Out of Africa
High school principal is part of an international group planning Marist conclave
by By Joseph Passantino
Reporter staff writer
Feb 12, 2014 | 1086 views | 0 0 comments | 2 2 recommendations | email to a friend | print
A CHANGE OF CLOTHES – Marist High School Principal Alice Miesnik dressed in sync with associates during a work session in Nairobi.
A CHANGE OF CLOTHES – Marist High School Principal Alice Miesnik dressed in sync with associates during a work session in Nairobi.
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The future of the Marist Brothers religious order and those they preach to will be shaped in part by the high school principal who has an office right on Kennedy Boulevard in Bayonne.

Marist High School Principal Alice Miesnik is one of the key players planning the Second Marist International Mission on Sept. 17 to 27 in Nairobi, Kenya, and she’s having a great time doing it, having to attend meetings in Nairobi in October and soon in Rome.

The assembly was first held in Mendes, Brazil, in 2007, and had the theme “One Heart, One Mission.”

This conference has an even broader perspective both in scope and in audience.

“The focus is on the internationalism of the community,” said Miesnik. “Seven years ago they decided to extend it to lay people, and get input into the situation from all the constituents, not just the brothers.”

“Right now we’re in the local phase,” she said. “Each Marist location is going through reflections, celebrations, and discussions on the themes of Marist spirituality.”

The event is an important one because ideas and direction coming out of the conference can affect millions, with the Marist Order having a presence in 79 countries.

While only 150 Marist representatives will attend, the trickle-down effect will be immense.

“These 150 are representatives of a very large group,” Miesnik said. “And they’re all anticipating the event itself.”

The principal’s role? She’s the go-to person for “boots on the ground” planning.

“It’s kind of like logistics, what I’m involved with,” she said. “One job of mine is to write essays that will introduce the 150 travelers to life in Africa, so they can be familiarized with it when they come.”

Among those will be pieces on the Swahili language and on the immunizations needed for the attendees’ visit.

Miesnik may have been plucked for the important role because of her tenure with the Marist Brothers since 1987: three and a half years as principal, 14 as vice principal, and 10 as a teacher.

“So they knew me as a presenter,” she said. “They also knew I’d be adventurous to take them up on it.”

Miesnik is humble about her role.

“I think that there are many people like me in all the schools in the United States,” she said.

“There are other people as well versed in the Marist catechism as I am. I think they knew me as a known quantity. And the provincial office is right next door.”

Growing faithful

With this conference, the order is reaching out to a burgeoning population.

“It’s being held in Africa because the fastest growing sectors are South America and Africa,” Miesnik said. “There are so many young brothers in Africa. They felt having the assembly there would bring them hope and awareness. Everyone is going to them.”

The principal’s working visit to Nairobi last October was an eye opener for her. On the ride from the airport to the retreat house she noticed something that struck her, and that she still remembers.

“One of the things that impressed me the most on the drive was all the people on foot walking into the city for their daily work,” she said. “They were all going to find work or go to work.

I just never saw so many people on foot.”

History and celluloid

While most of Miesnik’s time in Kenya was spent in intensive work sessions, the group of nine did get out for quick visits to downtown Nairobi, as well as the suburb of Karen (named after Karen Dinesen, author of the classic “Out of Africa”) and The Great Rift Valley, where civilization began.

Upon returning, the principal showed some of her students pictures she had taken of what she had seen on streets when driving.

“They said, ‘Wow, that could be Puerto Rico; that could be Santo Domingo,’” Miesnik said. “ … “It’s different, but it’s the same.”

The wider audience

Miesnik said she is happy to be involved with a meeting that is opening its arms to all.

“We’re bringing people together and focusing on the whole world, and it’s not just the brothers anymore,” she said.

Regional meetings will follow the September assembly, and the Marist Order will receive feedback on how everything went from the perspective of participants and those they inform.

Joseph Passantino may be reached at JoePass@hudsonreporter.com.

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