Congregation of St. Basil
The Congregation of St. Basil (CSB) is a small, international Catholic community of priests and students for the priesthood focused on broad Christian education, preaching and life in community. The motto of the Basilians is “teach me goodness, discipline and knowledge” from Psalm 119. The CSB crest includes the founding date of the Congregation (1822), the motto in Latin and four symbols: a chalice representing the Blessed Sacrament, an open book representing knowledge, a fleur-de-lis representing both the Blessed Virgin and the French origins of the Basilians and a Greek cross representing Christ and honoring St. Basil, the Greek patron of the congregation.
During the turmoil and persecution of the Catholic Church during the French Revolution and the Reign of Terror, a clandestine school was established by Joseph Lapierre in Saint-Symphorien-de-Mahun in the department of Ardèche, in the south-central part of France. Following several years of operation, the congregation was founded in 1822 by a group of ten priests in order to ensure the continuation of the schools operating in and around Annonay, a town of about 5,000 at the time. The schools became known for their range of teaching including humanities, rhetoric, philosophy, mathematics, physics and chemistry. The members of the new group devoted themselves to Christian education, preaching, and life in community. On November 21, 1822, during the feast of the Presentation of Our Lady, the ten founders chose Joseph Lapierre as the first Superior General and St. Basil as the patron for the order. St. Basil the Great was a fourth century (330-379 CE) Greek bishop and doctor of the Church known as a theologian, a champion of orthodoxy and particularly for his care of the poor and underprivileged. He was considered a father of communal monasticism who moderated some of the more severe practices in monastic life and helped establish a balance between work and prayer. St. Basil also believed in incorporating secular learning, particularly the “pagan classics,” into a Christian education. Other patrons of the Basilians are: the Blessed Virgin Mary, St. Joseph, St. Francis of Assisi, St. Thomas Aquinas, and St. John Bosco.
The ten founding priests were:
- Pierre Tourvielle who received covert education during the French Revolution from his older brother, a priest. Tourvielle became the second Basilian Superior General in 1838.
- Julien Tracol was a teacher, librarian, record keeper and first unofficial historian of the Congregation of St. Basil.
- Joseph Lapierre was a priest who fled persecution during the Revolution and secretly celebrated Mass and provided clandestine Christian education. Lapierre became the first Superior General and prepared and submitted the first draft Constitutions of the Basilians to Rome.
- Jacques Duret was born in Annonay, the son of a physician. He studied in Paris and was a classmate of the revolutionary enemy of the Catholic Church, Maximilien Robespierre.
- Augustin Payan attended the clandestine seminary college at Saint-Symphorien-de-Mahun, becoming a teacher and studying theology.
- Jean-Baptiste Polly was mayor of Saint-Symphorien-de-Mahun (then called Mahun Libre by the revolutionaries) and hid priests to protect them. He attended the clandestine seminary college where he studied theology, and was secretly ordained.
- Andre Fayolle, nephew of Pierre Tourvielle, was a teacher who studied theology before he was ordained.
- Henri Martinesche was ordained in 1822 and was a teacher and chaplain.
- Jean Antoine Vallon was ordained around 1800 and was a teacher at Saint-Symphorien-de-Mahun and later at Annonay.
- Jean Francois Pagès studied philosophy and theology and was ordained in 1818. The following year, he began teaching in Annonay.
In their early years, the Basilians were not a religious congregation in the canonical sense. They were an association or society of secular priests willing to live in community and pool their resources to support Christian education and preaching. The members did not take formal religious vows of poverty, chastity and obedience until later. In the early years, boundaries were somewhat fluid on membership in the association, based on who lived in the community and taught at the schools at any time. The early years of the Basilian congregation were full of challenges. The local bishop, who was prepared to suppress the congregation, died the night before signing a decree. However within a couple of generations, the Basilians had grown sufficiently to be formally approved by Pius IX in 1863. During the French Third Republic, Catholic schools were again a target, this time of the Socialists who were determined to secularize education. The decrees of 1880 targeted Jesuits but affected all teaching orders including the Basilians, and as a result of the persecution they were forced to close one of their schools in 1881 and one of their houses. The French government finally suppressed all religious orders in what was known as “La loi de Combes” in 1903. The Basilian confreres were dispersed and their property was sold at auction. The religious life of the Basilian Fathers in France was suspended for twenty years, a blow from which they never recovered.
Bishop Armand-François-Marie de Charbonnel was named the Bishop of Toronto in 1850. He was a Basilian student in Annonay from 1811 to 1819 and turned to Patrick Moloney, an Irish Basilian to assist him in his work with the largely Irish Catholic community in Toronto. The order decided to send four of its members, including Father Moloney, and established St. Michael’s College in 1852, quickly followed by St. Basil’s parish in 1856.
