II Chapter – 1852, Hermitage

05/1852 | 05/1853 | 05/1854 – 33 Brothers participants

The authorization of the Institute by the Government in France gave it legal stability. Its prosperity and growth made it feel necessary, 12 years after the death of the Founder, to refine the organization of the Institute. With the opening of numerous schools and the consequent formation of so many other communities, the last edition of the Rule had completely run out. This confirmed the need for a new revised edition. For this reason, a General Chapter was convoked for 1852.

The purpose of the Second General Chapter, which extended over three years (three sessions), was clearly defined by Rev. Br. François in his circular letter of 10 April 1852: « The first edition of our Rule having been completely exhausted, we are in need of producing a new one… But even though, in essentials, this new edition of the Rule must contain only what has always been the practice in the Congregation, what we have from our holy Founder, we cannot nor do we want to present it to the Brothers, without having it examined, approved and accepted by the body of the Institute; for it belongs to it alone to pronounce definitively on the subject.1» This was the work of the most important of all our Chapters, that of 1852.2

The Brother capitulants, not including Rev. Br. François and his two Assistants, numbered 30, elected in the then four Provinces, in proportion to the number of professed Brothers: 18 for Notre-Dame de lHermitage, 5 for Saint-Paul-Trois-Châteaux, 5 for Viviers and 2 for le Nord.3

Three little volumes were the result: the Common Rules appeared first, then the School Guide, destined to fix our teaching methods, and finally the Rules of Government, necessary for the good administration of a large Congregation. But, taken as a whole, the work of this Chapter of 1852 fixed definitively the Institute’s way of proceeding.4

First Session(1852).

The members of the Chapter met on 27 May at Notre-Dame de lHermitage. The Chapter appointed Brs. Malachie and Louis-Régis scrutators; Brs. Louis-Bernardin and Avit, secretaries: these fulfilled this function for the three sessions and were re-appointed for the General Chapters of 1860, 1862 and 1863.5

It was at this session, in the course of 19 sittings, that the Common Rules were «examined, fixed and settled». It closed the 11 June following, the day when the members of the Chapter addressed a collective letter to all the Brothers of the Institute. This letter can be found, with all their names, at the beginning of the volume of the Rules. Br. François’s private journal informs us that the « Common Rules were promulgated on 8 September of the same year, on the feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin, who was there proclaimed « the first Superior of the Society». They consist of three parts and thirty-eight chapters, all following the spirit, if not the letter, of Father Champagnat.6

Second Session (1853).

The second session began on 16 May 1853; this one was concerned with the teaching method, and this was given a definitive form in the School Guide, published on 2 July, the feast of the Visitation.7

At this second session, one question, among others, was the important purchase of the Dumontet property, at Saint-Genis-Laval (Rhône), where the new Mother House was to be established. Rev. Br. François treats of this in his circular of 19 July 1853.

Third Session (1854).

The third and last session commenced on 1st May 1854, to close on the 19th of the same month. It was not the least important. Its programme was an in-depth study of the Constitutions and Rules of Government of the Institute of the Little Brothers of Mary.

The last sitting of the General Chapter was consecrated to the election of a third Assistant. The name of Br. Pascal8 collected almost all the votes.9 Br. François gives the reason for this election: « The development of the Congregation over these last years, the size and multiplication of our Provinces, has made us wish a long time for another Assistant to share with us the works of the Administration. So we have requested this of the General Chapter, which has been eager to satisfy this need of the Congregation. Its choice has fallen on dear Br. Pascal, who was elected with a strong majority on the first scrutiny.10
In fact, Br. Pascal became Br. François’ vicar and relieved his burden considerably by taking over direction of the Province of the North and the districts of the Islands and the West which depended on it.11

Before separating, the General Chapter decided that the Head of the Institute should from then on bear the title of Reverend Brother Superior General, and that, in speaking or writing to him, the Brothers should so address him, while in speaking about him they should express themselves in this way: the Reverend Brother Superior General, or at least: the Reverend Brother. Up to then Br. François’ regular title was that of Director General. This had been given him by the holy Founder on his election in October 1839.12

This Chapter also signaled the definitive separation, following the decisions of Rome, of the work of the Brothers from that of the Fathers. It was Father Colin who announced this decision to the capitulants. It came as no surprise to them as it simply confirmed the situation already existing.

