VIII Chapter – 1883, Saint-Genis-Laval

04/1883 – 45 Brothers participants

Social and political context

« The storm had already broken in France; they had begun replacing religious in the official schools. The government could not replace them all at once; so it did it by steps, thinking that the matter would be settled in ten years.

It is difficult for us today to have an idea of the number of measures to be taken, whether with the organizers of the free schools or with the inspectors, who were taking it out on the teachers of the last official schools still in our hands, because of the school textbooks, a prayer, a catechism lesson, or whether with the municipal authorities who could hasten or delay the departure of the Brothers. All this in an atmosphere of conflict, apprehension and anxiety.

Thanks to the support of the population, disheartened by the educational policies imposed on them, thanks to the involvement of the hierarchy and the clergy who directed the private schools, pupil numbers could be maintained as previously. New schools were even founded, considering the intentions of the official programmes, which claimed to banish the name of God and remove the crucifix and the proscribed catechism.

Brother Théophane’s generalate passed amidst incessant concerns for the ten years. Then there was a truce for seven to eight years. In this period it was necessary to survive, all the while adjusting to the laws passed one after another the sole purpose of which was  laicisation.
In 1886, the law laicising all the schools was passed: religious, therefore, had to abandon them. According to the law, only the teachers of the public schools were dispensed from military service.

In 1888, the government no longer accepted the pledge to exempt religious in return for 10 years teaching. All the negotiations undertaken in Paris proved useless and the Brothers were obliged to present themselves to call-up for military service in November that year. Religious had to do three years of service, while secular teachers did only one, because, on completing the first, they could ask for exemption.
The Superiors closely followed this first group of young Brothers and the ones following; they displayed their care and interest because of the moral dangers they could find themselves in and to provide for their material needs.

The circulars register the recommendations of the Superiors to the soldier Brothers, as well as the letters of the latter to the Superiors, telling of their difficulties, needs, successes, apostolate, etc. Some Brothers profited from their leave to go to a nearby community, whether it belonging to the Institute or to another religious congregation.

In 1891, before going into barracks, the 80 Brothers from Saint-Genis, the Hermitage and Varennes gathered for a three day retreat. En 1892, the first Brothers returned from their three years of service; they, too, did a retreat to re-enter into the spirit of religious life1.

Religious context

During the pontificate of Pius IX, three great devotions he promoted spread through the Church:  devotion to the Blessed Sacrament (nocturnal adoration, perpetual adoration and adoration of reparation), in opposition to Jansenism in particular;  devotion to the Sacred Heart (he introduced this feast into the liturgical calendar); and devotion to the Blessed Virgin (he proclaimed the dogma of the Immaculate Conception). Pius IX was also the Pope of Catholic Action.

Convocation of the Chapter and events

Brother Nestor, in his circular of 26 December 18822, had called a General Chapter for the re-election of the Assistants, who had reached the end of their terms, according to the Constitutions.
Br. Nestor died on 9 April 1883  at Saint-Genis-Laval, three months after sending the circular of  convocation. He had no idea that those he was summoning would have to provide him with a successor. Man proposes but God disposes3.

Brother Théophane, the Vicar, set the opening of the Chapter for 22 April. It finished on the 30th. Br. Théophane was elected on the first round on 25 April 1883.
« The Chapter votes went to Br. Théophane, first Assistant, who has spent 23 years in this office in the administration of the Institute. His eminent virtues and his long experience of affairs, the wise and enlightened direction he has always given the Brothers, deserved our votes. His election was also received with great satisfaction in the Mother House, as by each of us4. »

The elections of 26 April 1883 give us as Assistants: Brs. Philogone,  Euthyme,  Procope,  Norbert,  Gérald,  Bérillus, Adon, and Stratonique. « As you see, these Brothers are well known to you; the first six were already in office, and the two new ones directed important houses, Br. Adon, our  Provincial House of  Saint-Paul-Trois-Châteaux, and Br. Stratonique, the boarding school of  Valbenoîte-Saint-Etienne. » Among them, the six re-elected kept their old functions. The new Superior entrusted the Province of Saint-Genis to Br. Adon, and the Hermitage to Br. Stratonique5.

Following the election of the Superior General and his Assistants, the Chapter was concerned with various matters of interest to the Congregation. It was particularly impressed by the very considerable diminishment of the debts of the Institute over the previous three years, and made a point of attributing this principally to the solicitude of the deceased Br. Nestor and to the good spirit of the Brother Directors and Economes. The direction of the Provincial Houses was recognized as  incompatible with the responsibilities of the  Vicar Provincial. Each Provincial House, therefore, would be directed by a special Brother Director, according to the Rule and the Constitutions.

The Chapter voted by acclamation for the solemn consecration of the institute to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. This was made at the Mother House the same evening, before Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament.
The Chapter also allowed communion on the first Wednesday of each month, a day consecrated especially to the Sacred Heart, as a communion of devotion.

The important question of religious and moral teaching in the public schools attracted the attention of the Chapter.6  It immediately recommended all the Brothers employed in those schools to conform to the instructions given on this subject in the Circulars of 8 June and 26 December 1882, while observing the laws of prudence, so as not to come into direct opposition to the law. A great number of Marist schools then became official schools. The Chapter also renewed the decision taken in 1876, forbidding the Brothers to let themselves be addressed as Monsieur by their pupils7.

1 F. Luis di Giusto Historia del Instituto de los Hermanos Maristas, Province Mariste Cruz del Sur, Argentine 2004. p. 113-114.

2 Circulaires, VII, 71-75.

3 Fr. AVIT, Annales, cahier 7, p. 784.

4 The vote of the capitulants was almost unanimous. Br. Théophane collected 39 out of 45 votes. For their re-election, the Assistants achieved a no less imposing majority.
Nos Supérieurs, Economat Général des Frères Maristes, Sain-Genis-Laval, 1954, p. 244.

5 Fr. AVIT, Annales, cahier 7, p. 784-785.

6 The Brothers still directed such schools in many communes in France.

7 Circulaires, T. 7, p. 136-138.