This effort was a large investment, risk and sacrifice for the congregation as it represented a significant percentage of the total number of available Basilian priests.
The institute also founded Assumption College, which became Assumption University in Windsor, Ontario, now federated with the University of Windsor; St. Thomas More College in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan federated with the University of Saskatchewan; and St. Joseph's College in Edmonton, Alberta affiliated with the University of Alberta. St. Thomas College (later St. Thomas University (New Brunswick) in Chatham, New Brunswick, was founded by the Basilians in 1910, and in 1923 the college was transferred to the local diocesan clergy.
Toronto remains one of the largest centers for the Congregation of St. Basil, and is home to the Basilian Curial Offices and the Cardinal Flahiff Basilian Centre.
Division and Reunion
Discussion between the Congregation in France and North America resulted in the amicable Decree of Separation in June 1922 creating two separate religious congregations, each with their own constitutions.
The French and North American branches were reunited in 1955, an occasion celebrated in Annonay.
The Basilian Fathers have been active in the United States since the late nineteenth century. The first Basilian ministry in the United States was in Texas with the founding of St Basil’s College in Waco in 1899, The Basilians founded and still operate St. Thomas High School and the University of St. Thomas both in Houston, Texas. Basilian mission work serving Spanish-speaking populations in Texas has included: Galveston, Houston, Sugar Land, Rosenberg, Wharton, New Gulf, Bay City, Angleton, Freeport and Eagle Lake. The work in Texas also served as the platform for Basilian mission work in Mexico and Colombia. The Basilians also opened Catholic Central High School in Detroit, Michigan and Andrean High School in Merrillville, Indiana. They co-sponsor Detroit Cristo Rey High School with the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary.
In 1937 the Basilians took over Aquinas Institute in Rochester, New York, and in 1948 established St. John Fisher College in the same city. St. John Fisher remains a Basilian College and the Basilians maintain strong links to the Aquinas Institute.
The Basilians started missions to Mexico in 1961 and Colombia in 1987. The Basilian Fathers have served in Mexico City and currently serve in Tehuacán, Puebla, Mexico, and Bogotá, Cali, and Medellín, Colombia in Latin America. The congregation established parishes and schools in Colombia and Mexico, and is affiliated with St. Basil’s Medical Centre in Colombia.
The Basilians Today
- In France, the Basilians still serve at College Sacré-Coeur and in parishes in and around Annonay.
- In Toronto, Basilians serve at St. Michael’s College School, Holy Rosary and St. Basil’s parishes, the University of St. Michael’s College and the Pontifical Institute of Medieval Studies.
- Toronto is also home to the Basilian Curial Offices and the Cardinal Flahiff Basilian Centre.
- In Windsor, Basilians serve at Assumption College and Assumption parish.
- In Edmonton, Basilians serve at St. Joseph’s College and St. Alphonsus and St. Clare parishes.
- In Detroit, Basilians serve at Catholic Central and Cristo Re high schools.
- In Rochester, Basilians serve at St. Kateri Tekakwitha parish and St. John Fisher College
- In Houston, Basilians serve at St. Thomas High School, the University of St. Thomas, and St. Anne’s parish.
- In Angleton TX, Basilians serve at Most Holy Trinity Church.
- In Tehuacán, Mexico, Basilians serve at Casa San Felipe and the parish San Lorenzo.
- In Cali, Colombia, Basilians serve at the parish and school Nuestra Señora de la Asunción.
- In Medellín, Colombia, Basilians serve at the parish San Basilio.
As well, there are Basilians engaged in Christian education, pastoral care, and media ministry in Canada and the US.
- The Basilians have novitiate houses in Sugar Land, Texas and Bogotá, Colombia.
- The Basilians have scholasticate (residences for Basilian seminarians) in Toronto and Medellín.
- The Basilians have residences for retired priests in Toronto, Las Cruces, Windsor, Rochester, and Houston.
- David Bauer, Canadian amateur hockey advocate and Olympic hockey coach
- Ronald Peter Fabbro, Bishop of London, Ontario, 2002-Present
- George Bernard Cardinal Flahiff, Archbishop of Winnipeg,1961-1982
- John Michael Miller, Coadjutor Archbishop of Vancouver, 2007-2009 and Archbishop of Vancouver, 2009-Present
- Denis T. O'Connor, Bishop of London, Ontario, 1890-1899 and Archbishop of Toronto, 1899-1908
- Ricardo Ramírez, Auxiliary Bishop of San Antonio, Texas, 1981-1982 and Bishop of Las Cruces, New Mexico, 1982-2013
- Thomas Rosica, CEO of Salt + Light Television network
- Basilian Fathers' website
- Basilian Vocation Website
- Basilian school in Cali, Colombia
- Salt and Light TV website
- Congregation of St. Basil basic information
- Canadian Daily Mass