During one of the sessions of this Chapter, Rev. Fr. Colin, having come to lHermitage to give the Brother capitulants encouragement and the benefit of his advice, took the opportunity to make known the impossibility of uniting the two branches under a single Superior. In confirmation of this opinion, he added : « The will of God was clearly manifested during my trip to Rome, when I presented the Cardinal Protector of our Congregation with my writing on the project I had of joining the two branches under a single head; he repeated to me on several occasions that the thing could not be done… So, my children, the will of God is that you have a Superior from among yourselves, who will govern you in everything. » This declaration of Rev. Fr. Colin did not cause any astonishment, for the Brothers had known for a long time that Rome had refused to authorize the Congregations of the Brothers and the Fathers under the same head.13

In the sitting of 6 May 1854, the capitulants introduced the practice in the Institute of taking the vow of Stability. Brother Louis-Marie, in an explanatory letter written to the Archbishop of Lyon, Cardinal de Bonald, 31 May 1858, indicated the motives for the introduction of this vow: Although the vow of Stability was not taken during the lifetime of the Founder, it had been always accepted in principle. We find, in his handwriting, this article of the Rule: The Brothers will take the four vows of poverty, chastity, obedience, stability. This vow can only be taken after 15 years in community and 10 years of profession; it is only conceded to Brothers who are the same time the most able and the most virtuous. It is a requisite for being elected Superior General, Councillor, Director of the Novitiate and member of the General Chapter; he desired that by this means the good government of the Institute would be assured, as far as possible, by supplying the administrative bodies with the best subjects of the Congregation. For this reason, the General Chapter, basing itself on the very weighty example of the Company of Jesus, had no doubts about adopting this fourth vow and making it the basis of the Constitutions.

The first Brothers to take it were Brothers Andronic and Pascal, at Beaucamps; then, Brothers François, Louis-Marie, Jean-Baptiste, Bonaventure, Marie and Léon, at N. – D. del Hermitage.

During the third session of the General Chapter (1854), Mme la Comtesse de la Grandville, a signal benefactress of the Congregation, profiting by a pilgrimage to Notre-Dame de la Salette, paid a visit to the Hermitage. She requested the favour of attending one of the meetings, and the Chapter, making an exception which was probably never repeated, granted her wish. Deeply touched by this show of deference, she presented herself, in the company of Rev. Fr. Matricon, chaplain,14 before the capitular assembly and took a lively interest in the details provided on the proceedings and progress of the Institute. It is recounted that she even asked the capitulants their names in religion and told most of them something of the lives of their patron saints, which edified them greatly.15

Mme. de la Grandville, adds Br. Avit, merited the exceptional favour shown her. By an act of 25 February the preceding year, she had given, conjointly with the Count, her husband, the property and furnishings of Beaucamps (Nord) to the Institute, reserving the usufruct for themselves during their lifetimes. By a second act, 24 May 1855, they even abandoned this to the Institute.16

1 Circulaires des Supérieurs Généraux de l’Institut .des Petits Frères de Marie. – Vitte, Lyon-Paris, 1914, vol. II, p. 103.

2 Canon PONTY (Vie du Frère François, p. 147) gives the title of «first General Chapter » to that of 1852-1854, « the first, he said, to hold its solemn sessions in our Congregation « .

3 See the list of Brother Capitulants: Circulaire, vol. II, p.114-115.

4 Histoire de lInstitut des Petits-Frères de Marie, 1817-1947. Imprimerie Emmanuel Vitte, Lyon, 1947, pp. 35-36.

5 Annales, Fr. AVIT, cahier 5, p. 418.

6 Abbé PONTY, op. cit., p. 148. Cf. Life of Father Champagnat (1947), p. 272-273.

7 Abbé PONTY, op. cit., p. 163-164.

8 Br. Pascal was not a capitulant. After he had directed the community of Digoin for two years, the Reverend Brother placed him in charge of the Novitiate of lHermitage in 1852 to succeed Br. Aidant, sent to Vauban (Annales, Fr. AVIT, cahier 5, p. 459).

9 Abbé PONTY, op. cit., p. 170.

10 Circulaires, vol. II, p. 199.

11 Abbé PONTY, op. cit., p. 171.

12 Annales, Fr. AVIT, cahier 5, pp. 454 et 455.

13 Cf. Life of Father Champagnat (1947), pp. 274-275 ; Vie du Frère François (abbé PONTY), p. 162-163, et Annales (Fr. AVIT), cahier 5, p. 455.

14 «. ..out of respect for the rule , says Br. AVIT (Annales, cahier 5, p.461).

15 Abbé PONTY, op. cit., pp. 129-130.

16 Fr. AVIT, Annales, cahier 5, p. 462.