Oblate Scholasticate from 1854 to 1864
At the end of the 19th century, the Oblates in their correspondence often speak with nostalgia about Montolivet. They are referring to the scholasticate located in the Montolivet quarter of Marseilles, a rather high plateau south-east of the main city.
Why this House was Built between 1852 and 1856
The seminary of Marseilles, located near the Old Port, had housed the scholastics for 19 years, but this building had become too small to accommodate both the seminarians and the Oblate students. The Congregation possessed land near the seminary on which they were planning to build a scholasticate; in 1850-1852, however, the civil and religious authorities decided to build the future cathedral on this location and so the land was purchased for this purpose.
Father Tempier then bought property at Montolivet and in 1852 began to build there a huge house in the form of a rectangle. By the month of October 1854, over 40 scholastics could already be housed in the two wings that were completed; the construction work continued until 1856 and the landscaping was still in progress when Father Tempier left for Paris in 1861.
The General Administration, too, was without a definite residence since 1823. The Superior General resided at the bishopric, the First Assistant at the seminary, the Secretary General at Le Calvaire, and the Assistants General in various houses of France. The new building became the General House wherein the Founder and the Assistants at least had their rooms, where the 1856 General Chapter was held and where the communities of Marseilles and Aix gathered for the main family feasts.
From 1856 to 1862 a good number of lay brothers also made their postulancy in this house and even their novitiate; in fact, over 20 took the religious habit there.
The Teaching Personnel and Studies
Father Tempier was Superior of the house from 1854 to 1861 and Father Florent Vandenberghe during the school year of 1861-1862; and some 23 Fathers spent one or two years there as professors and directors.
From the very first year the Founder selected an elite personnel consisting of competent professors. Among them were, besides the Superior and First Assistant General, Father Casimir Aubert, the Provincial of France-South, Father Antoine Mouchette, Provincial Treasurer, Father Charles Baret, an excellent preacher and professor of dogma and eloquence, and Father Marc Antoine Sardou, professor of philosophy and local treasurer. Unfortunately these professors were too busy with tasks of administration and preaching to be available to their students outside of class hours. From 1856 until the Founder’s death there was a yearly succession of young professors who were closer to the students but generally speaking, did not like being professors and were not prepared for their work. Only the professors in moral theology were elderly and rather stable: they were Fathers Jérôme Pont from 1856 to 1859, Henri Lancenay in 1855-1856 and 1859-1861. After Bishop de Mazenod’s death the personnel was entirely replaced by men of experience but once again these Fathers, already heavily engaged in preaching, devoted themselves zealously to that rather than to their task as professors. Nearly all the assessments expressed on studies at Montolivet are negative. The overload of work, lack of taste and preparation for their task on the part of the professors could not motivate the students who themselves were not too much inclined to study.
From the Moderator’s reports we learn that some ten scholastics had to leave the Congregation because they were not sufficiently gifted and the majority are listed as endowed with “average” or “sufficient” talent. To this must be added a general context which was not favourable to study, such as the presence of workers and masons until 1856 and especially the fact that many scholastics left the seminary after one or two years of theology and remained only for a short time at Marseilles.
The library was well furnished, however, and the manuals and teaching methods of the Marseilles major seminary were followed; the latter institution did then have a stable, closely knit and well prepared professorial staff. Thus the intellectual life at Montolivet seems marked less by the poverty of manuals and teaching method than by the lack of direction and encouragement from the professors as well as the low endowment and interest on the part of the students.
The Scholastics and their Religious and Apostolic Formation
There were from 30 to 40 scholastics each year, so that in eight years about 170 spent time as scholastics in Montolivet. Seventy-seven spent less than one year there, fifty-six were there for two years, twenty-eight for three years, and about ten for four or five years. One hundred and twenty-five had made their novitiate at Notre-Dame de l’Osier, some thirty at Nancy, and others came from England, Ireland, Italy, Canada, Belgium and Germany.
One hundred and twenty-two were ordained priests in the Congregation. Thus the perseverance rate is as high as 70%. About 60 of those who were ordained remained in France and again as many left for the Anglo-Irish Province and other foreign lands where they became zealous missionaries.
