VI Chapter – 1873, Saint-Genis-Laval

08/1973 | 08/1876 – 40 Brothers participants

Between the end (l868) of the V General Chapter’s second session and the start of the VI General Chapter in l873, the social and political atmosphere of French society had a direct impact upon the work and mentality of the Marist Brothers.  The atmosphere appeared clearly in the legislative battles over the country’s educational system.  On one side stood a radical movement instigated by the Masons.  On the other side stood the Brothers defending the rights of parents to have an option for schooling their children rather than being compelled to send them to government schools.   Like the five preceding Chapters, the VI General Chapter was held during the pontificate (l846 to l878) of Pius IX, the last Pontiff to exercise temporal power in the Papal States.  At the start of the nineteenth century, many diverse movements had developed in Europe, move-ments born of various parentage: the French Revolution, the accelerating spread of the industrial revolution, new lines of thought in philosophy, politics, economics and sociology.  The world was becoming smaller and was slowly moving towards a new sense of unity.  A society that had been largely agrarian, stable and traditional was giving way to an industrial society that was changing rapidly and was losing contact with social, family and group traditions.The Catholic Church in Europe was slowly slipping from its traditional social position and from its role in the world of politics.  The change was caused by currents of rationalist thought which raised questions about the faith.  The Church found itself disoriented.  Having enjoyed a privileged place in society and an influential role in the world of thought and social customs, the Church was abruptly shaken by persecution, by relegation to a lesser role and by a breakdown of religious practice.  In addition, as the First Vatican Council was getting under way in l869, the Pope lost control of the Papal States with the exception of  Rome .  In the face of such developments, Pius IX responded by a general condemnation of contemporary thought.  He did so in two documents.  The first was the encyclical “Quanta Cura” which con-demned rationalism, gallicanism, socialism and liberalism.  The second document was called the Syllabus and was essentially a list of contemporary errors.  The tension between the Church and the changing society around it, especially in Europe, created a gradual antagonism with devastating consequences.  On June 29, l868, in the Bull “Aeternis Patris,” Pius IX announced that December 8, l869 would be the opening date for the First Vatican Council in Saint Peter’s Basilica.The death of Brother Jean Baptiste brought in its wake the VI General Chapter and the consequent election of Brother Assistant Generals.  The Chapter took place at Saint-Genis-Laval.  In the Circular of May 24, l873, Brother Louis Marie announced that elections were to take place for the General Chapter as required by the Constitutions.  He sent along the names of the Brothers with the vow of stability, a requirement for being elected a delegate.  Opening on August 11, the Chapter was comprised of the Major Superiors plus thirty-three elected capitulants: nine from the Province of Saint-Genis, seven from the Hermitage, eight from Saint-Paul-Trois-Châteaux, four from Labégude and five from the Nord, the Ouest and the Missions.The Chapter re-elected Brothers Théophane (Nord); Philogene (from Labégaude), Euthyme (Hermitage) and Félicité (Saint-Genis).  The Chapter elected Brother Nestor, the Visitor of Saint-Paul Province to become Assistant of the same Province in place of Brother Eubert.  Also elected was Brother Procope (not in attendance) as Assistant for the Province comprised of the British Isles, Oceania and South Africa.  The first-session appointment of Brothers Nestor and Procope increased the number of the Assistants from four to six.  In its first session, the Chapter voted by acclamation to set up a banner to Our Lady of Lourdes, the dedication of the banner stating:“In thanksgiving for the numberless favors that our Good Mother continues to bestow upon the Congregation, and to join in the extraordinary movement which draws crowds to the beloved sanctuary of Our Lady of Lourdes, and by way of responding to the invitation made by the Bishop of Viviers, following on the proposal of Reverend Brother Superior General, the Chapter votes by acclamation that a banner in honor of Our Lady of Lourdes be created and that Brother Eubert be delegated to carry it as an offering on behalf of the entire Institute.” The Chapter next made various decisions regarding matters of good community order: the invocation « Sancte Joseph, ora pro nobis (Saint Joseph, pray for us)” after the Hail Mary prior to meditation, the directive calling for a complete cessation in the use of tobacco, the instruction to remove unsuitable books from libraries.   The Chapter acknowledged the need for a special school of advanced studies in order to prepare teachers who could handle various electives in our major boarding establishments and in several day schools.   