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Marist Bulletin - Number 92

 

Centenary of Marist Presence - Argentina
17.09.2003

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CHAMPAGNAT’S DREAM IN ARGENTINA

Br. Damián Provens

September 25, 2003 marks the Centenary of the arrival of the first Marist Brothers in Argentina. 25 year-old Brother Damián Provens, a graduate of our Marist school in the city of Rosario, published this article in the June issue of ELEVACIÓN magazine. Currently Brother Damián is a member of the community at Sacred Heart High School in San Francisco, Argentina.


100 years of Marist Presence in Argentina asks us to turn our minds and hearts to thanksgiving. Thanksgiving for so many Brothers and lay people who, down through all these years, have been building up the dream that Marcellin began to make tangible in his France of 1817, a dream that embraces every diocese in the world.
We Marists in Argentina are children of the Marist Province of Saint-Paul-Trois-Chateaux in Southeastern France. Thanks to this Province, Marcellin’s charism sprang forth in Spain, Chile, Peru, Uruguay, Italy, Mexico, Colombia, The Seychelles, and Argentina.
Having a privileged place in this history are those 14 young Brothers who, with their tremendous spirit, gave a firm foundation to our Marist work here in Argentina, land of the Virgin of Luján.
Because we are a family and because each Brother is a gift from the Lord, to familiarize ourselves with the life and mission of those who have preceded us is to attest to God’s presence in our Marist Argentina. Likewise, it is to realize that our Marist spirituality is a “way of being” that needs to be observable in every Brother.
Motivated by these years of Marist Presence we ask ourselves: What were the Brothers like who founded our Province? What made them tick? Thus we would like to present this brief history and biographies of those Marist pioneers in Argentina.

Setting out
Marcellin’s dream came to life in Argentina simultaneously with the dream shared by fourteen young brothers: Let’s be missionaries! This dream boarded the ship Queen Maria Cristina in Barcelona, Spain on September 3, 1903. We know a little about what these brothers experienced during their seafaring community’s three-week journey across the Atlantic – their deep devotion to Mary; love for the Eucharist; Marist fraternity; contemplation of the ocean’s vast expanse, with its dolphins and star-studded skies; their communal hunt for a rat that interrupted sleep in their cabin; torrential rains; the commotion and joyful news of a baby being born. During the entire journey they felt homesick for the lands they left behind and their beloved community of San Andrés del Palomar in Spain. But the deep yearning in their hearts, to be heralds of the Good News as Marcellin was, proved to be more powerful than anything they had left behind.


Arrival
Finally, on September 25th they caught sight of their destination, the port of Buenos Aires. On that day Brothers Frédien, Junion, Paulius, Sixto, Veremundo, Adolphus, and Leopoldo José set foot in the land of the Río de la Plata – River of Silver.
The atmosphere of the Argentine capital was not all that peaceful. The press reported that a group of religious expelled from France was arriving in the country on board this particular ship. A hostile crowd gathered to confront the missionaries, but torrential rains thwarted its plans. Even so, acting prudently, only two brothers stepped off the ship in their religious habit, the rest wore civilian clothes. Brother José, coadjutor of the Lazarists, was on hand to greet them and take them to the priests’ residence.
A month later the “founding Marist community in Argentina” was completed with the arrival of Brothers Agritius, Bajulus, Simeón, Arège, Loger, Donaciano, and Olegario. This group of fourteen missionaries destined for our country had been split into two groups owing to the religious situation in France and its consequences elsewhere.

The work begins
Within a week of the first group’s arrival, the brothers took charge of the tuition-free school of San Vicente de Paul. This became the first Marist school in Argentina, where the Brothers would work for the next twelve years. There they had to gain the upper hand against undisciplined students in classrooms containing more than 60 children. There was also a boarding school staffed by three brothers. At the beginning of the following school year the brothers would open the doors to a school in Luján.

The first seven Brothers

Br. Frédien: French, from a devout Christian family; Director of the first community of missionaries to arrive. On October 2nd, just a week after his arrival, he turned 25. He became the first Marist school principal in Argentina. In his position as a recruiter, he attracted many vocations, especially in the country’s coastal provinces. He was involved in establishing our Marist work in Uruguay. Died in Luján in 1960 at the age of 81.

Br. Junión: We know very little about this Frenchman. He was on the faculty of the school that opened in Luján in 1904; died at 72 in Saint-Paul-Trois-Chateaux.

