May 23 – THE FIRST THREE SUPERIORS GENERAL

THE FIRST THREE SUPERIORS GENERAL

Are there many Congregations whose first three Superiors General were photographed together? Saint Gabriel had this good fortune thanks to Br. Eugene-Marie. As early as 1864 he had planned to take his two predecessors to Rome but the General Council opposed the plan for financial reasons, contrary to the opinion of the Brothers who had supported it massively. A large picture preserved at the General House shows Pope Pius IX resting his right hand on the bowed head of Br. Eugene-Marie. What as document for posterity it would have been if Brothers Augustin and Simeon had been included instead of his travelling companion Br. Louis de Gonzague!

On 23 May 1872 the three Superiors were invited to attend the blessing of the chapel of the Ploermel Brothers in their school of Toutes-Aides in Nantes. It was an opportunity not to be missed. A Nantes photographer took the valuable photograph just in time as Br. Augustin who was then 75 died three years later.

He was to appear again in the company of his two successors on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the first profession of seven Brothers, including Bros. Augustin and Simeon and one Brother of the Holy Spirit. They were the survivors among the 42 novices trained at Saint-Laurent since the arrival of Fr. Deshayes and had taken their first vows together on 22 September 1824. Br. Eugene-Marie requested that a great celebni.tion be organised in their honour on 24 September 1874 within the precincts of the Mother House; the precincts were decorated with three triumphal arches, a solemn Mass was celebrated by the Vicar General of Lw;on, six speeches were made, cantatas were sung and musical pieces played. “It was a celebration of gratitude, a celebration of authority. On that occasion Br. Eugene-Marie, Superior General, seemed glad to remain in the background so as to give pride of place to those who had borne the very heavy burden of leadership before him, and he lavished on them the most thoughtful care. It was noticed with gratitude to God that it was probably the only Congregation which after 50 years could thus honour all its former Superiors General still alive and present in its midst” (Semaine religieuse of Lucon).

Although everything seemed to go against the rough Br. Augustin and the very gentle Br. Simeon, their very long collaboration from 1825 to 1862 is nevertheless a model of harmony. But their dealings with Br. Eugene-Marie were totally different. Br. Simeon’s dealings with his successor, who was a friend of his, were full of trust, and Br. Eugene-Marie did not hesitate to take ·on his Council the Brother he called his “mentor”. In contrast to him, Br. Augustin had dared to write after the election of Br. Eugene-Marie that the Institute had been entrusted to “foreign hands”; however, he admitted that he was prejudiced against a man from the south of France who was full of initiative and seemed to treat the traditions with disdain.

In retrospect, we can understand what each contributed in his own providential way. The infant Institute needed to be org nised: Br. Augustin, who was practically­ minded and a wise administrator, established it on a solid basis, built the Mother House, and had it officially recognised in France. At the same time the Institute needed a soul: Br. Simeon, who exuded prayer, taught the Brothers to value their religious consecration and instilled into them the spirit of the Congregation which is a spirit of simplicity, peace and charity. Finally the Institute needed to be strengthened, to define its identity, and to provide a solid secular and religious formation for the Brothers: Br. Eugene-Marie was the right man for this and he was the strongest influence on the infant Institute.

Date

May 23

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