Founder's Day 2009
Every year on November 26th, our schools and Brothers communities worldwide celebrate the life of our congregation's founder, Jean-Marie De La Mennais, a dynamic, influential Breton (Brittany, N.W. France) priest of the 19th century who founded our congregation in 1819 together with another Breton priest, Gabriel Deshayes. Jean-Marie De La Mennais died on December 26th, 1860. But due to that date's proximity to Christmas, the celebration of the anniversary of his death was moved to November 26th instead.
In many cases, this day will be preceded in our schools by a week of celebratory activities of one kind or another (Masses, school trips, activity days, sports events, etc...). In our case here in Southampton we had a Founder's Mass, but decided to postpone the Founder's Week activities until the summer term, because of the proximity of the winter exams (including mock GCSEs and some actual GCSE modules).
This time next year, we'll be marking a year of celebrations to commemorate the 150th anniversary of his death. The different Provinces of the congregation are planning activities/celebrations independently and also some in common. Examples of the shared/common events include an international pilgrimage to Lourdes, a celebration at our Mother House in Ploërmel and a hiking pilgrimage with young people to Santiago de Compostella (N.W. Spain) next summer.
I realise many people do not know much about Jean-Marie De La Mennais (who he was, what he did...), so I've added below a text that I've used in R.E. lessons over the years to explain a little about his background, how and why he founds the brothers, etc...
The Brothers of Christian Instruction, also known as the De la Mennais Brothers, is a religious order founded by Father Jean-Marie de la Mennais in 1819 to teach the poor children of Brittany in Western France. These children had not had the chance to go to school, nor to learn about their faith due to the social upheaval caused by the French Revolution in 1789.
Jean-Marie de la Mennais was born in St. Malo, Britanny, on September 8th, 1780. His father was a wealthy ship-owner who had greatly helped his region during a time of famine by selling corn to the local people for less than he had paid to buy it. King Louis XVI (16th) of France gave him a special honour in reward for his actions. Jean-Marie’s mother died when he was only seven, but her deep faith and lively intelligence left their mark on the young boy.
From an early age Jean-Marie decided that he wanted to be a priest, despite the difficult times of the Revolution and the persecution that priests suffered. His family gave refuge to priests in hiding. Young Jean-Marie showed great courage in the help he gave to them. He advanced rapidly in his studies and in his spiritual growth under the tuition of Fr. Vielle, a young priest in hiding, and Fr. de Cloriviere. On February 25th, 1804, Jean-Marie was ordained a priest. On top of his priestly duties, he also tried to do something about the number of children who were not able to go to school. Education was to remain his main concern for the rest of his life and it was for its sake that he refused the offer of becoming a Bishop on numerous occasions.
Fr. Jean-Marie de la Mennais was very popular with the ordinary catholic people of his region, but was strongly disliked by the enemies of the Church because of all the good work that he did in the service of God and his people. In 1819 he founded, together with another priest, Fr. Gabriel Deshayes, the Brothers of Christian Instruction or De la Mennais Brothers to educate the youth of Brittany and “make Jesus Christ better known and better loved”. He gave as a motto for the new congregation, “Dieu Seul” (D.S.), which means “For God Alone”. He endured vile accusations and threats, but such was the success of his congregation of Brothers that they were soon in demand throughout France and in its colonies.
In 1903, the Congregation had a severe setback when the French government closed all its schools in France and the colonies, like those of other congregations. The French “Noviciate” or training house for candidates to the brotherhood was immediately transferred to Taunton in south-west England and new missions were started in other countries such as Spain and Canada. In 1922 the Noviciate moved to Jersey and the Brothers in England opened their first school in Southampton, St. Mary’s College, which still exists. In 1961 the Brothers came to Liverpool and in 1964 they began teaching at St. Francis Xavier’s College. In 1974 they took over the direction of the College.
The Brothers are now in 24 countries around the world, places like Chile, Japan, Uganda, Tahiti, Senegal, Italy, the U.S.A. Argentina, etc... Wherever they are, their aim remains that of their Founder, to educate the young and “to make Jesus Christ better known and better loved”.