Life, leadership, and La Salle
The head of the Lasallian Christian Brothers for eight years, Brother Robert Schieler, ’72, FSC, Ed.D., discusses how his life led him to 20th and Olney, the classroom, and around the globe.
Brother Robert (Bob) Schieler, ’72, FSC, Ed.D., never thought of himself as a leader. Life, and those around him, had other plans.
In fact, Br. Bob has held leadership roles for nearly a half-century— punctuated most notably and most recently by his eight-year tenure as the Superior General of the Institute of the Brothers of the Christian Schools. From May 2014 through May 2022, he led the largest order of religious Brothers in the Catholic Church dedicated to education.
“I loved teaching. I loved the classroom. I assumed that’s where I would be for the rest of my life,” said Br. Bob. “Others saw in me what I did not, and I took on leadership capacities as a Brother. I never would have organized my life in this way. Like all young people, I wanted to be part of something larger than myself. Once called to leadership, I committed my life to my belief in shared leadership, accessibility, listening to others’ voices, reminding myself of my limitations, and seeking out the opinions of those around me.”
In July, just two months after celebrating his 72nd birthday, he returned to the United States and the Lasallian District of Eastern North America (DENA), where he is enjoying a sabbatical. In November, he received the Brother John Johnston, FSC, Award from the Lasallian Education Council for his significant contributions to the Lasallian mission. Br. Bob accepted the award at the Huether Lasallian Conference in Baltimore.
After his highest-profile assignment as a Brother of the Christian Schools, Br. Bob discussed his upbringing, his Lasallian education, and the outlook for the Institute moving forward:
Philadelphia roots. “I grew up in Southwest Philadelphia. I’m one of seven children: five boys, two girls. I’m the oldest, and the only one who is unmarried.”
His education. “I attended West Catholic High School before joining the Brothers and attending La Salle. I graduated with my bachelor’s degree in modern European history in 1972. I earned my master’s from Notre Dame University in the same discipline in 1975 and a doctorate from the University of Pennsylvania in 1988 in educational administration. I went on to other institutions, yes, but it’s important to note that I live and die with the Blue and Gold of La Salle.”
On leadership. “When you live in community, as I’ve done with the Brothers, people recognize gifts that you don’t see in yourself. I did not aspire to serve as Superior General. In fact, I didn’t think I had the aptitude or gifts for this role. I am happy to have served the global Lasallian family in this way, and I am happy to pass the torch to another. The nice thing about the Brothers—this vocation is not a one-way street.”
On his alma mater. “La Salle has a good reputation globally. It provided me with a broad education that prepares you to lead. I’ll offer an example: When I served on the Board of Trustees in the 1990s and early 2000s, we had a retreat where we discussed La Salle’s impact on our lives. Fellow Trustees would share stories of how they or others would work with Ivy League graduates and later come to supervise them professionally. La Salle emphasized speaking, writing, and articulation as incredibly powerful skills that can—and will—shape your life.”
On the Lasallian charism. “A charism is a gift of the Holy Spirit for the needs of the Church and the world. The Lasallian charism, first given to De La Salle and the Brothers, is now shared with thousands of women and men educators. You don’t need to be a Brother to be moved by the Spirit. The Lasallian charism has been enriched by the vocation of thousands of women and men educators.”
The future of the Christian Brothers. “The Institute is positioned well moving forward. The number of Brothers remains the work of the Spirit. When La Salle died after 40 years of work, he had 100 brothers across France—and yet we’re still here. The French Revolution nearly wiped out our order, then at the beginning of the 20th century, anticlerical laws in France forbade the Brothers from teaching as members of a religious congregation. Yet, today we are spread throughout the world. As an institute, we recognize the vocation of education. You don’t have to be a priest, brother, or sister to have a vocation. This charism, the Spirit, the foundation of Saint John Baptist de La Salle, it’s not limited to the Brothers. We believe what La Salle envisioned for educational pedagogy is easily transmissible to others. We have thousands of vocations around the world. There are people at La Salle University who see their work as a vocation in the Lasallian tradition, and rightfully so, as it’s inspired by his educational pedagogy and his vision. That happens across the globe.”
Next steps. “I don’t know what’s next. I have great support from my local superior, (University Trustee and DENA Brother Visitor) Br. Bob Schaefer, ’89, FSC. He has given me the freedom, following extensive work at an international level, to decide later what comes next. Until then, I am blessed to be here and in this moment.”
—Christopher A. Vito