Rule of Life – Community in the School Setting
New Orientation of the Institute
Father Coindre had founded the Pieux-Secours to make a contribution to the education of the young people of Lyons. He had not thought about regular schools for, in the city, the Brothers of the Christian Schools were providing this service already.
But, in his travels in the parishes, he soon realized the urgent need for schools in the country, especially now that the government had forbidden the nuns to take boys into their institutions.
So, some months after the foundation of our Institute, he decided to direct it toward the work of teaching. He wrote to Brother Borgia on January 21, 1822: “If we start a second establishment, it will be to teach reading and writing to children, as do the Brothers of Doctrine. (Brothers of the Christian Schools) Consequently, I wish that you yourselves learn the methods of these Brothers by going, with my Brother (Father François) to visit their classes, questioning them about their procedures, and then teaching our Brothers what you will have learned.”
The first opportunity arose at Monistrol in Haute Loire. At the beginning of 1823, the novitiate had been transferred to a house belonging to us. In this same house a school was opened for the children of the parish. The pupils who came were so numerous that soon they had to be lodged in another place. It was at the same time a school of experience for the novices, who began teaching under the direction of their novice masters.
This work was soon well known by the pastors of the region, who began to ask for the services of the Brothers.
In 1824, three new schools were opened:
Le Monastier, Haute Loire – An elementary school with boarders, set up in an old castle, with three Brothers constituting the staff.
Pradelles, Haute Loire – Apparently an elementary school, probably with boarders; a personnel of four Brothers.
St. Symphorien, Loire – A private school, organized by the pastor and his council; with boarders; four Brothers.
In 1825, schools were opened at the following places:
Montfaucon, Haute Loire – Elementary school with boarders; four Brothers.
Fontaines-Cailloux, Loire – Seems to have been organized by the pastor; three Brothers. One went on Sundays to the neighboring parish of Saint Martin to teach the catechism to the boys and to act as minder during the parish liturgical services.
Neulise, Loire – Seems to have been an elementary school; three Brothers.
Murat, Cantal – Seems to have been a free school; three Brothers.
From this time on, our chief work was teaching in schools, and thus the work of the Pieux-Secours was unique in our history.
The early schools were either “free” schools, that is, schools supported by the parish, or “communal” schools, in charge of the civil authorities, but founded at the request of pastors. Most of them received as boarders children from the neighboring villages.
In general, the pupils were somewhat beyond elementary school age, judged by today’s standards. Often they came for only a year or two before leaving for military service.
As these schools were in rural places, they were only about half filled in the springtime, as the country children left their books to tend the cattle or to work on the farm. Only the sons of the townspeople, of the artisans, professional people, or shop-workers, finished the school year. The Superior took advantage of these times to recall the younger Brothers no longer needed for teaching, to the novitiate at Monistrol or at Lyons, so that they could continue their own studies and become more efficient.
As means of support, our Brothers received a monthly tuition from the parents of the day pupils and the fees for keeping the boarders. In nearly all the establishments a grant from the community or the parish made it possible for them to accept some poor boys without charge.
These primary schools, judging by the number of classes, did not go beyond what we now call the fourth grade, some of them not beyond the second.
The teaching, obviously consisted only in the elements of religion, reading, writing, and arithmetic. Special stress was placed upon penmanship, which was taught very painstakingly, for at that time, before typewriters were available, good penmen were in demand in the offices of professional, industrial and commercial enterprises. The better the penmanship, the better chance there was for employment in such establishments.
The chief styles of penmanship at the time and place were called the Ronde, the Batarde, and the Coulee. According to a letter of Father Coindre, the Coulee was the most popular. He wrote to Brother Borgia, in regard to the novices: “I believe that not all are capable of learning all the systems of penmanship. Everybody wants the Coulee. So have them practice this one above all; it will suffice.
Our schools soon had a good reputation. Here is the testimony of the Rector of Clermont Academy, in an 1829 letter to Father François Coindre:
“The Bishop of Le Puy, with whose judgment I completely agree, has spoken to me in terms of high praise of the piety, zeal, and competence of your Brothers. I believe I am serving the interests of religion, of good manners, and of family life, by helping as best I can, your worthy association.
“I would gladly see all the municipalities of the diocese of Le Puy enriched by the acquisition of the appreciable advantage that eight of them already enjoy. The pastor of Murat daily admires the work and the piety of the Brothers who direct his school."