Hardly a Soft Landing: The First Australian Foundation of the De la Salle Brothers-Armidale 1906

By Moe, Christian | Journal of the Australian Catholic Historical Society, Annual 2007 | Go to article overview

Hardly a Soft Landing: The First Australian Foundation of the De la Salle Brothers-Armidale 1906


Moe, Christian, Journal of the Australian Catholic Historical Society


The determination of the Australian Bishops to maintain a system of Catholic schools, despite the withdrawal in the 1870s of government aid to denominational schools, meant that they had to rely in the service of religious Sisters and Brothers. In effect, this meant especially appeal to Ireland as the source of such. (1)

Despite the repeated appeals made to them over several decades the Superiors of the Brothers of the Christian Schools (the De La Salle Brothers) had been unable to accede to such requests. Because their Institute was at that time predominantly French, there were few if any English-speaking Brothers available for an Australian foundation.

However, because of the special claims Cardinal Moran was recognised as having upon their gratitude for his earlier support, in Ireland, the Superiors in the early 1900s eventually acquiesced in his requests. The problem now was to find the Brothers; inevitably it was to Ireland that they looked. By the end of 1905 five Brothers had been selected for the Australian mission.

France

We need now to look at the French situation. In 1904, after a long campaign of harassment, religious as such were banned from employment in State-controlled schools. The Institute in France, numbering at that time some 10,000, was mortally wounded. Hundreds, if not thousands, of Brothers were directly affected.

To meet this situation the alternatives seemed to be either mass emigration or, in the French phrase, 'secularisation fictive'.

The first was virtually impossible, though many of the Brothers' greater institutions, their boarding schools (pensionnats), moved across the frontiers into more friendly settings in Belgium, Luxembourg, Italy and Spain; and some went even further afield, to Holland and England. The second option was supported by many of the Bishops, local clergy and parents of their pupils. It meant that the Brothers would abandon their religious habit and style of address and would give the government assurance that they no longer belonged to a religious Institute; the Superiors would attest such a declaration. The French authorities knew that this was in most cases a legal fiction and they carefully scrutinised the situation. However, this approach caused the Superiors, as also many of the Brothers themselves, great anguish: not only to relinquish the forms of religious life but to run the risk of becoming effectively secularised. Although in hindsight, in view of maintaining the continuity of the Brothers' form of religious life in France, secularisation was largely justified, the other option, emigration, was overwhelmingly favoured by the superiors and indeed encouraged by the Pope of the time, St Pius X. This explains how, when at the end of 1905 five Irish Brothers were ready to sail to Australia, there was a group of seven French Brothers assigned to join them.

The French Superiors had seen in the proposed Australian foundation an opportunity to solve in some degree a French problem: Australia offered an opportunity to establish, so to speak, a French District in exile and perhaps would become a basis for further expansion in that part of the world.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

As a preliminary, in mid-1905 an advance group consisting of the Irish Provincial, Br Anthony Jerome, and two prominent French Brothers, Br Didyme, Novice Master of the Nantes District and Br Divitien of the Quimper District, set out on an exploratory mission.

In the meantime Cardinal Moran had waived his claim on the Brothers in favour of the Bishop of Armidale, Dr O'Connor. In Sydney no specific provision had as yet been made as to where the Brothers would commence their mission, whereas in Armidale there was an empty school complex. St Patrick's College had been opened in the 1880s and for some years run successfully by the Patrician Brothers. However, in 1897, because of mutual dissatisfaction between them and the diocesan authorities, the Patrician Brothers had withdrawn. …

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