(Priests of the Community of St. Basil)
During the French Revolution, Mgr. D'Aviau, the last Archbishop of Vienne, saw his clergy diminish so rapidly through persecution, that only about one-third of them remained, with no recruits to replace them. It was impossible to maintain a college or a seminary, so in 1800 he founded a school in the almost inaccessible little village of St. Symphorien de Mahun, in the mountains of the Vivarais. This institution was placed in the charge of Father Lapierre, who had managed to take care of the parish of St. Symphorien during this period of persecution. His assistant was Father Marie Joseph Actorie, who had been professor of philosophy in the seminary of Die before the Revolution. In spite of its humble beginning and the many dangers to which it was exposed, the school prospered. In 1802, the state of the country had improved to such an extent that concealment was no longer necessary, and Father Picansel, parish priest of Annonay, and vicar general of the diocese, succeeded in obtaining from the municipal authorities of that town the lease of a former Franciscan monastery, to which the school was transferred. For many years the school performed the work which the bishop had expected from it, but the long fight against poverty and the persecution of so-called liberals threatened at last to be too much for those in charge. Some other method had to be tried, and in 1822, the professors asked to be permitted to found a religious community, with the college at Annonay for its mother-house. The bishop of Viviers, in whose diocese the town of Annonay was included, granted the necessary permission, and appointed a commission to draw up a rule for the new society. On 21 November, 1822, the ten members who were at the time the teaching staff of the college, made the promise which bound them temporarily to the work. They were, Fathers Lapierre, Duret, Vallon, Polly, Tourvieille, Tracol, Martinèche, Fayolle, Payan, and Pages.
In 1837 a constitution was drawn up and sent to Rome for approval. By this the members of the society were to be bound by the simple vows of poverty, obedience, chastity, and stability. The vow of poverty, however, was limited. Each member of the community could retain all his own property and his Mass intentions, and was to receive a small salary from the community. By this vow he could not accumulate and increase his possessions, but had to spend all his salary and the annual income from his property, and this included the prohibition of speculation or any other worldly moneymaking. This community was to be under the direction of a superior general, residing at Annonay, the Diocese of Viviers, France. The aim of the society was to be the education of Catholic youth, especially of such as intended to become priests. This constitution was signed by several French bishops, all of whom had been able to appreciate the work done by the community, and to testify to the piety and zeal of its members. The Holy See was pleased to declare the society worthy of praise, and in 1863 Pius IX confirmed this decree, granting at the same time certain privileges and imposing certain restrictions on the possessions of the community. A few years ago, the constitutions were again sent to Rome, but the Holy See wished to make some changes in the administration of the community, and these are now being tested with a view to their final approval. When the recent decree banishing religious orders from France was put in force, the Basilians had colleges in Annonay, Périgueux, Aubenas, Privas, and Vernoux, in France ; Blidah and Bone in Algiers ; and Plymouth in England. All these, with the exception of he last, were transfered to seculars or confiscated, and the religious obliged to scatter until more favourable times.
In 1852, Mgr. De Charbonnel, Bishop of Toronto, Canada, requested the Basilians to found a college in his diocese. Accordingly, a small number were sent there, and opened a school which has developed into the present St. Michael's College, the headquarters of the Basilians in America. It was opened in a small house, but was soon moved to a wing of the bishop's palace which had been built for the purpose. In September, 1855, the cornerstone of the present building was laid. Since then various additions have been made, and the college is now able to accommodate a large number of students. The first superior was Father Soulerin, who managed the college from 1852 to 1865, when he was elected superior general of his community. St. Michael's is federated with the University of Toronto, its president is ex officio a member of the Senate of the university and of the university council, and it also appoints two other representatives to the senate. There are three courses of study open to its students, the commercial, the classical, and the philosophical. Among the more prominent of those who made their studies, either partially or entirely, at St. Michael's were the Archbishop of Toronto and the Bishops of Hamilton, Peterborough, London, and Sault Ste. Marie in Canada and Albany and Columbus in the United States.
The American Province includes four other colleges and numerous parishes. The colleges are Assumption college, Sandwich, Canada ; St. Basil's College, Waco; St. Thomas's College, Houston, and St. Mary's Seminary, La Porte, in Texas. Of the parishes in charge of the Basilians, the most important are St. Basil's and the Holy Rosary, Toronto, Sandwich, Amherstburg, and Owen Sound in Canada, and St. Anne's, Detroit. The noviciate of the community and the scholasticate are in Toronto. The novitiate lasts for one year, after which the members remain under temporal vows for three years. As no one can enter the society who does not intend to become a priest, the final vows are not taken until the subdiaconate, so that, if, at the end of three years the scholastic is not ready for Holy orders, he renews his temporal vows. St. Basil's College, Waco, Texas, was founded in 1889. The course of studies includes both the commercial and classical departments. St. Thomas's College, Houston, Texas, was founded in 1900. It is a day school. St. Mary's Seminary, La Porte, Texas, was opened in October, 1901, by the Rt. Rev. N.A. Gallagher, Bishop of Galveston. Its primary object is the education of young men for the priesthood, but there is also maintained in connection with the seminary a college in which boys and young men are prepared for any of the learned professions. It is under the direct supervision of the Bishop of Galveston.
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