St. Louis Marie Grignion de Montfort, the Founder:
St. Montfort was a good teacher. From 1701-03, he was one of chaplains at the Poorhouse of Poitiers. Like most poorhouses of the period, there was a charitable school and also a factory. There the children of the inmates between seven and thirteen years old and a few illiterate adults, who wished to learn how to read and write, were taught their letters. The chaplain was by right their school master. “Father de Montfort‟s main preoccupation during the course of his missions was to establish schools for the boys and for the girls.” (Grandet, p. 385) There was a school attached to the General Hospital at Nantes. Since 1696 it was taught by Louis Danto whom Montfort recruited for his own society of Brothers later, under the name of Brother Louis. Fr. Montfort thought of starting a school in La Rochelle mainly because of the religious ignorance of the young and the strong influence of Protestantism. After thinking deeply over the matter, he submitted his plan to the Bishop early in 1714. The approval was complete. During the second half of 1714, he bought a building in need of restoration. He himself became architect and entrepreneur. But the most important task was to find and train good teachers. That is why Montfort “himself went to the school every day to train the teachers in his methods of teaching and to provide a model for these disciples.” (Besnard II 110-111) The school was opened in January 1715. “Montfort” says Cloriviere, “put three masters with a priest at their head.” But who were those masters? Brothers surely, though in Montfort‟s time, only one can be identified with certainty, Louis Danto, mentioned in Montfort‟s Last Will as Brother Louis of La Rochelle. Fr. Montfort took great care of his school; he drew up the rules for admission, the timetable of the various classes, the syllabus to be followed, the prayers to be said, a list of rewards and punishments.
The First Religious Profession:
The great missionary period of Montfort‟s life began at his return from Rome in 1706. Two years later, he had already four Brothers with him, Mathurin, John, Pierre, Jacques, and others. Later some more joined him. In On June 9, 1715, Fr. Montfort made his religious profession. Then Bros. Nicholas, Philip, Louis and Gabriel made their religious profession in his hands.
Besides La Rochelle and Nantes, there was only the school of St. Laurent-sur-Sèvre, where we could be sure that there was a Montfortian Brother during the Saint‟s life time. The primary goal of the schools was the glory of God and the salvation of souls. Like his contemporaries, Montfort felt that schools were the nurseries of the Church, where children like young saplings carefully pruned and cultivated, eventually became fit to bear good fruit. Fr. Montfort wanted these schools to be free. In these schools order and silence must be maintained so as to improve education. A minimum of organization and order is necessary to ensure a good education. In Montfort‟s Last Will seven Brothers were mentioned of whom four had made their religious profession. Bro. Nicholas accompanied Montfort during his journey to Rouen. After Montfort‟s death we do not know what happened to him. Bro. Gabriel was with Montfort in St. Laurent when the latter died. Most probably he taught in the school at St. Laurent. We have no further information about him. When Montfort died, Louis was in La Rochelle, and in 1716, he was replaced by Bro. Philip. Bro. Louis came to Nantes and later tried to join the Lazarists, and he died on Oct. 8, 1716. Bro. Philip along with one Bro. Dominic worked in the charitable school at La Rochelle.
After St. Montfort‟s death:
On June 6, 1716, Fr. René Mulot registered Montfort‟s Will with the notary in Nantes. He gave up the idea of accepting the properties in Vouvant. Then Fathers Mulot and Vatel came to St. Pompain to stay with Fr. Mulot‟s brother, who was the parish priest there. Latest by June 2, 1718, Bro. Mathurin came and joined the two Fathers. From 1716-1719, Bro. Jacques was in St. Laurent to look after the school for boys.
Sr. Marie Louise of Jesus:
On June 20, 1720, Sr. Marie Louise came to St. Laurent to establish the first community in a property donated by Marquis of Maganane and his niece Mme de Bouillé. A young man named René Joseau helped her. Later the Sisters requested Fr. Mulot to come to St. Laurent to be their superior. The same benefactors bought another property for Fathers and Brothers. The property was registered in the name of Brothers, who were to teach in the parish. “The property known as „Chêne-Vert‟ House (The Holm-Oak House) along with the garden „Les Hulles‟ and the end portion of a prairie was bought on 7th April 1721 from René Pabaut by Françoise-Renée Le Vacher, widow of Marquis de Bouillé… In the name of the Brothers, who are to teach small boys of the parish.” (Card. Tisserant, Montfort and the Brothers of St. Gabriel, p. 263)
Fr. René Mulot and religious profession: In June 1722, Fathers (3 more joined the group) and Brothers came to St. Laurent to start their first community. After a retreat they elected Fr. Mulot as their superior. On June 29, 1722, Fr. Mulot made his religious profession and then the Fathers and Brothers made their religious profession in his hands. Bro. Joseau too made his first vows. He looked after the parish school from 1722-59. Then one Brother Pierre succeeded him. In 1723, there was an exchange property between the Fathers and Sisters. Brothers were in La Rochelle and Nantes only for a short period and thus the school at St. Laurent was only one where Brothers taught till the end of the century. During the French Revolution, 4 Fathers, 4 Brothers and 33 Sisters of St. Laurent were massacred.
