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The surprising Dominican origins of the Olympic motto


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Cerith Gardiner - published on 08/11/21

And how it can help your children.

You may already be familiar with the updated Olympic motto of Faster, higher, stronger – together,” or its Latin form: “Citius, Altius, Fortius – Communiter.” These four powerful words were central to the theme of this year’s Tokyo Olympics.

However, the original motto was first suggested by Fr. Henri Didon, a French Dominican, and was then taken up by Pierre de Coubertin, his friend and the founder of the International Olympic Committee. It was a little shorter, and a little punchier: “Faster. Higher. Stronger.”

Henri Didon
Fr. Henri Didon

While you might be thinking that the addition of “together” is an important one, reflecting the need for solidarity, particularly with COVID being in the forefront of our minds, it’s actually a little redundant if you consider the nature of the Games. After all, it’s impossible to enter a competition without others!

As father of the modern Olympics, de Coubertin strove to place importance on the notion of participating over winning. In fact the Jesuit-educated Frenchman wanted the Games to be a way of bringing nations together after World War I.

The important thing in life is not the triumph but the struggle, the essential thing is not to have conquered but to have fought well.

This may be surprising, but when you see the pressure these athletes place on themselves today, the message still resonates. It’s really about individuals aiming to do their best for themselves and their countries, and hopefully winning a medal in the meantime. And it’s actually a message that is important for our children, especially the sore losers out there!

The original Dominican motto aims to inspire the individual in their sporting community. Fr. Didon felt that athleticism was a way for individual students to take responsibility and participate in their own organized sports, without the need for sometimes-domineering parents taking over.

As an article by Michael Pakaluk for The Catholic Thing points out, the Dominican placed great importance on physical activity. And using four of his points, we can adapt the thoughts of Fr. Didon for modern-day parents — especially those dealing with the minefield of screen dependency — to help nurture our children:

Get active

Fr. Didon stated: “When you see children who are inert, physically lazy, be sure that they are morally so, and when you see children active to the point of turbulence, be sure that there are germinating virtues in them.”

We parents need to encourage our kids to get out and about. If they’re old enough, make them responsible for forming neighborhood teams, or challenging each other to surpass themselves physically.

Fight fears

The Dominican believed that sport was a great way to encourage children to face their fears. “Sports make the spirit of combativeness predominate, that is to say the spirit of original valor and bravery which lies dormant in children.” So it’s important for parents to help their children enjoy taking part, and not making them feel like failures if they lose.

Understanding self-sacrifice

Taking part in sporting events necessitates sacrificing time, and certain indulgences. Fr. Didon shared how his own students “know how to deprive themselves, even condemn themselves to a harsh regimen for a higher purpose.” While today’s children might not live such austere lifestyles, they can learn the importance of putting in the hard work for themselves and their teams.


Encourage inclusion

While students have a tendency to form cliques in school, Fr. Didon stressed how when they played in the same team they would come together as one. External factors, such as social and racial background would become irrelevant. In a fractured society, this is exactly what our children need to focus on.

If you’d like to read the original article, and discover more about Fr. Didon, click here.

Catholic LifestyleOlympics
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