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Xaverian Brothers

An institute of lay-men, founded under episcopal approbation by Theodore James Ryken, in Belgium, in the year 1839

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Xaverian Brothers (CONGREGATION OF THE BROTHERS OF ST. FRANCIS XAVIER), an institute of lay-men, founded under episcopal approbation by Theodore James Ryken, in Belgium, in the year 1839. To obtain the views of American prelates as to the merits of his project to establish a teaching congregation, he came to America (1837), and received approval from seven bishops, who gave him testimonial letters. Returning to Europe, he laid his plan before Msgr. Boussens, Bishop of Bruges, who granted his sanction on condition that Ryken should first make a year’s novitiate under the Redemptorists at St-Trond. After completing the novitiate Ryken established his congregation at Bruges. From the beginning trials and difficulties threatened the existence of the new institute. Subjects did not come or failed to persevere, and the means of subsistence were to be had only by painful effort. In June, 1840, the brotherhood consisted of three members. In the following year the generosity of a banker of Bruges, Dujardin, enabled the community to purchase the property known as “Het Walletje”, from the moat that surrounded it, and here the brothers established their motherhouse. An unknown benefactor also left a considerable sum of money with the request that it be devoted to helping missionary work. The words of Sallust, “Concordia res pare n crescunt”, were adopted by the brothers as their motto. A boys’ sodality was opened at Het Walletje, followed shortly by a primary school in the same place; the work of catechizing was taken up at the Church of Notre-Dame, and some attention was given to the training of deaf-mutes. The brothers’ first grammar school was opened at Bruges (1844) and in the following year a second school of the same rank was established there. Already the progressive character of the youthful institute was shown by its sending several members to St-Trond Normal School for higher professional training. In 1846 the brothers were called to England, and a school was begun at Bury, Lancashire, but in 1856 the community removed to Manchester. It was at Manchester that the brothers popularized the May devotions, and promoted the wearing of the scapular of Mount Carmel.

On July 10, 1854, the founder sailed from Havre to take the direction of a school in Louisville, Kentucky, at the invitation of Bishop Martin J. Spalding, who had long desired the Xaverians to come to the United States. The pioneers were Brothers Paul, Hubert, Stanislaus, Stephen, and Bernardine. The Xaverians took charge of several parochial schools there, and finally (1864) opened an institution under their own auspices, which still exists as St. Xavier’s College, and had an attendance of five hundred students in 1910. When Bishop Spalding became Archbishop of Baltimore (1864), he invited the congregation to conduct St. Mary’s Industrial School for Boys. The Xaverians decided to make Baltimore the center of their activities in the United States, and they purchased a site just beyond the western limits of the city, where in 1876 a novitiate for the United States was opened. The first general chapter was held at Bruges (1869); meanwhile the brothers were extending their work in England. They had established a house for novices at Hammersmith (1861), near the Normal Training College, in order that the young members might follow the courses there. Two years later a new mission was accepted. The Duchess of Leeds, an American of the Caton family of Maryland, had just founded an orphanage at Hastings, Sussex, and the Xaverians were asked to take charge. By a coincidence, the land on which St. Mary’s Industrial School, Baltimore, stands is known as the Duchess of Leeds estate. The foundation at Hastings was removed to Mayfield, and was gradually diverted from its original plan as an orphanage, and became a successful boarding school, which has at present several fine buildings. The main structure, Gothic in its features, was designed by Pugin. Clapham College, adjoining Clapham Common, London, has developed from a small beginning made in the early sixties, to an influential position among English Catholic colleges. It is a center for the Oxford local examinations. The Catholic Collegiate Institute, as the brothers’ principal school at Manchester is called, was removed to an attractive site at Victoria Park, in the suburbs of that city, in 1005. The following year a new school was opened. Since 1875 England has formed one of the three provinces into which the institute was then divided; America and Belgium being the other two. In Belgium the brothers founded, in connection with the motherhouse, a school, Institut St. Francois-Xavier, which has at present (1911) over seven hundred students. Other houses were founded at Thourout, Huthoulst, Heyst, and Zedelghem.

In the United States the congregation has made its greatest gains. The membership in the American province (1911) numbers 127 professed, 19 scholastics, 21 novices, and 20 aspirants. The Xaverian missions in the United States comprise 5 colleges, 6 academies, 15 parochial schools, 5 industrial schools, and 4 homes for boys. At Baltimore, Maryland, is Mt. St. Joseph‘s College, adjoining the novitiate. In the Archdiocese of Boston, which the congregation entered in 1882, it conducts schools at Lowell, Lawrence, Somerville, East Boston, Danvers, and Newton Highlands. Other schools in Massachusetts are at Worcester, and Milbury. At Manchester, New Hampshire, and at Deep River, Connecticut, are Xaverian missions also. The Diocese of Richmond has a number of institutions under the care of the brothers—two schools at Richmond, a college at Old Point Comfort, and academies at Norfolk, Portsmouth, and Newport-News. In the Diocese of Wheeling there are two schools: the Cathedral High School, and Elm Grove Training School. Besides St. Xavier’s College, the city of Louisville has three smaller establishments managed by the institute. In Detroit, Michigan, they conduct a boy’s home. To as great an extent as possible the brothers engage in secondary school work, regarding this as their particular sphere; though it is found advantageous to undertake parochial and industrial schools also. A notable secondary school conducted by the Xaverians is St. John’s Preparatory College, Danvers, Massachusetts, established in 1906.

Since its foundation the institute has had three superiors-general: the founder, Brother Francis, who resigned in 1860; Brother Vincent (1860-96); and from 1896, Brother John Chrysostom. The American province has had three provincials: Brother Alexius, from 1875 to 1900; Brother Dominic, from 1900 to 1907; and Brother Isidore, chosen in 1907. The entire congregation is under the jurisdiction of the Bishop of Bruges; and it is governed by its constitution and by a rule similar to that practiced by other religious societies of laymen, having simple vows. The constitution of the society provides that all its members shall be laymen; no priests are admitted to membership. The brothers are to bind themselves by the three vows of religion, and are to dedicate themselves to the instruction of youth, in any country to which they may be sent, and in which they may live according to the spirit of their congregation. Its members are not restricted to teaching elementary branches. Candidates for membership are admitted as postulants for three months if they have attained their sixteenth year; younger applicants are rated as aspirants, and their education and training are provided for until they are old enough to become postulants. After the postulant completes his term he begins, if he is deemed a satisfactory subject, a novitiate of two years. Then the three vows are taken. These vows are final. After five years as a professed member the Xaverian brother may make application to take a fourth vow—the vow of stability—by which he binds himself more closely to the congregation, and becomes eligible for superiorship, and to act as delegate to the general chapter, which is held every six years and acquires the right to vote for the elective offices. The superior-general is elected by delegates chosen by the brothers who have the vow of stability. His term of office is for six years; and he is eligible for reelection. The provincials are nominated by the superior-general, assisted by the suffrages of the brothers of the province concerned, without being bound, however, to appoint the one receiving the most votes. The provincials have the same term of office as the superior-general, and may be reappointed. The superior-general, the provincials, and local superiors are assisted in their administrative work by councils, two or three members to a council. Father Van Kerkhoven, S.J., an early friend of the congregation, framed the Rule of the Xaverian Brothers. Pius IX granted a Brief of encouragement to the superior-general, Brother Vincent, on the occasion of the latter’s visit to Rome in 1865. According to the terms of the Apostolic Constitution “Condit a Christo”, such recognition ranks the institute with the approved congregations.


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