Fr, Gabriel Deshayes, the Re-Founder:
Fr. Deshayes was the Superior General from 1821-1841. When he came to St. Laurent, there were only four Brothers of whom Bro. Elie was in charge of the parish school. On March 17, 1821, when Fr. Deshayes paid a visit to St. Laurent, he brought two novices, Pierre Marie and Augustin from Auray to St. Laurent. These two joined the Brothers who were in the Holy Spirit community in all spiritual exercises and time table. Fr. Deshayes was very keen to provide Christian education to children. He recruited many young men and started a novitiate for the Brothers. In 1823, he wrote a Rule for the Brothers who were to be teachers. He prescribed conditions to be fulfilled in order to have Brothers. After the French Revolution the Fathers and the Brothers had no legal existence. On June 25, 1823, Fr. Deshayes with all necessary papers applied to the Home Minister seeking government approval for the Brothers of Christian Instruction of the Holy Spirit. On Sept. 17, 1823, the Institute was approved by a royal ordinance. The Missionaries too were implicitly recognized. The Brothers were allowed to teach in five Provinces. As a consequence of this, the Brothers of the Holy Spirit became a legal body, distinct from the Company of Mary, while still retaining the unity as a religious congregation with the same Superior General. In 1822, Fr. Deshayes took charge of two schools, in 1823 nine, in 1824 twelve, etc. From 1821-1841, Fr. Deshayes started or took over 86 schools. 33 did not last long because the Brothers were not sufficiently prepared to be teachers, or because the parish priests who invited the Brothers expired or were transferred. On June 16, 1824, Fr. Deshayes sent Bro. Athanase to La Chartreuse to supervise the hearing impaired boys of the institution. Bro. Athanase soon picked up the sign language and also the method of teaching the hearing impaired. Later Frs. Galliot and Laveau learned the method of teaching the hearing impaired.
The First Profession:
On September 22, 1824, all the Brothers including Bros. Elie and Jacques, and Brothers meant for manual work, totaling 42 pronounced the three religious vows of poverty, chastity and obedience for one year. Fr. Deshayes gave a new habit to those meant for teaching: cassock, blue rabat, mantle and a cap. At the end of the Annual Retreat of 1825, Fr. Deshayes consulted the Brothers and then appointed Bro. Augustin as Director and Bro. Simeon as Sub-Director and Master of Novices. In 1830, Fr. Deshayes wrote a new Rule for the Brothers. The 1823 Statutes had to be recast to suit the growth made and to give completeness. This Rule was approved by Mgr. Soyer, Bishop of Luçon on Sept. 12, 1830. This Rule was meant for all the Brothers whether teaching or doing manual work.
Tensions in Holy Spirit House from 1830-1835:
In 1835, there were 132 Brothers and some 20 Novices. As the number of teaching Brothers increased rapidly, one could notice two different groups of Brothers: those who worked in the classroom and those who looked after the material side of things. Tension between the two groups increased when Fr. Deshayes was away, and as time went on, it proved necessary to separate the two groups. Further some of the missionaries were not happy to have such a large number of youngsters in their house causing much noise and disturbance. The Fathers, who came to the house after giving missions, could not get the needed rest, especially in summer, when all the missionaries and all the teaching Brothers had to find accommodation in the same house along with the usual occupants. Little by little, the idea of finding another location for the teaching Brothers came up.
St. Gabriel‟s House (Supiot House):
After studying all the solutions available, Fr. Deshayes decided to set up the teaching Brothers in Supiot House, which had two buildings with gardens and other dependencies. The property was bought by the Daughters of Wisdom on Sept. 14, 1791. It was bought when Fr. Supiot was the Superior General and hence it was called Supiot House. On Dec. 29, 1834, the Daughters of Wisdom sold the property to the Brothers of the Holy Spirit. In February 1835, Fr. Deshayes bought from Mr. Allaire a field of nearly one hectare adjacent to Supiot House. Brothers worked hard to get ready their future house. They transported all the furniture of the class and their academic books and prayer books. In the end, on Oct. 15, 1835, Mgr. Soyer came and blessed the chapel. He celebrated the Mass and addressed the Brothers. On Oct. 16, 1835, Fr. Deshayes celebrated the Mass in the chapel and preserved the Blessed Sacrament in the tabernacle. Then 33 people, Brothers and Novices put together, took all their possessions and came to stay in Supiot House, while 57 Brothers stayed back in Holy Spirit House. Bros. Augustin and Siméon and all teaching Brothers and five Brothers doing manual work formed part of these 33. Further, 42 Brothers working in 21 different schools were attached to this new house. Fr. Vion came daily to celebrate Mass for the Brothers. All the Missionaries were happy to render service to the Brothers. Fr. Galliot suggested that the house could be called “St. Gabriel‟s House” and Fr. Deshayes had no objection and so that name was given to the house.
The 1837 Rule:
In 1834, Fr. Deshayes confidentially told Brothers Augustin and Simeon about an alternative Rule that he was preparing and discussed the wording with them. He worked for three years at improving it. As Bro. Augustin objected to the article on the Superior, it was altered as: “The Brothers choose from their own number a Superior who is to govern the Congregation; he will be helped by one or two Assistants according as the Congregation increases in number”. Fr. Deshayes signed the altered Rule on January 7, 1837 and the Bishop of Luçon approved it on April 09, 1838. However, the Rule was kept a secret.
Fr. Deshayes established a number of schools for the hearing impaired: Orléans, Rouillé, Loudun, Larnay and Lille. On Dec. 28, 1841, Fr. Deshayes died peacefully.
The separation of the Institute from the Company of Mary:
After Fr. Deshayes‟ death, Bro. Augustin brought out the Rule which was kept as a secret. He and his followers wanted the separation from the Company of Mary. But a good number of Brothers did not appreciate the move. Fr. Dalin, who succeeded Fr. Deshayes, did not interfere with Bro. Augustin‟s actions. The First General Assembly of the Brothers took place in September 1842 and on 21 September 1842, Bro. Augustin was elected Superior General. This was the moment when the Institute got separated from the Company of Mary. The Institute was then called the Institute of the Brothers of the Holy Spirit