St. Viator, lector of the cathedral at Lyons, France, lived in the fourth century and is the earliest type of the teacher of the cathedral schools, In the exercise of the then important functions of the lectorate, namely in reading and expounding the Scriptures to the people and in catechizing the children, he displayed that zeal and ability for which he was held in such high esteem by his bishop, Saint Just, and by the Christian flock of Lyons. Hagiographers refer to him as "a most holy youth, who on account of his eminent virtues was much beloved by his bishop ". After the Council of Aquileia (381) St. Just decided to spend the remainder of his life in the penitential solitudes of Thebais, and selected young Viator as the companion of his voluntary exile. Both the aged bishop and his youthful lector died in the odour of sanctity in an austere monastery of Scété in the year 389. The feast of St. Viator, according to the Roman martyrology, is observed on 21 October.
Because St. Viator had sanctified himself in teaching the young, he was selected as the patron of a community of parochial clerics or catechists, who are priests and teaching brothers living on a footing of religious equality. This community, known as the Clerics of St. Viator, was founded in the year 1835 by the Very Rev. Father Louis-Joseph Querbes, pastor of the village of Vourles in the Archdiocese of Lyons . Desirous of securing Christian teachers for his own and for neighbouring parishes, where sad havoc had been wrought by the Reign of Terror, Father Querbes established at Vourles as early as 1829 a school for the training of lay teachers, which was soon officially sanctioned by the Royal Council of Public Instruction. In 1835 this organized band of secular teachers developed into a community of priests and brothers with the vows of religion, and was approved by the archiepiscopal authority of Lyons. With the assistance of the Roman Jesuits, Father Querbes obtained the approbation of the statutes of his new community from Gregory XVI in 1838. Under the generalship of Father Querbes the membership of the community increased so rapidly that before the time of his death (1 Sept., 1859) there existed three provinces of the society in France and one in Canada ; and the Clerics, besides teaching very many parochial schools, conducted the boarding colleges of Camonil (Rodez), St-Michel (Paris), St. Angeau College, the Deaf and Dumb College of Rodez, schools of agriculture at Blancotte and Notre-Dame de Treize-Pierres, and at Fontaines-sur-Saone a well-equipped publishing house from which were issued a large number of practical school classics and educational magazines such as "L'Ecole et la Famille" and "L'Ange Gardien", setting forth the necessity of co-operation between home, church, and school, pastor, parent, and teacher in view of the best educational results.
All the important houses of the community have been suppressed in France, where some two hundred members of the institute are still teaching in what are called Ecoles Libres . The exiled members are conducting flourishing schools in Spain and in Belgium, where the superior-general now resides. In 1847 Bishop Bourget , of Montreal, obtained from Father Querbes teachers for a small college recently founded in Joliette, Canada. Father S. Champagneur, C.S.V., who was appointed president of the college, opened a novitiate in Joliette in 1848, and became provincial superior of the new obedience of Canada, which developed rapidly in membership and efficiency. Soon Bourget College arose in Rigaud, the Deaf and Dumb School and the St. Louis School in Montreal, the St. Viator School in Juliette, and ten commercial colleges in the villages of the Province of Quebec. With this impetus the community continued to make rapid strides under the successors of Father Champagneur, Fathers Lajoie, Beaudry, and Ducharme, who found it necessary to enlarge the colleges of Bourget and Joliette. This last is now known as the Seminaire de Joliette, and is admittedly one of the best-equipped colleges of the Dominion. Having now three hundred priests and brothers, the Provincial administration was able to accept the large Ecole St. Jean Baptiste, Montreal, and to open colleges in St. Joseph de Levis, Berthier, Terrebonne, Boucherville, St. Remi, and to take charge of a large number of primary schools.
