July 14 – ANNUAL RETREATS IN THE 19th CENTURY
ANNUAL RETREATS IN THE 19th CENTURY
Every year, since the beginning of the Institute, each Superior General has stressed the importance of the retreat, while informing the Brothers about it. It was the greatest event of the year from a spiritual and community point of view and Brothers were asked to prepare for the same by a series of prayers. They were codified thus in the 1875 Manual of piety: “During the fifteen days immediately preceding the annual retreat, the Brothers will say each day the following prayers: 1. The Veni Creator with the verses and prayer; 2. Ten times the prayer 0 Mary, conceived without sin, etc.; 3. One Our Father and one Hail Mary, followed by invocations to our holy patrons. Each Brother and each novice will offer a communion and three rosaries for the same intention”. The retreat was also the occasion to clarify practical details. “As in the past”, wrote Br. Augustin on 6 July 1842, “bring the exact amount of money; we will have need of it more than ever… bring along also the exact inventory of your personal things [clothes], your books, a page of your handwriting, that of your pupils, and the necessary change of clothes, especially those coming in vehicles [post-haste]. You will also bring along a conduct certificate in conformity with art. 4 of the law dated 28 June 1833 for the entire period you have spent in the place (or where you reside); bring in also your teacher’s diploma”.
The places of annual retreats, which would take place first at Saint-Laurent, did not cease to increase and to diversify. In 1901 there were twelve retreats in France (there was a thirteenth in Canada): one for the juniors (at Poussan), three for the novices (at Saint-Laurent-sur-Sevre, Clermont-Ferrand and Mane), one for the scholastics (at Clavieres), one for the Principals of the west (at Saint-Laurent), two for the assistants of the west (at Saint-Laurent and Poitiers), three for the Brothers living far away from Saint-Laurent (at Ronchin, Clermont-Ferrand and Mees), and finally one for the Brothers who did the Ignatian Great Exercise in August at Saint-Laurent.
The Great Exercises were started by Br. Eugene-Marie in 1866: «In our ardent desire, he wrote, for the spiritual prosperity of the Congregation». That year there were 61 Brothers at Poitiers: all the members of the Great Council, most of the Directors of big houses and some privileged ones, for there were 150 requests. «This retreat of thirty days must make history in our Congregation; it is something extraordinary as it is also new», wrote Br. Augustin in the Chronicles while stressing the observance of perfect silence, the interest for instructions and the fervour of the retreatants. The experience would be renewed each year until the end of the century. A Jesuit preached the Great Exercises. At Saint-Laurent and at times elsewhere the retreats were for a long time animated by the Montfort Fathers.
The events of 1903 interrupted the retreats at Saint-Laurent for several years. In 1904 and 1905, they were held at Fayt-les-Manages in Belgium. Then in France: at the Jesuits’ house at Clamart, near Paris, at the Calvary of Pontchateau, at the Trappist monastery of Bellefontaine.