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The Xaverian Brothers or Congregation of St. Francis Xavier (CFX) are a religious institute founded by Theodore James Ryken in Bruges, Belgium in 1839 and named after Saint Francis Xavier. The institute is dedicated to Roman Catholic education in Belgium, England and the United States.
Theodore James Ryken was born in 1797 in the small village of Elshout, North Brabant, the Netherlands, to ardently Catholic middle class parents. Orphaned at a young age, Ryken was raised by his uncle.
Ryken, like most of the early Xaverian Brothers, was trained as a shoemaker. However, Ryken also felt a calling by God which impelled him to work first as a catechist, then in helping to conduct an orphanage, and again in caring for cholera patients in the Netherlands.
Aged 34, Ryken went to North America and served as a catechist among the missionaries to the Native Americans. During his three year tour, he conceived the idea of starting a congregation of brothers to work alongside the missionary priests. On returning to Europe he set about planning the establish such a society in Belgium, a country eminent for missionary zeal.
When Ryken returned to the US in 1837, he decided that the children of immigrants were more in need of instruction than Native Americans. Bishop Rosati of St. Louis encouraged him to found a congregation of laymen to teach all classes of youth. Six other bishops sanctioned his plan to bring religious teachers to the United States.
Ryken prepared for a journey to Rome to receive the permission and blessing of Pope Gregory XVI by going through a term of probation in the novitiate of the Redemptorist Fathers. This influenced him to model the religious garb of his institute after that of the Redemptorists. The spirit of the Xaverian Brothers, on the other hand, can be traced to the influence of the Jesuit confessor and counselor of Ryken, Rev. Isidore Van de Kerckhove, who drew up the original rules. Although many religious institutes were being founded at the time as part of a revival that succeeded the fall of Napoleon I, Ryken's vision was different. He wanted to found a missionary institute rather than a congregation that would address the needs of a specific region.
On June 15, 1839, Ryken, then 42 years old, went to live in a rented house on Ezelstraat in the centuries old city of Bruges, Belgium. For five long days the founder waited for the arrival of the two companions who had promised to join him in his undertaking: a weaver and a tailor. Unfortunately for Ryken, his companions would prove less dedicated and resilient than himself and it took a year before better suited candidates were welcomed into the house on Ezelstraat. Two primary schools were soon opened in Bruges, and some brothers were sent to a normal school at Sint-Truiden for professional training.
By 1841, the community had grown beyond the space available in the little house on Ezelstraat, and Ryken, with financial help from a sympathetic banker, purchased a large estate in a neighboring section of Bruges called "Het Walletje". The Xaverian brothers began to attract candidates from Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, England, Ireland and France.
In 1848, a colony of brothers went to England to open schools in parishes in Bury and Manchester. Eventually, they opened Clapham College, London and boarding schools Mayfield College and its associated preparatory boarding school at Foxhunt Manor, in Sussex. Mayfield College was closed in 1999 because of the lack of entrants to the order.
Troubles and resignation
Ryken would be burdened by the loan he took in order to purchase Het Walletje for the rest of his superiorship. Additionally, internal hardships including a crisis at the Mother House in Bruges showed Ryken to be an inept administrator. Ryken was invited by Jean-Baptiste Malou, Bishop of Bruges, to tender his resignation. Ryken willingly turned over his office to a younger man, and then spent the last eleven years of his life as a simple subject in the institute he had established.
Before his death on November 26, 1871, aged 74, Ryken was present at the first general chapter of his institute in Bruges in 1869. By this time the debt had been cleared and the number of brothers had grown from 58 in 1860 to 133, and there were nine well-established communities working among the poor in Belgium, England and the United States.
Mission to the United States
In 1853 Louisville Bishop Martin Spalding invited the Xaverian brothers to open a school in his diocese, and in 1854 the first colony of brothers moved to the United States. The Brothers took charge of several parochial schools in 1864 and opened St. Xavier High School, Louisville, Kentucky.
In 1864, Spalding, then Archbishop of Baltimore, asked the Xaverians to open schools there, and they did so. Baltimore was made the center of Xaverian activities in the United States, and in 1876 a novitiate was opened there at the site of Mount Saint Joseph College, where it still stands.
A small Rosary making club formed by Xaverian Brother Sylvan Mattingly in Louisville, Kentucky in 1949 grew to be the largest Catholic Rosary making group in the United States. Inspired by the message of Our Lady of Fatima, Mattingly formed "Our Lady of Fatima Rosary Making Club" in the basement of St. Xavier High School in Louisville in 1949. Although Mattingly died in 1951, the organization grew to be Our Lady's Rosary Makers which has 17,000 active members in the United States and has distributed hundreds of millions of free rosaries worldwide.
Previously Affiliated schools
|St Francis RC Grammar School||Hartlepool, England||n/a|
|Leonard Hall Jr. Naval Academy||Leonardtown, Maryland||n/a|
- Xaverian Brothers Official website
- Xaverian Brothers Entry in the Catholic Encyclopedia (1907–14).
- Living the Charism The Brothers' blog site with articles, communications, videos, news, etc.
- Twitter Xaverian Brothers' Twitter feed.
- Facebook Page The Brothers' official Facebook Page.
- YouTube The Brothers' official YouTube Channel