In the United States the Clerics of St. Viator, sometimes called Viatorians, have since 1865 had important parochial schools in Bourbonnais, Kankakee, St. George, Aurora, and Chicago, Illinois, in St. Joseph's parish, Cohoes, New York, in the cathedral parish, Ogdensburg, New York, and in Baker City, Oregon. In all these schools, except that of Bourbonnais, the Brothers have gradually been replaced by Sisters. The members of the community are now exercising their educational activities almost exclusively in high school and college work. Owing chiefly to this change in the educational conditions of the country, the Brothers of the American province more often embrace the larger opportunities offered by their community to pursue courses leading to the priesthood. The most important institution of the Viatorians in the United States is St. Viator College, Bourbonnais, Illinois, which grew out of the original district or village school, first into a commercial academy in 1865 upon the arrival of Father P. Beaudoin, and Brothers Martel and Bernard; then in 1868 with Father Thomas Roy, recently from Canada, the young school evolved into a classical college. The institution won the patronage of the public and the favour of the ecclesiastical authorities. After nine years of work Father Roy, whose memory was enshrined by his students in the beautiful Roy Memorial Chapel, returned in broken health to Canada, and was succeeded by Father M. J. Marsile, who directed the growing institution for over a quarter of a century. Under Father Marsile's presidency, courses and faculties in theology, philosophy, science, and languages were strengthened, and several branches were added to divers other courses to answer, the need of the times. In his honour his students built the Marsile Alumni Hall as a memorial. In 1906 the several buildings of St. Viator College were destroyed by fire. Courses were continued in improvised quarters and new buildings were erected. Father Marsile then resigned the presidency and Rev. J. P. O'Mahony, C. S. V., was appointed his successor. The college for several years has had a yearly enrollment of over three hundred students, and nearly three hundred priests and religious are numbered among its alumni. The list of commercial graduates and alumni who have entered the professions of law and medicine is larger still. St. Viator College has, besides a preparatory department and high school, the four years' college course proper. There is also, chiefly for the scholastics of the community, a complete four years' course of theology, to which diocesan students are admitted.
In 1910 Bishop O'Gorman, of Sioux Falls, South Dakota , purchased from the Federal Government a group of ten school buildings situated in Chamberlain, and placed these in the hands of the community of St. Viator. The Knights of Columbus took an active interest in the founding of the new institution, which therefore was called Columbus College. In the United States the Viatorians have also undertaken the care of parishes. They have now charge of: the Maternity parish, Bourbonnais, Illinois; St. Edward's and St. Viator's, Chicago ; St. Mary's, Beaverville, Illinois; and in Chamberlain, Pukwana, and Plankinton, South Dakota ; and the five missions attached to the parish of McMinnville, Oregon. In years past they were pastors in St. George, Manteno, Aurora, Dwight, Brimfield, and St. Jean Baptiste, Chicago, Illinois. In 1882 the establishments of the middle west became independent of the Canadian province and were erected into a separate obedience. Very Rev. Father C. Fournier was appointed superior, and opened a novitiate in Bourbonnais, 6 Oct., 1882. In 1888 the novitiate and the headquarters of the provincial administration were moved to Chicago. During the twenty-five years of his incumbency as provincial and master of novices, Father Fournier supplied the new province with the needed force of well-trained teachers for the various schools of his jurisdiction. Very Rev. A. Corcoran came to the assistance of Father Fournier for four years as provincial (1898-1902). Upon the death of Father Corcoran, Father Fournier again resumed the burden of the provincial direction. Resigning in 1908, he was succeeded by Very Rev. J. A. Charlebois, the present superior. As teaching Christian doctrine by word and example is the most important function of the Christian educator, every catechist of St. Viator is required by the rule to write a complete course of religious instruction. The brother catechists twice every day read selected portions of the Holy Scripture , of the Catechism of the Council of Trent , and of the Following of Christ. Priests and Brothers make daily a half hour meditation on the life of Christ and the virtues of religious life, read regularly ascetical works such as the "Christian Perfection" of Rodriguez, hear or say daily Mass, receive Holy Communion daily, and besides morning and evening prayers and beads in common, make a daily visit to the Blessed Sacrament or assist at benediction. The community rules require careful personal research in preparation for teaching. The books, school classics, published by members of the Congregation range from the elementary reading and spelling books to manuals of belle-lettres, from language primers and the small catechism to literary criticism and apologetics, from arithmetic to the higher mathematics.
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