June 9 – THE BROTHERS IN MONTFORT’S LIFETIME
THE BROTHERS IN MONTFORT’S LIFETIME
In the 17th century the term “Brothers” was used with reference to laymen without vows working in hospitals as helpers. It was not until StJohn Baptist de la Salle came on the scene that the term applied to schoolteachers. The early biographers of Montfort, Blain, Grandet and Besnard do not often mention the Brothers; they call them plain Mathurin, Jean, Nicolas. However, Montfort’s will is explicit: F., the first letter of “Frere”, precedes the four names of those who had taken their vows, but F. is not used before the names of the other three.
Montfort’s first collaborator in 1705 was Mathurin (See 22 July). In October 1707 Jean joins them at Saint-Lazare. The missionary, who had had to part company with M. Leuduger, found refuge in his native district. Along with two “Brothers” he made up a community in September 1707 and May 1708; they prayed and worked together, restoring the chapel, and attending to pilgrims and poor people. Three more “Brothers” are mentioned between 1709 and 1711 as working in the diocese of Nantes: Pierre (at Vertou mission), Nicolas (who will be mentioned again in connection with the journey to Rauen to visit Blain, Montfort’s friend), and Jacques (who helped to take the statues from Pontchateau to Nantes, after the pulling down of the calvary). From October 1710 to April 1711 Montfort lived at Cour Cathuis in Nantes as he was barred from giving missions. He lived a new experiment in community with Mathurin, Jean and Nicolas; they prayed together and looked after people considered incurable.
It was often the accounts given by the Brothers that provided glimpses of Montfort’s private life. Jean said that Montfort always walked bare-headed out of respect for God’s presence and that .he never failed to say Mass daily. When Jacques asked him what he should do· as penance, Montfort bared one of his arms round which he was wearing a small iron chain bristling with spikes. Nicolas confided that he could accompany Montfort only on condition that he agreed to strike him hard on his bare shoulders every day. During the missions the Brothers carried out various activities: they organised processions (as Mathurin did at La Rochelle), sang hymns (at Saint-Pompain Jacques touched the hearts by singing I have lost God through my sins), they led the recitation of the rosary, made rosaries, small chains and scourges (made mostly by Jacques), statues (Nicolas learned sculpting in Poitiers after Montfort’s death); they also taught catechism (the first one to do this was Br. Mathurin during the mission at Dinan) and taught children.
Four Brothers are mentioned by name in Montfort’s will: ”The four Brothers who joined me in a life of obedience and poverty; namely, Brother Nicholas of Poitiers, Brother Philip of Nantes, Brother Louis of la Rochelle, and Brother Gabriel who is at present with me.” Tradition has it that they took their vows in the chapel Notre-Dame de Toute-Patience at La Seguiniere on Pentecost Sunday, 9 June 1715, while Montfort was taking ten days’ rest in the country house of the sisters of Bishop Bauveau of Nantes. Legally speaking, they were the first Brothers of the Institute.
Further on the will mentions three other Brothers, Jean, Jacques and Mathurin, who were at liberty to “leave”. It is not known what Jean decided to do, but Jacques is mentioned again as teaching at Saint-Laurent and also as working at Nantes nursing home. Br. Mathurin helped the Montfort Fathers until he died.