Clerics of Saint Viator

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The Viatorians, or Clerics of Saint Viator (C.S.V.), are a Roman Catholic religious institute founded in Lyon, France, in 1831 by Father Louis Querbes. Its patron, Saint Viator, was a 4th-century catechist in Lyon. The institute soon spread from its origins in France to the United States and now has provinces and missions all over the world. They are a teaching order and are thus involved in parish ministries and all levels of education, from grade school through university.

Louis Querbes[edit]

Louis Querbes was born in Lyon, France on 21 August 1793, during the French Revolution.[1] He was baptized in Saint Nizier Parish in the shadow of the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Fourvière. Both would have a significant effect on his life. As a boy he participated in the choir and attended the clerical school in Saint Nizier Parish. Querbes entered Saint Irenaeus Seminary and was ordained in 1816. He returned to Saint Nizier as a parochial vicar and quickly became known for the quality of his preaching. He became administrator of the clerical school at Saint Nizier, which cemented the two priorities of his life: education and liturgy.

In 1822, Louis Querbes was named pastor of Vourles,[2] a parish both physically and spiritually in need of renewal due to the Revolution. He embraced the challenge of rebuilding the church and the spiritual lives of the faithful. The lack of education of the children troubled him, inspiring him to search for a solution.

The Congregation of the Clerics of St. Viator[edit]


Father Querbes formed an association of catechists for rural schools: "The Catechists of Saint Viator". He chose Viator of Lyon, a fourth-century local saint who was a lector serving Bishop Just of Lyon, as patron. The religious Congregation of the Clerics of Saint Viator, made up of parochial clerics and lay catechists, was approved by Archbishop Gaston de Pins, Apostolic Administrator of Lyons, in 1831. Seven years later, he presented his society to the Pope, but counseled by advisors, he dropped the inclusion of lay members, as it would not have been approved. Father Querbes was ahead of his time in wanting to form a community of lay and religious members. On 21 September 1838, he received pontifical approval for the religious institute of the Parochial Clerics or Catechists of Saint Viator.

The Viatorians opened schools and worked in parishes first in France and later in Canada and the United States. Father Louis Querbes died in Vourles 1 September 1859, but his work and charity continued after his death. His motto, "Adored and Loved be Jesus", sums up the power of the Gospel that Father Querbes wanted to pass on to his successors.

At the death of its founder, the Congregation numbered between 250 and 300 members, including some fifty in Canada. They constituted four provinces: Vourles, Saint-Flour, Rodez, and Canada.

19th century[edit]

After the death of Father Querbes (1859) and up until about 1880, development was rapid and consistent. In France, the typical Cleric of Saint Viator served in small rural parishes, where he was, according to the wishes of the founder, "the cantor, sacristan, catechist, table-mate, and companion" of the priest and of course, the principal of the school. Afterwards, as the country entered an era of political turbulence, religious congregations that, up until that time, could direct public communal schools had to abandon them and open parish schools, which were free but poor. Members were obliged to do military service. Those entering novitiates became fewer and fewer. In 1900, there were approximately 500 French members out of the 760 members in the entire Congregation.

The Province of Canada, from its earliest years, went in a different direction, directing primary schools as well as a secondary schools, accepting responsibility for a parish, and creating an Institution for the Deaf. In Canada, the development of the Congregation proceeded based upon apostolic works that, while not numerous, were solidly implanted. In 1897, a half-century after its founding, the Canadian Province was composed of 215 members. In 1865, three Canadian members founded a school in Bourbonnais, Illinois, United States. A novitiate was opened, and in 1882, the members of the United States formed the Province of Chicago. At the end of the century, the Chicago Province was composed of some forty members.

Until the beginning of the twentieth century, the Congregation presented what might be called a "French face", with the members of France forming the predominant group. Except for the Chicago Province, the other provinces were engaged in apostolic works that fit into the same framework: elementary schools, some of which were small boarding schools, which represented the principal commitment of the Congregation; several secondary schools, which involved a small number of members; social works (orphanages in France, the Montreal Institute for the Deaf); and sacristan duties in several parishes. Small or medium-sized local communities predominated and consisted for the most part of religious brothers.


