoyment of play. By these means they will with time avoid the habit of idleness and fulfill with dignity the various duties to which Providence might call them. But do not overburden them with jobs beyond their capacity; this would exhaust and dampen their spirits by undermining their physical health. Alternate their chores with times of recreation to encourage them, for recreation provides wholesome opportunities for exercise and activity.
2.11 Avoid fanning boys’ passions
What are the passions that today’s parents typically fan in boys? Is it not pride? Today’s parents typically hold up to boys those careers that pursue exalted status and those that lead to triumph and wealth, as being the most deserving of their sons’ efforts. Parents today teach boys that they should treat any slight against their honor as a personal insult which must be repaid by punishment and eternal revenge.
2.12 Avoid fanning girls’ passions
What are the passions that today’s parents tend to arouse in girls? Is it not sensuality? Many misguided mothers are skilled in schooling their daughters in the dangerous art of pleasing men; with their own hands they guide their daughters on the path of vanity; they teach them the thousand ploys unknown to girls of tender years; they speak to them only of the advantages of beauty; these mothers even go so far as to introduce their innocent daughters to places they can never enter without having their hearts broken.