On August 15, l873, as the first session drew to a close, the Institute was consecrated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary.  The Chapter’s second session got under way on August 15, l876 and closed on the 25th of the same month.  The Circular dated October l878 provides a general account of the session.“The reason for the delay between Chapter sessions was our voyage to Rome in the month of July l875, and the need to follow up on several formal requests that we brought before the Holy Father on the occasion.”  On December 8, l875, the Pope was presented with several petitions: confirma-tion of Brother Procope’s election as Assistant for the Province of the Islands; the creation of a new Province; the election of a seventh Assistant to be in charge of it; the appointment of an eighth Assistant for problem cases.  The Holy Father gave approval to all the requests as well as to the election of January 28, l876.  The Pope also granted, on May 12, l876 a five-year extension of the provisional Constitutions.  In the second session, one of the agenda items was to elect two new Assistants.  Consequently Brother Avit (author of the Annals) was elected Assistant of the Bourbonnais Province with thirty-six of forty votes, while Brother Norbert, receiving thirty-one votes, was elected for the Nord Province, as replacement for Brother Théophane who in his turn replaced Brother Euthyme who had resigned as Assistant of the Hermitage Province.  The changes resulted in an increase in the number of Assistants from six to eight.  Brother Euthyme was to take charge of the Institute’s problem cases.  He had to look after relations with the government, including: military service; schools both state and private; dealings with local political authorities; school supplies and books; teacher salaries; relationships with government educational officers; examinations for teacher accreditation; dealings with bishops and pastors; religious instruction; educational issues regarding students.  Over the years preceding the Chapter, Brother Louis Marie’s desk was filled with files and questionnaires pertaining to military service and relations with governmental officials.  The issue was always to find a way by which the Brothers would be able to remain at their posts in the schools.    The March 3, l868 Circular provides an example.  In the Circular, Brother Louis Marie writes a heading: “Notices and Instructions that I have been able to gather pertaining to the National Guard as created by the law of February 1, l868.”  There follow lists of the Brothers who have been freed of military obligation along with notes about the various procedures to be followed, etc.  All of the notes are in light of “the latest announcements coming from the Ministry with new regulations that we have to follow.”The assignments of the Brother Assistants are given as follows :Province of Saint-Genis-Laval,  Brother Félicité, fourth Assistant.Province of Notre-Dame de lHermitage,  Brother Théophane, first Assistant.Province of Saint-Paul-Trois-Châteaux,  Brother Nestor, fifth Assistant.Province of Aubenas,  Brother Philogone, second Assistant.Province of Beaucamps, including lOuest,  Brother Norbert, eighth Assistant.Province of Bourbonnais, Brother  Avit, seventh Assistant.Province of the British Isles and the Colonies,  Brother Procope, sixth Assistant.Problem Cases for the Institute,  Brother Euthyme,  third Assistant.Brother Eubert, no longer an Assistant, was appointed Secretary General in place of Brother Juste who had previously performed the duties without having any official title.  The feeling was that the Saint-Genis Province had to be split because (counting Brother, novices and postulants) it numbered 1500.  A request was to be made to the Pope for the creation of a new Province and the appointment of a new Assistant. The five year extension (referred to above) of the Constitutions on a trial basis and the need for a new edition: the two circumstances gave rise to completing the Constitutions which were approved ad experimentum as were the Articles approved by the l862 Chapter and those following.  Besides the various elections, the Chapter session in question also established guidelines for Bro-ther Economes.  Their duties were enumerated: administration of temporalities, supplies of Brothers’ clothing, objects for personal use.  The authority and duties of certain Brothers were spelled out: the Procurator General, Secretary General, District superiors, Vice Provincials (those who later would be called Provincials), novice masters, Visitors or Vicar Provincials.  The Peter’s Pence was to be set up in the schools.  A decision was made to create three Juniorates: one for central France, one for the south of France and the third in the north.  Reverend Brother Louis Marie summed up the achievements of the sixth General Chapter in the following words, “I cannot find words adequate to express my great satisfaction nor joy equal to the pleasure I find, in pondering what has transpired in the two sessions.  I can only intensely hope and pray that the perfect harmony that prevailed in the Chapter will remain ever present and even extend itself to every house of the Congregation.”