After 48 years of presence (1969-2017), the mission of the Brothers of St. Gabriel in Mauritius comes to an end.

After 48 years of presence (1969-2017), the mission of the Brothers of St. Gabriel in Mauritius comes to an end.

“THANKS TO YOU, SO MANY LIVES HAVE BEEN TRANSFORMED”

After 48 years of presence (1969-2017), the mission of the Brothers of St. Gabriel in Mauritius comes to an end.

The Congregation of the Brothers of St. Gabriel has been present in Mauritius for nearly 50 years. It is its honour and pride to have been able to fulfil its mission in participating in the evangelization of the world, most of all in the field of the Education of the youth and especially of the poor.

The beginning of Father Laval’s Home, in 1969, the launching of a Technical School, in 1974, the collaboration with the Mission of the Seafarers, in the 1980s, the setting up of small Vocational Centres, in 1985, or the foundation of the School of Values in 1998, were all aimed at the same goal: to ensure that no one is left aside; that all the youngsters are invited to open themselves to inter-religious values, to other ways of thinking and living.

About thirty French and Indian Brothers of St. Gabriel had worked in Mauritius and presently, in 2017, they have to make the painful choice of closing down their Mission in the diocese of Port-Louis. The main reason is that for over 40 years there has not been any new entry in the Congregation in the Western Countries. The Brothers would have liked to see Mauritian Candidates joining them too, but this has not been the case.

To highlight these 48 years of service of the Mauritian Society, a Thanksgiving celebration took place, on Sunday, June 11, 2017, organized by the diocese and the 3 Brothers present on the island: Bros Marcel Chapeleau, Jean-Claude Berthomé and Charles Branger. The Congregation was represented by three guests: Bros Christian Bizon (former Director of St. Gabriel Technical School and Delegate of the Provincial Superior), John Britto (District Superior of Madagascar) and Bernard Thébaud (former Director of Fr. Laval’s Home).

The day began with the Sunday Eucharist, at St. Francis-Xavier Parish Church, Port-Louis. Former boarders of the Home and Alumni of the Technical School took part in the celebration that was presided over by His Eminence Cardinal Maurice PIAT, Bishop of Port-Louis. The ceremony was tinged with emotion and sadness but with joy and gratitude, too. In his homily, the Cardinal placed the Brothers’ arrival in its historical context: “In 1969, Mauritius had just become independent, and the Church had just emerged from the Second Vatican Council. One of the Council’s strong messages was that the Church should be at the service of the local people. Bishop Margéot took this message very seriously, especially concerning the development of Society. He met the Brothers of St. Gabriel in France. This meeting developed a strong bond of friendship and a lot of creativity… Let us give thanks for the 48 years of presence of the Brothers in this country. Yes, 48 is a figure, a quantity, but the most important is the quality of this presence. I invite you to pray for Bros Jean-Claude, Marcel and Charles who are going to leave us. It is not easy for them to break this great network of friendship they have woven over the years.

After the refreshments offered by the Parish, the guests headed to Fr. Laval’s Home for a formal celebration in the presence of the Deputy Mayor of Port-Louis. Several speeches marked the celebration, which gathered nearly 300 people on the Home’s playground.

Mr George Gaspard, a former boarder of the Home (1987-1992), caught the audience’s attention by his speech filled with emotion: “The Brothers gave me a chance because they believed in me. They did everything they could to make us feel at home, just like children living in their own family. Heartfelt thanks to Bro. Jean-Paul (Baril) for having forged my character. Thanks to him, I am now a full-fledged father in my family, a leader in my job and a fighter in life. Thanks to Bro. Bernard (Thébaud) for restoring my dignity, for restoring my desire to live. Thanks to Bro. Charles (Branger) who has always been ready to support me. He is a reliable person to whom you can entrust all your secrets! These Brothers left their native land to come and take care of groups of children that they did not even know. They did not expect anything back. We shall be grateful to you till the last day of our lives!

