Letters of Marcellin – 147

Marcellin Champagnat


Since we do not have this priests letter, we can only guess at its exact contents. We know that since Bro. Apollinaire was ill (cf. L. 130, 132, 147) he had gone to his family in La Frette to recuperate, but it is difficult to guess what Fr. Jany-Tache was asking about him. It is also a fact that, according to our records, at the time he wrote, six young parishioners from La Frette were members of the congregation, without counting others, like the Ferrendière mentioned by the Founder, who gave it a try without continuing, and about whom we know nothing. The latter, to all appearances, must have left unexpectedly, but we are totally in the dark about it, since his name does not appear anywhere in our records. In spite of these links, the brothers did not open a school in La Frette until 1878.


I have made you wait a bit for my reply to the letter you did me the honor to send me on 7th October, but since I wanted to grant your request with regard to Bro. Apollinaire, I first had to draw up the assignments for our brothers, in order to balance out all the needs. I am pleased to be able to oblige you on account of this good brother in whom you are so especially interested. Since we are very concerned about his health, we are very grateful for the attention you have given him and the care you have lavished on him.

It would have been a real joy for me to have had you in our house for a few moments, and to tell you in person how touched I am by your interest in our society. Besieged as I am by continual requests for new establishments, and feeling how very necessary religious education is, I cannot applaud sufficiently the zeal of the good shepherds who are so willing to help me propagate it. We have nothing but praise for the subjects who come to us from your esteemed parish: they are pious, and generally speaking, all of them have become capable of being very useful to us.

Also, Father, let me assure you that we will be entirely at your disposition whenever we can in any way further your zeal for the salvation of your dear parishioners, and especially of your young people, in whom we are so interested. Even though my plans do not focus on any diocese in particular, since the Sovereign Pontiff, in his brief of approbation, specifically assigned us to the dioceses of Grenoble, Lyons and Belley, if any preference is to be given, it will always be to those dioceses, and especially to the parishes which, like yours, have given us some of our better subjects.

I deeply feel your disappointment about poor Ferrendière. His departure really astonished us, and I am still trying to discover the reason behind it. I do not know his parents attitude well enough to take strong measures with him; besides, that would be something totally unheard of among us, and which I think would hardly succeed. I have more faith in the moral pressure of the good advice and salutary reprimands he will receive from your charity. If in your opinion he mends his ways, and if his parents are in agreement, I will show him every possible indulgence.

I have to travel into Dauphiny in the near future; if I can find the time to meet with you, we will discuss this whole matter. While looking forward to that pleasure, please believe the respectful devotion with which I am, Father, your most humble and most obedient servant,



The three letters which follow all deal with the same question. On 20th October 1837, Fr. Joseph Vernet, vicar general of his diocese and superior of the Brothers of Christian Instruction of Viviers, sent a letter to Fr. Cattet, vicar general of Lyons, to ask him to forbid the Brothers of the Hermitage to open schools in the diocese of Viviers. Unfortunately, we do not have the text of this letter, so we know its import only from the allusions made to it in those which follow here. Our brothers would occasion an unpleasant clash, one which would be a disgrace to religion… We do not know the real motives behind the letter any more than did Fr. Champagnat.

Certainly 1837 was no different from the years which preceded it in terms of the multiplicity of difficulties which Fr. Vernet had to face in trying to keep his foundation going. According to the Chronicles of his congregation (AFM, 221, 222, 223, 224) he found himself obliged to send away Fr. Rivière, a priest of the diocese, to whom he had entrusted the direction of the brothers. On 27th August 1837, he informed him of the decision he had just made:

After mature reflection and many prayers, Father, we feel we must follow on every point the path laid out by Fr. de La Salle. The fundamental point will therefore be that no priest will be a member of the congregation; that the superior general will be one of the brothers, and not a priest; that wherever they are placed, they will not be under the direction of any priest, except as confessor. This pattern has already been established and we can already see its positive effects. Fr. Cervaix (the first vicar general), and I, are limiting ourselves, in these early days, to giving them advice and helping them to get established.

No other Rules and Constitutions but those of the Brothers of the Christian Schools.

This is a great step forward, which frees us from a great deal of work, forestalls variations, and settles the brothers firmly.

All the prudent persons with whom we have discussed this matter applaud our decision and see in it the finger of God. The brothers above all are delighted by it….

This means that Fr. Vernet wanted to give a definitive structure to his congregation, put order in his house, and prepare for the future. In fact, that same year his brothers opened schools in Serrières and Saint-Désirat, and the following year, in Le Teil,

Quintenas and Thueyts. One can also see that Fr. Vernet leaned far more toward the Brothers of the Christian Schools than toward the Brothers of Mary.

That certainly does not justify the prohibition hurled against the latter. In any case, Fr. Champagnat, without trying to go more deeply into the matter, carried out his superiors wishes, and without hesitation, ordered the brothers in Peaugres and Boulieu to prepare to withdraw from their schools.

As Bro. Avit remarks in the Abrégé des Annales (pp. 224-226), under these circumstances, Fr. Champagnat showed his humility, his firmness, and especially his obedience, which would reap its reward later on. The prohibition proved to be ineffectual: the brothers not only did not leave Boulieu or Peaugres, but actually opened a school in La Voulte.

Edition: Translation from: Lettres de Marcellin J. B. Champagnat (1789-1840) Fondateur de l?Institut des Frères Maristes, présentés par Frère Paul Sester,1985.

fonte: Daprès la minute, AFM, RCLA 1, pp. 13-14, nº 17


Letters of Marcellin - 146...


Letters of Marcellin - 148...