March 4 – WORK OF NOVITIATES IN THE 19th CENTURY
WORK OF NOVITIATES IN THE 19th CENTURY
The circular of 4 March 1870 written by Brother Eugene-Marie on Zeal for the prosperity of the Congregation came as supplement to a project that he had undertaken since 1867 and with which he was occupied till his last breath. He called it The work of novitiates. When he spoke of it the first time what he had in mind was the promotion of vocations. He came back to it time and again. “Our work, we have repeated it a hundred times, is not what one does in the fire corner. It is zeal that founded the Congregation, it is zeal that sustained it, it is zeal which will give it development” (Circular of January 1876). “How many excellent Brothers would still have been in the world if a friendly voice or pen had not invited them to enrol themselves under the banner of St Gabriel! Let us then sow the seed, water it by prayer, and God in his own time will make this blessed germ grow; it was thrown by our zeal in the heart of this little child, in the soul of this young man even now unsure of his way” (Circular of 19 March 1876).
But very early, to this idea of the Brothers’ zeal one other was added: collect maximum funds in the Institute and, still more, from outside the Institute. For this, in 1870, he prepared a text of ten pages which was titled The work of novitiates. Its two subtitles spoke clearly ofits intention: Exposition of the situation of the novitiates of the Brothers of St Gabriel (financially very bad) and Call to the friends of religious teaching. The skill of the Superior to find the resources consisted in establishing a link between the novitiates and the schools. Everyone was asking for Brothers for the schools. The first condition to honour this request was to have teachers, hence novices, and hence the money to look after them. The text of The work of novitiates was sent to all those who were concerned about religious education: families, benefactors, parishes and parish priests. To give greater weight to the text, the Superior first addressed it to the Bishops-of dioceses-where the–Brothers-were-present. Their replies-of support-and encouragement were published after the Exposition.
Thanks to the donations thus collected, Br. Eugene-Marie multiplied his efforts to start novitiates in all the corners of France. In 1867 he had already set up one, at Saint-Germain l’Herm, in the center of the country. The generosity of the count of Buat enabled him to start one morin 1875, at Clavieres, in the west ·
At the same time he thought of the north and the south of France. In the north he could in 1876 open a school at Steenvorde, near the border with Belgium, which also had to take in postulants in order to fill the novitiates he had in mind in turn in other various places. In the south, also in 1876, he took an ancient project at Perpignan and one other much older at Mauleon-Barousse. As in the north, nothing was realised.
On the other hand, he could inaugurate, on 8 December 1876, the novitiate of Minimes at Mane, at the south east, thus realising an old project of 24 years. Three years later it was the turn of the novitiate of Saint-Bertrand-de-Comminges, near the border with Spain.
In 1877, the novitiate of Minimes at Mane numbered 28 novices, as many as at Lorgues and as many as at Clermont-Ferrand. While Clavieres only had 15, Saint Laurent reached the fine number of 120, and the total was 219.