Then, came the turn of Bro. Bernard Thébaud, the former Director of the Home (1980-1991) who, after having drawn up a complete history of Fr. Laval’s Home, concluded his speech in these terms: “The objectives of the Home have always been to live in happiness and to become happier. This objective, this ideal, the boarders, sometimes, put it into practice in an astonishing way. I shall always remember how these youngsters had taken charge of one of their companions who had a degenerative myopathy. His health condition worsened regularly and, at a certain point of time, he had to use a wheelchair. Before registering him, I had asked for the opinion of the group. All of them had given their agreement and pledged to take care of the newcomer, in all his needs, from morning to bedtime! They have always been faithful to their commitment. One day, we decided to go to the summit of the “Corps de Garde”[1] for an outing. Nobody wanted to leave him alone at home! We did it! But after that, you have to climb down the mountain again… And this was not the easiest part of it. One of the Brothers had to do the needful because the youngsters were too exhausted when they reached the summit! These young people made living the words of St. Louis-Marie de Montfort, the Founder of the Brothers of St. Gabriel, who declared: ‘Those whom the world rejects must move you the most’. Happiness is to look forward, towards others, towards the future, and that is why as Religious Brothers, Disciples of St. Montfort, we are happy to pass on the relay to a team of Mauritians. It is our role to see further because we are working for God and not for ourselves. Thus, as we evoke a long history, we rely on the roots of our tree that continues to grow branches and produce fruit in abundance. I wish you to always look far ahead, to discern where you want to go in life. May this happiness be in each one of us, in each one of these youngsters present here. Long life to Fr. Laval’s Home!

Lastly, Bro. Christian Bizon gave a brief account of the history of St. Gabriel’s Technical School, recalling the memory of the pioneers: “The good start of St. Gabriel’s School was due to three Brothers who came from the Technical School, at Mahajanga, namely: Bros André Cougnaud, Gilbert Ardon and Dominique Boissière, who had to leave Madagascar because of the policy set up by the new Regime. They arrived in Mauritius with their twenty years of experience, their competence and their tools. In no time the students learnt about mechanics and woodwork. Quite a number of young Mauritians were able to achieve this by leaving an educational system where they were not happy and opted for vocational training. St. Gabriel Technical School evolved day after day, a family spirit where Brothers, first lay teachers and students overwhelmed, hand in hand, all the difficulties. The School had become a place where the dignity of manual work was improved. In 1994, the Brothers of St. Gabriel left the Technical School, after having trained more than 700 technicians in mechanics, automotive and electronics. For 20 years, with a team of Mauritian Teachers and French Volunteers, they had strived to fulfil the motto of the Institution, which is still its slogan, till today: “TO FORM – TO EQUIP – TO EDUCATE”.

To conclude the ceremony, a plaque was unveiled that reads: “Thanks to the Brothers of St. Gabriel who were in charge of Fr. Laval’s Home from 1969 to 2017“.

After the excellent meal that was served to all the guests, a musical entertainment, with Mauritian Saga tunes, by local singers, enthralled the whole afternoon.

To conclude, an extract from the Editorial of the Mauritian weekly “La Vie Catholique” which devoted a complete dossier to the Brothers of St. Gabriel in Mauritius: “We have just turned over a page, that of the presence of the Brothers of St. Gabriel in our diocese. Heartfelt thanks to them. Thank you for having travelled so many miles to come and serve our diocese. Thank you for the so many commitments free of charge. Thank you, too, for the legacy you leave us. Thanks to you, so many lives have been transformed!” (Mrs M. Theodore-Lajoie)

Bro. Christian Bizon

NB: Thanks to “La Vie Catholique” that authorized us to use their photos along with this text.

[1] Corps de Garde is a mountain, 720 metres above sea level; it cuts a striking and unmistakable form on the west side of the island (Translator’s Note).

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