NARRAGANSETT — You’d think they were trained at the Ritz-Carlton: young men in black pants, white tuxedo shirts and black bow ties, standing with hands clasped behind their backs when they weren’t weaving expertly through the crowd to pass hors d’oeuvres or whisk plates on and off tables. It seemed they couldn’t do enough for the guests at the Christian Brothers’ Founder’s Day reception and dinner, following a Mass, at the Christian Brothers Center in Narragansett in the late afternoon of Tuesday, May 15.
But these teens were some of the 25 students at Ocean Tides School, an all-boys high school attached to the center, and all of them had been through the Rhode Island Training School for Youth to pay a debt to society for a criminal past.
The school is a fitting ministry for the Christian Brothers, known in Rhode Island for staffing La Salle Academy in Providence and St. Raphael’s Academy in Pawtucket. The order’s founder Jean-Baptiste de La Salle was dedicated to educating the troubled, at-risk youth of his own day in 17th- and 18th-century France. De La Salle made education accessible by teaching in French instead of the standard academic language, Latin, and by taking in youth “off the street,” said Brother Edmond Precourt, the center’s executive director.
But the saint didn’t just instill academics. Civil and decorous behavior were important parts of his curriculum, encapsulated in de La Salle’s book “The Rules of Christian Decorum and Civility.” He also worked to train both brothers and laypeople in teaching methods, a mission that remains today as the Christian Brothers in Rhode Island continue to train Lasallian schools’ faculty and staff in the order’s charism, Brother Precourt said.
De La Salle died on Good Friday, 1719, was canonized in 1900 and named as a patron saint of teachers of youth on May 15, 1950.
The center, founded in 1959 as a center for the training of Christian Brothers novices, is now a retirement center for about 16 brothers.
“It’s a very vibrant place,” Brother Precourt said. “There’s always something going on.”
This not only includes the school but the many events that take place at the center, including group or individual retreats at the Center for Retreat and Education on nearby Noble Street and fully-catered conferences or private parties in the main center’s Great Room, which can accommodate 150 people. Guests can also visit the 120-seat Chapel of Our Lady of the Star.
Members of the Christian Brothers order also continue to come to the center for reflection or retreat time, Brother Precourt said.
Students enrolled at Ocean Tides’ culinary institute do the food prep for all events, supervised by three chefs who are graduates of Johnson & Wales University’s culinary program. The young men also made the hors d’oeuvres for the Founder’s Day evening – and they were heavenly.
Ocean Tides is presently the center’s main ministry. Though no Christian Brothers are on the faculty, Brother James Martino has been the school’s president for the past three years and other brothers assist with administrative duties part-time.
Students live at the Christian Brothers Center and work in the dining hall. Their interactions with the brothers in residence is the key difference between Ocean Tides and other programs or institutions for at-risk youth, Brother Martino said.
“This is home to a bunch of people who live here with the kids,” he said. “How different would a hospital be if the nurses lived there?”
He added that Ocean Tides students pull out chairs for the brothers, help with the retired men’s walkers, hear “please” and “thank you” and are praised for their work — all new to the young men’s experience.
“The interaction with the brothers in the community is key,” said Brother Precourt. “The respect they demonstrate to the brothers is very, very significant.”
The teens are paid for their work, develop job skills and responsible independence and find a newfound sense of pride in their achievements, Brother Martino said.
He added that about 80 percent of the young men who go through the Ocean Tides program do not relapse into criminal behavior.
To learn more about the center and its work, call (401) 789-0244 or visit dlcb.org.