Brief History of the Rocky Mountain Missions
of the Brothers of Christian Instruction (FIC) in the United States
from 1903 to 1910

By Brother Albert Heinrich FIC

(Original edited article appeared in the Winter 2012-3 issue of the Clarion Newsletter.)

Photos by Br. Albert Heinrich -- click on image for an enlargement

On January 31, 1903 seven Brothers of Christian Instruction from France landed at the Port of New York in the United States aboard the Steamship “La Lorraine” after an eight-day voyage from Le Havre, France. Five of these were destined to be the first of 18 Brothers under the direction of the Mission Superior, 37 year-old Brother Bruno [Joseph Marie LeCloarec] who would spend 7 years and 4 months in the Rocky Mountains of the United States Northwest in the newly-formed Holy Angels’ District of the Brothers of Christian Instruction.

SacredHeartBigID2012small (72K) The cross continental journey by train went by way of Montreal and LaPrairie, Quebec, Canada where they were joined by a 6th French companion: 22 year-old Brother Salvius Gru who had been teaching in Canada for five years. The six FIC’s arrived at Sacred Heart Indian Mission on the Coeur d’Alene Indian Reservation in DeSmet, Idaho on February 14, 1903. Sacred Heart Mission had been founded in 1842 by the Jesuits in Desmet in northwestern Idaho. The 6 brothers spent the rest of the school year learning and being immersed in the English language.

The invitation of having the Brothers of Christian Instruction come to the USA was formally introduced at a whole community gathering of Brothers at our Mother-house at Ploërmel in northwest France on a Sunday night in August, 1902. Jesuit Provincial of the Red Indian missions in the far west of the United States, Father George De La Motte SJ with the approval of his superiors asked for Brothers of Christian Instruction to come and teach in these missions. The FIC Superior General, Brother Abel Gaudichon, and his council readily agreed. The timing of the request was providential because in July, 1901 French Prime Minister Pierre Waldeck-Rousseau pushed through the French Parliament a law of religious association. This law was ruthlessly enforced by the next Prime Minister Emile Combes and in 1903 Brother Abel received official notice that the Brothers of Christian Instruction were officially forbidden to teach, forbidden to wear the cassock, and disbanded in France, and the property and buildings of the Ploërmel Mother-house seized by the government.

StIgnatiusMTCaptionsmall (65K) Soon 7 additional FIC’s arrived in New York on an 8-day voyage on the Steamship “La Gascogne” on Sunday July 19, 1903. They also travelled cross-continent by train via Montreal and LaPrairie and were joined by 3 brothers who had already been teaching in Canada including Br. Hervé Gru who was the twin-brother to Br. Salvius Gru. These 10 brothers, including 3 scholastics, arrived at St. Ignatius Mission in western Montana on the Flathead Indian Reservation to join with Brothers Bruno and Salvius. St. Ignatius Mission was founded by Fr. Pierre-Jean De Smet SJ in 1854. The current mission church (built with more than a million bricks) was completed in 1893 and greeted the FIC’s in 1903. These 12 FIC’s spent the next year learning English and learning how to teach from the Jesuits.

St. Ignatius Church is a favorite destination of tourists today for it contains 58 fresco religious paintings on the walls and ceilings painted by an untrained Jesuit Brother Joseph Carignano who had been a cook at the Mission. During the year 1903-4, Mass was celebrated in the church basement!

In July, 1904 the 16 brothers in the Rockies mission gathered at St. Ignatius for relaxation, for sharing, and for the annual retreat. This year they were visited by Superior General Reverend Brother Abel Gaudichon. The brothers would gather at one of the missions each July for similar meetings until they left the Rockies in June, 1910.

Of interesting note, only two of the Brothers—Br. Bruno and 29-year old Br. Constantin Marie Roulin (of the second group)—had perpetual religious vows. At that time in the Congregation, the Brothers pronounced 10 years of temporary vows before they could pronounce perpetual vows.

Two additional brothers would arrive in September, 1904 making a total of 18 missionaries. The Brothers would receive their yearly assignments at the summer gatherings. They would be at least 2 FIC’s per mission and would teach and supervise Indian boys for 10 months from early September to the end of June of each year.

NWmissionMapNamesCaptionLegendB (125K) Other Jesuit missions where the brothers taught: St. Francis Regis near Colville, WA (est. 1869); St. Paul in Hays, MT (est. 1887) on the Fort Belknap Indian Reservation; Holy Family (est. 1890) located 15 miles east of Browning, MT on the Blackfeet Reservation; St. Mary (est. 1886) located 5 miles east of Omak, WA on the Colville Indian Reservation; and St. Andrew (est. 1847) located 8 miles east of Pendleton, OR on the Umatilla Indian Reservation. As of 2012, all missions except St. Francis Regis remain active churches. During this time period two brothers from the group were also sent to two missions in Alaska.

Much to the disappointment of the missionary brothers, the Jesuit Superiors, and the western Indians, the last Brothers of Christian Instruction were asked to leave the Northwest USA and Alaska by the General Chapter of 1909 which took place on Jersey Island (between France and England). In June, 1910, the brothers were reassigned to Plattsburgh, NY; to Canada; and to various countries and FIC missions in the world.

BrAlariusNedelecGraveMTsmall (171K) However, there will always be one Brother of Christian Instruction who stayed behind in the Rockies – a former teacher at the scholasticate, 24-year old Br. Alarius Nédélec – who died on September 10, 1904 and was buried in the mission cemetery at St. Ignatius Mission, MT.

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