Br. Paulius: He kept the torch of the Marist founders burning in our country, which enjoyed his presence for 63 years, from 1903 to 1981. Thirteen days before setting out for Argentina, this Brother from France had made his perpetual profession, being just 21 at the time. He was a degreed teacher, the second Master of Novices in the Province for eight years; principal for 25 years; and 19 years a nurse, among his other assignments. He passed away in Luján at the age of 99 years, 7 months, and 6 days, having been a Brother for 83 years.

Br. Sixto: Less than a month after making his first profession, this Spanish Brother embarked for Argentina. The youngest in the group, he celebrated his seventeenth birthday four days after arriving in our country. At 39 he would become the second Provincial of the Marist Province of Argentina, established canonically in 1920. On the occasion of his Golden Jubilee as a Marist Brother, his former students named the Andalusian patio at Colegio Champagnat in his honor. In 1941 he was elected Assistant General. He passed away in Lyon, France at the age of 68.

Br. Veremundo: born into a farming family in the town of Estella in Navarre, Spain. He arrived in our country at the age of 18. Had a special love for Our Lady of Luján; liked to use the Basilica as a reference point because “Mary should be the compass of every Argentine Marist.” He asked that when he died his remains be placed in a niche of the pantheon since “you can see Our Lady in her Shrine from there.” He passed away in Luján at 74. His wish to be laid to rest in the pantheon was granted.

Br. Adolphus: We know almost nothing about this French Brother. He arrived in our country when he was 17; died in Marseilles, France at the age of 65.

Br. Leopoldo José: arrived in our country at 18. Spent twelve years in Argentina. Worked in the cities of Luján, Mar del Plata, and at the Colegio de La Inmaculada. Professing his belief in Christ the King he was shot to death with another 45 Brothers in Spain, meriting for himself the palm of martyrdom at the age of 51.

We round out the founding community

Br. Agritius (Agricio): At 21, having been a Brother for six years, he was drafted into French military service, serving his country as a marine. Whenever he was on leave he took advantage of the opportunity to stay with nearby communities. After serving in the marines for three years, reentered the Congregation, arriving back in Argentina at the age of 33. He founded the colegios in Luján and Mendoza. He died at 55 at the Spanish Hospital in Buenos Aires.

Br. Olegario: A Brother from Spain. Again, we know very little about him. Together with Brothers Agritius y Leopoldo José in 1904 he was a member of the founding community at the Colegio de Luján. At the end of that year he went back to Spain.

Br. Bajulus (Basilio): a Frenchman who worked in our country for 64 years. He was 23 when he arrived with the second group of Brothers - a piece of information he didn’t take kindly to when often enough people spoke of the first group that had arrived a month earlier in more glowing terms. In 1907 he founded the San Vicente de Paul School of Arts and Crafts in La Plata, where he set up a printing house considered to be one of the best in the capital of Buenos Aires. He died at age 87 at Villa San José in Luján.

Br. Arège: The only founding Brother neither French nor Spanish, and the only Swiss Brother ever to work in our country. He was 26 when he arrived and he remained here until 1916. He died at 82 in Saint-Paul-Trois-Chateaux.

Br. Loger: A French Brother who was 21 when he disembarked in our country. He served as a missionary in Chile and Peru. Remembered for his great kindness, great devotion to the Virgin Mary, and his passion for collecting stamps. He died at 90 in Saint-Paul-Trois-Chateaux.

Br. Donaciano: Born in Tahull, Lérida, Spain. Arrived in Argentina when he was 19. At the first Marist retreat in Argentina, January 6-13, 1905, he made his perpetual vows, the first to do so in the District of Argentina. His first assignment in this country was to teach a class of 103 first-graders, which he took care of with admirable discipline. In 1938 he was the founding principal of Colegio San Rafael. He passed away at Villa San José in Luján at the age of 75.

Br. Simeón: A French Brother who arrived in our country when he was 21. He was in charge of opening Colegio Champagnat in the Capital in 1914. In April 1943, as Master of Novices, he was put in charge of relocating the Postulancy and Novitiate from Luján to Villa Champagnat in La Bolsa, Córdoba. He passed away there in 1972 at the age of 93.

Thanks!
With reverence and thanksgiving we pay tribute today to these simple men for bringing and building up the dream of Marcellin in our land. Thank you, Brothers, for your fraternity, simplicity, devotion to Mary, and your zeal for the education of Argentina’s children and young people. Thanks to all the Brothers who left their homelands behind to continue making our Marist presence in Argentina a reality. Thanks, elder Brothers, who with your fidelity reveal and inspire the young Brothers to live our consecration with fidelity and joy. Thanks to all the laity who share with us the dream of Marcelino.
May the future undertakings of Marist Argentina continue to be blessed with fidelity, vocations and shared mission wherever the Lord is asking for our Marist presence.

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