The Brothers of Christian Instruction were founded in 1817 by Jean Marie de la Mennais in order to teach the poor children of Brittany, whose religious and secular education had been sadly neglected in the wake of the Revolution and the Napoleonic regime. In 1819 another founder, Fr Deshayes, merged his own young congregati
on with that of Fr de la Mennais and it is at this date that the Society received its title and also its motto “For God Alone”.
Jean Marie Robert de la Mennais was born at St. Malo in Brittany on the feast of Our Lady’s birth, September 8th, 1780. His father was a wealthy ship-owner who had rendered his province an eminent service by selling off his corn below price at a time of serious famine. Louis XVI honoured him by adding the title de la Mennais to the family name Robert.
Jean lost his mother when he was only seven but her deep piety and lively intelligence marked him for life.
He had early set his heart on being a priest and, despite the difficult times of the Revolution, he advanced rapidly in his studies and in spiritual growth under the tuition of Fr Vielle, a young priest in hiding, and Fr de Cloriere. The latter was a Jesuit priest and in 1790, during the Revolution, he founded the Daughters of the Heart of Mary, a Congregation which has today a house in Liverpool.
On February 25th, 1804, Jean was ordained a priest and in addition to his normal duties he immediately took up the work of education. This was to remain his overriding concern for the rest of his days and it was for its sake that he declined the bishopric on numerous occasions.
Like every servant of God, Jean de la Mennais was marked by the cross and he was the victim of the vilest accusations. But the hand of God was upon his work and such was the success of his Congregation of Brothers that they were soon in demand not only throughout France but also in its colonies and in England. The young men that Fr de la Mennais educated at Cardinal Wiseman’s request were to form a separate congregation; and it is to this initiative that St. Mary’s College of Education, Twickenham, owes its origin’s.
In 1903, the Congregation had a severe setback when, by order of the Combes government, all its schools in France and the colonies were closed. The French novitiate was immediately transferred to England. But in 1922 the Superiors of the Order found a more convenient house for it in Jersey and at the request of the Bishop of Portsmouth premises vacated at Southampton became a new school St. Mary’s College. It is now a primary and grammar school of some 800 pupils. In 1961 the Brothers came to Liverpool and in September 1964 they began teaching at St Francis Xavier’s College.
In 1974 they undertook the direction of the College.
The aim of the Brothers in Liverpool, as elsewhere, whether in Tahiti or Spain or Canada, remains that of their Founder, “to make known Jesus Christ”. It is only such an aim that could justify the sacrifices of so many parents and warrant the future of Catholic schools.
The Brothers of Christian Instruction’s Website can be found here.