X Chapter – 1903, Saint-Genis-Laval

04/1903 – 51 Brothers participants

Political, social and religious circumstances1

“The Chapter met at a very critical time for the Institute and held its sessions between  20 and 25 April. It had already been communicated to the Superiors that the Chamber of Deputies had refused our request for authorization, and that as a consequence the Mother House had a period of three months to be evacuated”.2

The adoption and method of applying the Constitutions, which Rome was on the point of approving definitively, made the calling of the X General Chapter a matter of urgency.


Brother Theophane, in his circular of convocation,3 fixed the assembly for 20 April 1903, at Saint-Genis-Laval. Its purpose was the election of the general superiors of the Institute and the analysis of the Constitutions, which had been presented for approval by the Holy See.  It is right to mention that, according to the Constitutions, provisionally approved in 1863, the General Chapter met regularly every ten years: 1873, 1883, 1893. Thus it was also due to meet in 1903.

This meeting was especially urgent, first, because the laws prohibiting religious in France, already approved by Parliament, were about to be put into practice, and secondly, because the new Constitutions were about to be approved by Rome. This is what Br. Theophane emphasized on 20 October 1902 in his convocation  circular, without making allusion to the grave political events of the  moment in France.

The delegates, elected and members by right, numbered 51. The number reflected the great expansion of the Congregation in the previous years. Those elected were distributed as follows: 7 for Saint-Genis-Laval, Turkey, China and Adén (Arabia); 6 for Notre-Dame de l’Hermitage; 2 for Canada-United States; 6 for Saint-Paul-Trois-Châteaux, Italy and the Seychelles; 2 for Spain; 1 for Colombia and Mexico; 5 for Aubenas, New Caledonia and Algeria; 3 for Beaucamps; 1 for Belgium, Denmark and  Brasil Meridional; 3 for the Bourbonnais, Lebanon and Syria; 2 for the West of France and  Brasil Central; 2 for the British Isles,  Africa Meridional, Australia and New Zealand.  40 delegates in all, who with Brother Superior General and his eight Assistants, the Brother Procurator (or Econome) General and the Secretary General brought the number to 51 capitulants.

On 22 April 1903, after two days of retreat, the Chapter, at its first meeting, elected the Superior General.4 As in 1893, Br. Theophane expressed his desire to be freed from the responsibility.

The situation was extremely grave, because the General Chapter would be accepting a change of pilot in the middle of a storm. It requested and obtained his submission to re-election. Despite having been named for life, he pointed out that the Constitutions, in process of being approved,  would contain a clause appointing the  Superior General for a period of 12 years.
The Chapter assembly voted his continuance in office and asked Rome to confirm what it regarded as a re-election. Rome replied that, since he had been appointed for life, there was no need for a re-election, and therefore, that the vote was not valid and approval not necessary.5

The same day, at a second meeting, the General Chapter proceeded to the election of the Assistants, whose number was fixed at 8. As a result of the voting, the Assistants were re-elected to their offices in the following order: Brothers Adon (Saint-Genis-Laval), Gerald (Beaucamp), Bérillus (Saint-Paul-Trois-Chateaux and Spain), Stratonique (Notre-Dame de lHermitage, Canada and USA), Climacus (Norte) Liboire (Aubenas), Augustalis (Varennes-Lacabane) and John (Isles).

At the same session, these were elected by a majority of votes: the Econome General, formerly known as the  Procurator General6: Brother Césaire, continued in this office;
the Secretary General: Brother Pierre-Joseph, who had been performing this function since 1893, when he succeeded Br. Eubert following the death of the latter.7

After the elections, the Chapter concentrated on different questions concerning the Institute, especially its development, its material and financial state, religious discipline, the works and the Constitutions. The latter was the central concern of this Chapter.

Forty years had passed since His Holiness Pope Pius IX, by a decree of 9 January 1863, had approved and confirmed the Little Brothers of Mary as a Congregation of simple vows. The same decree had approved ad experimentum the Constitutions of the Institute contained in  69 articles. The time had come to move on from the provisional period and ask the Holy See for definitive approval.

With this in view, a new copy of the Constitutions was presented to the Sacred Congregation of Bishops and Regulars which was, essentially, a development, with some modifications, of the 1863 one. Cardinals, Archbishops and Bishops, to the number of 102, in terms full of benevolence, united  with the Institute to request the Holy See for final approbation.

After examining them in depth and considering the changes introduced in some passages of the new Constitutions, the Chapter approved the text and, a month later, on 27 May, Pope Leo XIII granted the definitive approbation.8

The Tenth General Chapter (the eighth held at Saint-Genis-Laval) marks a mile-stone in the history of the Institute.

Owing to the events in France in 1903, the Congregation, which had to face up to enormous difficulties in the country which had seen its birth and development, acquired a new impetus. This would be the foundation of an unexpected prosperity, due to the successive establishment of institutions in many countries of the world, giving our religious family a universal character.


The most important decisions of this Chapter concerned determining the contents of the articles of the Constitutions for the definitive approbation.

The Constitutions approved by Pope Leo in 1903 set the mandate for the Superior General and the Assistants for 12 years. The Assistants were each especially responsible for one or two provinces, but at the same time, at the head of each Province, was placed a Brother Provincial. The necessity of a major decentralization was already evident from what was taking place in France and the Institute’s dispersal throughout the world. According to the Constitutions, Provincials and Vice-Provincials were elected for 3 years and could be re-elected once. Directors could be re-elected for another 3 years and then be elected to direct another house.
The vow of obedience disappeared and those who had made it were invited to make the three vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience.

 “With the definitive approbation of our Constitutions in 1903, the Institute became open to a decentralized administration, forced on it by force of circumstances. During the century which had just ended, the Institute had developed especially in France. The  Superiors had maintained a strong  centralization. After the union with the Brothers of  Saint-Paul-Trois-Chateaux, it is certain that there was a division into  provinces, but these were governed by the Assistants, first from the  Hermitage and then from Saint-Genis. It was a system that could operate and have its advantages while the Institute was limited to France, but at the end of the century and the beginning of the new one, with the growth in personnel and works beyond the frontiers and at a great distance from the General House, an opening towards a more decentralized form of government had become necessary.
Thus the role of Provincial was created and the Institute was divided into 11 Provinces which, within a few years, would double. The Brother Provincial would govern the Province and the Assistants would no longer be the immediate Superiors, except that they were responsible, at a distance, for that or those Provinces for which they had been elected by the General Chapter. This task they performed by means of visits of delegation to the Provinces. This system would last until the changes brought about under the impulse of Vatican Council II.”9

1 The account is taken almost entirly from Br. Jules-Victorin Bulletín de l’Institute T. 23, (1958-1959)  p. 147-150

2 H. Luis di Giusto Historia del Instituto de los Hermanos Maristas, Provincia Marista Cruz del Sur, Argentina 2004. p. 128

3 Circulares T. 10, p. 225 y ss.

4 Circulares T. 10, p. 314-316.

5 See also: Nos Supérieurs: Le Rév. Fr. Théophane, quatrième Supérieur Général (1824-1907), E. Vitte, Lyon, 1953,  p. 247.

6 Up to this date, the financial affairs of the Institute were the concern of the Procure, the responsibility of the person named the Procurator General. From this time on, all economic questions were in the hands of the Econome General. The title Procurator General was reserved for the Brother in charge of relations with the Holy See.

7 Circulares, T. 10, p. 316-317.

8 Circulares, T. 10, p. 322-325.

9 H. Luis di Giusto Historia del Instituto de los Hermanos Maristas, Provincia Marista Cruz del Sur, Argentina 2004. p. 130