February 4 – THE SCHOOL AT SAINT-PHILBERT-DE-GRAND-LIEU
THE SCHOOL AT SAINT-PHILBERT-DE-GRAND-LIEU
The school at Saint-Philbert-de-Grand-Lieu in southern diocese of Nantes was run by the Brothers for 162 years (1833-1995); the only one they ran longer is the parish school at Saint-Laurent-sur-Sevre. Another reason why we dwell on that school is that it is typical of nearly all the Gabrielite schools in 19th- and 20th-century France: because of the changes to its legal status, the number and situation of the Brothers, the repercussions of the antireligious laws on its history, the increase in the number of pupils, the · changes in teaching methods, the spirit that animated it.
The first Brother arrived in 1833 and held classes in a small house near the presbytery; the parish priest, who had asked for a Brother, shared board and lodging with him. In 1841, the school, which consisted of two classrooms in another place, became a state communal school. In 1865 it moved to a new building of three classrooms. In 1867, the three Brothers left the presbytery and settled in their own residence.
In 1884 the school was secularised though the mov.e was. opposed by the town Council, and the Brothers withdrew in October 1884. The local Catholics then decided to build a Catholic school and set to work. A piece of land was bought by the parishioners, the building materials were brought free of charge by the farmers who also did voluntary work for days. Three master-builders put up the walls of the three classrooms in three weeks. It would have been possible to open the school on 15
February 1885 but for the many petty administrative regulations. Finally the Brothers arrived back on 15 May and resumed teaching.
In January 1897, Br. Eloi fell ill and died a month later at the age of 74; he had succeeded Br. Dorothee who had been head for 18 years. All the people of Saint Philbert attended Br. Eloi’s funeral.
In 1903 the Brothers became secularised (giving up their habit and religious names) in order to be able to stay there and continue their mission. In 1930 a new residence was built for them near the school, which now consisted .of four classrooms.
In the 1960’s the diocesan education authorities decided to set up a lower secondary school in the seat of every District Council. One was built at Saint-Philbert, and it was the first of its kind in the department to be coeducational. An arrangement with the State about teachers’ salaries was made from the start. It was first part of the primary school for boys but became autonomous in 1974 and kept expanding (up to 600 on the roll 20 years later); it acquired efficient teaching material and continued to provide real Christian education for the young.