The Brother with 'Itchy Feet': Marist's Adventurous Spirit Has Led Him to Long Career in Education in Malawi

By Evans, Elizabeth Eisenstadt | National Catholic Reporter, August 26, 2016 | Go to article overview

The Brother with 'Itchy Feet': Marist's Adventurous Spirit Has Led Him to Long Career in Education in Malawi


Evans, Elizabeth Eisenstadt, National Catholic Reporter


While there are classic novels about men of God who go abroad and find themselves adrift, Fernand Dostie went to Africa as a Marist brother and found himself--as an educator, administrator and mentor to generations of students.

Dostie's story is very much his own, though it was shaped in part by larger forces. Over the decades, his Marist "band of brothers" has handed over more and more of their work to indigenous religious and local laypeople.

On the political front, his career has been affected by the often-challenging demands of work in a country, Malawi, where illness and poverty were rife and authoritarian rule once the norm. (Malawi has been a democracy since the 1990s.)

Dostie was born in the Adstock region of Quebec, Canada, the youngest of a Catholic family of 13.

"I soon learned to share and accept others as a fact of life," he said, adding that he first encountered the Marist Brothers as a boarding student at Beauceville Juniorate, a school about 30 miles from his home.

"As a boarder in a Marist school during my secondary education, I fell in love with the Marist Brothers' way of life, of dedication to the youth, especially the ones in need," he said.

Dostie was raised 50 miles north of the American border, and didn't speak English until he attended Marist College.

"I'm a little bit of a chameleon," said Dostie, admitting he is an adventurous spirit with "itchy feet" and a yen for travel from a young age.

"My whole training was always involved with a large section of the world's population. To me, that was providential," he said. "When I came to Africa, I felt very much at ease, and loved the situation from day one."

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After the years of training and study necessary to embrace the vocation of a Marist Brother, Dostie returned to Canada, where he spent four years teaching English at the military camp of Valcartier, followed by a brief stint at Levis Juniorate, a Marist secondary school.

English was not a popular language among the French during the 1960s, so when his provincial supervisor asked if he was interested in a move to Africa, "my answer was: When do I leave?", Dostie recalled.

At 29, he arrived in Malawi just as it was beginning to evolve from being a British colonial outpost to full-fledged nationhood. In 1962. he began teaching, a few short days after his arrival, at the Zomba Catholic Secondary School, which was founded to teach African boys in the area now known as Malawi, Zimbabwe and Zambia.

Dostie became known not only as a dedicated teacher, but as an able administrator. A few years after he arrived, he was appointed headmaster of a boy's boarding school in the newly independent country Given the diversity of students, many of whom lacked confidence in their academic abilities. Dostie also encouraged them to compete on the athletic field.

"Eventually," he said, "the school developed excellent sports teams and beat other Marist schools in national exams as well. I am proud to say that I am still in touch with pupils of that period. They were wonderful years."

Dostie was elected as administrator of the local Marist community in the late 1960s, serving for six years before filling in for a headmaster going on sabbatical at the school where he first taught. When that man did not return, Dostie assumed his post--and remained there for 20 years.

"It gave me great satisfaction to see some of these youngsters grow into mature students ready to play an important role in the university, and then to see them taking important places in government and the private sector," said Dostie.

Thomson Mpinganjira, CEO of a high-level financial services firm, was a pupil at Zomba Catholic Secondary School when Dostie returned there to become headmaster. He recalls the passion with which the Marist strove to keep the younger boys from being bullied, creating a system of senior "defenders" to protect them. …

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