While the assessments that have been made of the studies were rather harsh, these same assessments are filled with praise in regard to the religious life and preparation for the ministry. “A model community”, “fervent religious”, “a holy house”, “a centre of edification” are all so many expressions that Bishop de Mazenod repeated after each of his many visits, expressions that the Moderator of Scholastics himself uses in his own reports.
The credit for such a situation must be given to Father Mouchette, a novitiate confrere of Father Joseph Gérard and Moderator from 1854 to 1861. His intended objective was “to perfect the religious man in the young Oblates and to prepare the apostolic man within them” (Notice historique, 1857-58). He strove to explain the meaning of the religious virtues and to provide occasions for their practice, especially those of charity, humility and mortification, according to the letter of the Rule and the Founder’s will.
Bishop de Mazenod closely followed his efforts, often congratulated him, and all the while took a great personal interest in the spiritual progress of each scholastic. Each week Father Mouchette had to give him a report about the scholastics; he himself met with each one of them personally, at least in 1855 and 1858, according to our sources. He never failed to come and greet them before and after his trips; he accepted to preside the ceremonies of vows and those on Oblate feasts and he himself did all the ordinations. It was likewise to Montolivet that on April 20, 1861 he made one of his last visits outside the bishopric before he died.
Closure of the Scholasticate and Sale of the House 1862-1864
During the course of the 1861-1862 school year, the disagreements between Bishop Cruice, the new bishop of Marseilles, and the Oblate authorities reached such a point that Father Joseph Fabre (who had been elected Superior General in December 1861), decided to establish himself and his Administration in Paris. To appease minds now over-heated by the controversy, he thought it good to cede all that he could without harming the indispensable interests of the Congregation, even to the point of abandoning items that were not being contested, such as, for example, Notre-Dame de la Garde and Montolivet.
The departure of the scholastics from Marseilles enters into the general framework of this policy. The property titles to Montolivet were never contested, nevertheless, it was seen as appropriate to diminish the number of Oblates in Marseilles. In the spring of 1862 it was learned that Bishop de Marguerye of Autun was trying to sell a large house that the Ladies of the Sacred Heart had just vacated. This establishment was acquired on July 15 and Father Tempier immediately began to make the most urgent repairs this building needed; and, at the same time, books and linen were being packed at Marseilles and several wagons loaded with materials needed for the new scholasticate at Autun. The school year of 1862-1863 began normally.
Some Fathers and Brothers had remained behind at Montolivet to look after the house which had been put up for sale. It was purchased by the State in 1864 in order to be placed at the major seminary’s disposal.
On this occasion the chronicler in Missions wrote: “On October 17 (1864), the seminarians of Marseilles took possession of Montolivet, which is now the diocese’s major seminary. The Lazarists had already moved in during the first days of the same month. Father Tempier had taken possession of it on October 15, 1854, and had then presided the installation of our scholastics here. Now it is he who had accepted to carry out all the formalities required by the cession of this magnificent residence to the diocese of Marseilles. He did it all with a spirit of perfect resignation and left Montolivet on October 15, 1864, thus giving us all an example of renunciation that we ought to retain for everyone’s edification. Religious Congregations share in the lot of the Church; like the divine spouse of Jesus Christ, they sometimes have to follow a road that is watered by tears; their tents are not always pitched on the same spot; and if they do find a powerful support in the hand of Providence, they nevertheless do have to make sacrifices; in fidelity, however, to the cult of souvenirs, they do not forget the cradle where they once lay. Indeed, which Oblate who is a son of Montolivet can lose the memory of the good things received in this house, a house consecrated by the Founder and so often hallowed by his presence?” (Missions O.M.I., 1864, p. 605).
Yvon Beaudoin, o.m.i.
Sources and Bibliography
Oblate General Archives, Rome.
LeSanctuaire, weekly periodical published by the scholastics of Montolivet in 1860.
BEAUDOIN, Yvon, “Le scolasticat de Montolivet, 1854-1862”, in Études oblates, 27(1968), pp. 133-175, 238-270.