June 17 – IN VENDEE
No other region in France seems to have played a greater part than Vendee in the history of the Congregation. Even before the department of Vendee was established in 1791, the Congregation had come into existence at Saint-Laurent-sur-Sevre, in Vendee. The Central Administration kept its headquarters in that humble village until1962 (with a break from 1903 to 1939, when its headquarters was in Belgium), and the Mother House had its own there until1976.
Important houses of formation were established in Vendee: the novitiate at Saint Laurent until 1903, the juniorate at Saint-Laurent until 1967, the scholasticate at La Mothe-Achard from 1922 to 1965, and the novitiate at Le Boistissandeau from 1942 to 1970, when it became·a rest home. Finally, the Brothers have run a great number of schools in Vendee (70) more than in any other department. The very first one was at Saint-Laurent; it was opened after Montfort’s death and was still in operation at the end of the 20th century. For a century and a half, from 1824 to 1972, others were taken in charge regularly without any significant break: 18 in Fr. Deshayes’ time, 10 under Br. Augustin and Br. Simeon, 7 under the leadership of Br. Eugene-Marie, 12 under Br. Hubert, 7 under Br. Martial, 7 under Br. Sebastien and Br. Benoit-Marie and 8 afterwards, down to the latest one at Port-Joinville in the Isle of Yeu.
The boarding school at Saint-Laurent has a great influence and is the beacon school but its prestige should not put the many others into the shade. First of all, the primary schools to which will be added lower secondary schools in the 1960’s (at Challans, Chantonnay, Port-Joinville, Les Herbiers, Pouzauges). Then the vocational schools: the agricultural college at La Mothe-Achard, rural residential schools, fishing schools (at Les Sables d’Olonne and Port-Joinville). Finally, the Brothers have taught in schools run by priests: at Luc;on, Fontenay-le-Comte, La Roche-sur-Yon in the 19th century, and at the teacher-training college at Montoumais.
If a Brother travelled across Vendee today using the main roads from St-Laurent-sur Sevre westwards to the Atlantic coast or from the north southwards along Road 137 he would pass through many villages where his ancestors worked and he could breathe the fragrance of their humble dedication.