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MARIANISTS

In a letter written by Archbishop Taché, in November 1879, to te superior of the Marianists in America, we learn that the Society of Mary (Marianists) had agreed to the Bishop’s request for religious brothers to come in Winnipeg «to work in his missions».The following year, June 1880, Father J. N. Reinbolt, the Provincial Superior of the Marianists of North America, travelled from Dayton, Ohio to Winnipeg at the invitation of Bishop Taché in order to see for himself the situation in which his Brothers would be working.

On August 2nd,1880, the first Marianist community of three brothers arrived in St.Boniface. In the community annals, the following is recorded concerning their trip to the «wilds of the Northwest». Upon reaching northern Minnesota, they were astounded by what they saw : «What an imposing spectacle for one who sees it for the first time. For miles nothing but grass-grass-grass; scarcely a tree…» At the border they had to change trains.

«Till here we had been riding in a regular passenger train. As the rest of the road was new, there was nothing regularly organized. So we had a train consisting of locomotive, a freight car for baggage and one passenger car. This did not impress us very favourably with the new country; besides, as the road was not ballasted, we were shaken about as if riding on sponges».

Arriving in St-Boniface late that evening, they were met by Fr Lacombe, OMI, the well known missionary of Western Canada. Taken to Winnipeg by horse cart, they crossed the Red River on a ferry, somewhat to their surprise! After supper, Fr Lacombe took them to their «new home».

«Picture to yourself our astonishment. We had imagined an old fashioned block house put up in the rudest manner,  but found a good sized frame building containing two classrooms on the lower floor and the 2nd story prepared for our abode and everything freshly painted and looking as new as a new pin».

Such was their initiation to the great ‘prairie’. The weeks that followed saw them prepare for the first day of school. «School opened in September. We had 27 boys to start with. Hard work at first; boys were not used to order. Had to start with the rudiments in everything».

Brother Bertram Bellinghausen (1849-1933) was the first Director of this new community. He was born in Germany, but his family emigrated to Philadelphia when he was a child. In 1865, he professed his first vows in the Society of Mary. After having been in Cleveland, San Antonio, Dayton and Paris, France, he was appointed to «open the first foreign mission of the SM (Society of Mary) in Winnipeg. With him came Brother William Ley, originally from Pittsburg, and Brother Joseph Hans from France.

And so began a work and a presence that has now reached its 100th year. In that time, the Marianists have been instrumental in the Christian education and formation of many young Canadians. In Winnipeg, they taught from 1880 to 1917 at St.Mary’s school, where they were commonly known as the ‘Brothers of Mary’. For a few years some brothers also taught at St. Joseph’s school, then at 130 Hargrave in downtown Winnipeg.

In 1899, on the St.Boniface side of the Red River, three more brothers arrived and began teaching at Provencher School, then on Masson Street. In 1907, they opened the New Provencher School on Cathedrale Avenue. They were destined to exercise their apostolate to the people of St.Boniface in and through this institution until 1972. That year, the last brother to teach full time at Provencher retired. At one time, he had been a student in this school and then taught there many years. Having laboured long and hard for and with the young here in Manitoba, in Quebec and in the United States, Brother Joseph O. Provencher was able to withdraw from active teaching conscious that he had always given of himself for the good of others.

When Provencher became a grade and junior high school, most of the brothers then teaching there were transferred to the new local high school, Louis Riel Collegiate. Many taught there until 1974.

For some 23 years, the Marianists directed a house of religious formation and a school in Saint-Jean-Baptiste (1917-1940). Young men who manifested an interest in the Marianist way of life spent some time in this residence praying and studying.

Over these 100 years of Marianist presence in Manitoba, one of the highlights has surely been their educational work at Provencher. A number of men associated with this institution were somewhat legendary figures even in their own day. Brother Joseph Fink, commonly called «Frère Joseph» was Principal of this school for 25 years. Numerous articles from the local papers attest to his wide field of activity during these days. At his death in 1935, he was replaced as Principal by Brother Joseph Bruns.

In his own right, Brother Bruns has also become a significant figure in Manitoba’s educational  history. As Principal of Provencher and then as Superintendent of the St.boniface School Division, he worked without cease for the rights of parochial schools in Manitoba. His presence on the McFarlane Royal Commission for Education in 1957 was but one of the many services rendered to the people of Manitoba. A few years before his death (1973) he was significantly honored and was present at the dedication of a school bearing his name : J.H. Bruns Collegiate in Southdale.

In all, 113 Marianist brothers and priets have taught over these years at Provencher or Louis Riel. Some spent many years in these schools, such as Brother Eugene Berger (35 yrs), Henri Guuitard (22 yrs), Edouard Gabel (17 yrs), Jean Baty (18 yrs). Some brothers are still well known because of their recent and at time numerous years of teaching and extracurricular activities. Among them we must mention Brothers Herbert Boeck, Gerry Gutsmield, Alfred Paul and Albert Laurin, all of them giving over 25 years of service in St.Boniface schools.

The varied involvement of the Marianists with the young people of St.Boniface has been manifest in a number of ways. At one time many brothers were actively involved in the Provencher Cadet Corps under the able leadership of Brother (Major) Albert Laurin. The drill teams marching through the streets of St.Boniface were for many years a very familiar and enjoyable sight. The discipline instilled into the young men at this time has long proved to be a value. The manual arts, as taught by Brother Alfred Paul were highly appreciated by all   his students. But he was also known for his keen sense of training hockey players. The present local area teams had their beginnings in the Provencher school yard turned-hockey-rink during the long winter months.

In more recent years, the Marianists have not always been directly associated with the school ministry, as was the case in the past. Such apostolic works as Adult Christian education, retreat work and lay communities, Catechetical animation, varied parish activities, spiritual animation and others have become part of the Marianist way of making the Good News a living reality for our day and age.

Over ten years, Marianists have taught at St.Boniface Diocesan School, in a few parish grade schools, and been active in many spiritual life programs for both lay and religious in both the St-Boniface and Winnipeg Archdioceses.

For the time being, only three Marianists are still living in Winnipeg. Two of them are retired in the archbishop’s house from where they work as volonteers in the parish. The third one is teaching at the St.Paul’s university and is working in many ways in the field of the ecumenism.

Provencher school is proud to count between his teachers for some years the woman who will become the great Gabrielle Roy. Here she is with one of her classes (1932).


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