In May 1903, in France, the government decreed the closing of 11,000 schools and hospitals administered by religious congregations. Within the space of two months, the Clerics of Saint Viator of France saw their provincial houses, juniorates, novitiates, and residences for retired members closed and their personnel dispersed. All primary and secondary schools were affected. Many of them disappeared. All properties of the Congregation were seized by the State and lost forever. Communities fell apart. Certain members went before tribunals and were sentenced to prison. Other members, especially those who were somewhat older, left for other countries.

Belgium became a possible place of refuge for the members of the Province of Vourles, while Spain played the same role for those of the Province of Rodez. With the Province of Canada having indicated that, in case of necessity, it would welcome French confreres, 31 accepted Canada's hospitality. The provinces tried to re-establish themselves little by little. All the schools were now free and run by laypeople. Certain "business enterprises" furnished some resources (gardens, farming operations, tailor shop for religious garb, and sale of objects of piety). In Brussels, Belgium, and Vitoria, Spain, new schools were opened. Just as a bit of progress was being made, World War I broke out. Almost half of the French members were drafted, with 29 of them being killed in battle. The Congregation was decimated.

The provinces that emerged from those fifteen or twenty challenging years were exhausted. That period corresponded to the entire disappearance of the French influence upon the Congregation. By 1907-1908, the number of North American members was greater than the number of European members.


From the 1920s until the 1960s, the number of Canadian members grew steadily and eventually constituted two-thirds of the Congregation's membership (1,146 out of 1,760 in the year 1960). That dynamism made it possible to develop several well-reputed classical secondary schools (in Joliette, Rigaud, and elsewhere), as well as specialized institutions for the hearing impaired (in Montreal and Quebec) and for the blind (in Montreal). It brought members to the east toward the mouth of the Saint Lawrence River, to the north toward the regions of Abitibi and Témiscamingue, and to the west toward the Province of Manitoba and even further afield, since several members, in 1931, went abroad to found a school in Manchuria. Also in 1931, the Brothers of Our Lady of the Fields was merged into the Clerics of Saint Viator.[3] The Canadian Province had to be divided up, for a first time in 1938 (Montreal and Joliette) and for a second time in 1955 (Abitibi and Saint Lawrence). Over the years, Canadian members introduced the Congregation to Japan (1948), Taiwan (1953), Peru (1959), and Haiti (1965).

The Province of Chicago put its personnel at the service of large educational institutions, universities, chaplaincies, and parishes. The Chicago Province founded a school in Bogotá, Colombia, in 1961.

Coming forth from the major difficulties that had struck them, the French provinces re-organized themselves little by little. Their apostolic commitments remained in consonance with their past history, which made it possible to become involved with parishes and collaborate with the diocesan clergy. In 1955, French members founded a school in Bouaké, Côte d'Ivoire.

The foundational beginnings in Spain proceeded slowly at first but more solidly after 1920. In spite of the interruptions caused by the Civil War (1936-1939), the local communities in Spain formed a vice-province in 1937; ten years later, they became a full-fledged province. Starting in 1957, Spain founded several establishments in Chile.


Vatican Council II brought renewed emphasis was placed on the questions and challenges that were present everywhere in the late 1960s. A crisis of institutions, a break-down of communities, and a large number of departures brought forth much soul-searching about the identity of the Clerics of Saint Viator. Reflections that began at the 1969 and 1972 General Chapters resulted in the drafting of a renewed Constitution (1978) that made it possible to slowly but surely rediscover the essential elements of the mission and the religious life of the Clerics of Saint Viator.

Over the course of the renewal process, lay associates were very naturally rediscovered. "In conformity with an idea cherished by our Founder," their Constitution states, "our Congregation agrees to accept other persons who desire to participate in its mission, its spiritual life, and its community life." Thus the stepping stones laid down by Father Louis Querbes made it possible, 150 years later, to add the complementary element that he had felt to be indispensable for his proposal. Lay men and women now share the mission of the Congregation, live out its spirit, and participate, to a certain degree and in conformity with models specific to different countries, in the life of the local communities.

Viatorian schools[edit]








United States[edit]

Sexual abuse claims settlement[edit]

In 2012, numerous former students of the Montreal Institute for the Deaf operated by the Viatorians in Montreal Canada made public claims of sexual abuse by priests at the Institute.[4] In 2016, the Viatorian operators of the institute, the Clerics of St Viateur, agreed to a $30 million (CAD) payment to settle the claims.[5] The settlement was the largest settlement ever awarded for a sexual abuse case in Quebec history.[5][6][7]


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