The charism of Montfort led our pioneers – Brothers Denis, John Baptist and Martin de Vertou to Pondicherry to evolve a new and renewed Indian community of faith having Jesus as the centre of life, with the ideals of honesty and simplicity as bulwarks in their apostolate. Only those who were burning with a missionary zeal and religious commitment could leave their kith and kin, securities and comforts to live and a die in some unknown land. While Montfort who wanted to go to India or Canada to proclaim the good news was asked to be an Apostolic Missionary in France, his followers who probably had desired not to leave France, became his messengers in India and other countries.
In 1858, Bishop Charbonnean of Mysore had requested Bro. Simeon, the then Superior General to send a few Brothers to his Diocese. Forty years later Bro. Seosse, an old student of Brothers of St. Gabriel in France and a professor in the Petit Seminary College of Pondicherry eagerly suggested to the Bishop of Pondicherry, and to Fr. Escande Rector to strengthen the seminary staff with the Brothers of St. Gabriel, reputed for teaching.
In 1901, Fr. Escande sent an earnest appeal again asking for the services of the Brothers. The crisis in France reminded Bro. Martial the then Superior General to respond to the request from Pondicherry and to spare a few Brothers for the mission in India.
The three wise men selected to travel to India were Bro. Denis, 35 years old, Superior of the mission; Bro. John Baptist de la Salle, 29 years and Bro. Martin de Vertou, 26 years. After 20 days’ voyage in the sea flight “Annam”, the trio reached the shores of Pondicherry on September 11, 1903. They started teaching at the Petit Seminary College at Pondicherry. It would have been difficult to have chosen three men so different in every possible aspect of human behaviour. They had only one thing in common, their loyalty to God and to their congregation. This can be response to a ‘call’ in the true sense of a vocation. Many more were called to serve this Nation as year rolled by.
Bro. Denis was born on 29th February, 1868 and was baptized on the same day, by Fr. Morlaud giving the names Louis Marie which name Bro. Denis would have much cherished when he became a disciple of Montfort must have been an efficient person who could satisfy her five children and give them also a sound Christian education.
Young Louis was a very active and energetic boy. Louis was admitted in a school run by Brothers of St. Gabriel. Louis decided to become a religious Brother. On 31.08.1880, he joined the Juniorate. On May 24th 1883, he received the religious habit and the name Bro. Denis. He made his first commitment on 15th August 1884. Bro. Denis had a special devotion to St. Anne. He gave her name to the first school he established in India.
The first appointment of Bro. Denis was in a school at Paimbeuf. His next appointment was in a boarding school at St. Laurent. He worked here for 14 years.
Bro.Denis reached Pondicherry on 11th September 1903. He began his teaching career at the Petit Seminary. Bro. Denis had dreams of entering the mainland. Fr.Combes, the Parish Priest of Tindivanam expressed his desire to have an industrial school for the orphans he was taking care of. Bro.Denis who was awaiting an opportunity like this immediately jumped at the idea and Bro.John Baptist started the Industrial school on 6th January 1904. It was during the same year 27th December 1904, the first Indian postulant named Arockiasamy came to Tindivanam to become a member of this congregation. A novitiate at Tindivanam was started with Bro.Denis as Novice master. With the opening of a new house in Tindivanam, the mission formed itself into the congregational term of a District and Bro.Denis, as the District Superior under the designation of “Director Principal” of the Gabrialite communities of India. In 1908 Bro.Denis was elected as member of the Gabriel Chapter.
Ten institutions were started by him of which one was closed down after three years. Another great desire was to start a school under the complete ownership of the Brothers. This was fulfilled when he started Montfort School at Yercaud in 1917. In spite of the lack of resources and war, Bro.Denis never looked back, he made plans, he opened new houses, surmounting all difficulties and counting always on divine Providence. Montfort school was his work par excellence.
In 1920, Bro.Denis’ election to the General Administration brought his “Missionary years” in India to a close. By the end of his term in India there were ” European and Indian Brothers”.He returned to Europe. Bro.Denis had the confidence and affection of all who came in contact with him. A man of broad and reasonable views gifted with commonsense and sound judgement. Bro.Denis knew how to adapt himself to the demands of time and place while remaining inflexible on important principles.
Bro. John Baptist de la salle
Gilles Marie Joseph Guillard was born at Frossary (France) on 30th October 1874. His father was a blacksmith by profession. Gilles was fond of his mother, so much so that he inherited the motherly tenderness from her. He Joined the Juniorate at St. Laurent on 5th August 1888. After two years, he went to the novitiate. On his vestition he received the name Bro. John Baptist de la sale. He took his first vows on 15th August 1892. From November 1895 to September 1896, he went for military service.
From 1896, Bro. John Baptist was at Lille performing his knowledge of carpentry and drawing. In 1903 when the Superior General proposed to him to go to India, he readily accepted and boarded the ship ‘Annam’
Bro. John Baptist who was trained in art was delighted to teach drawing lessons. With very very few hours of teaching, Bro. Baptist was bored until he was offered to start an industrial school for the poor at Tindivanam. Fr. Combes, the Parish Priest at Tindivanam who had some orphans desired that they be taught a trade for their living. Bro. Denis and Bro. Baptist planned with Fr. Combes, worked on this project and started St. Joseph’s Industrial School. Bro. Baptist could not bear the heat of the place and often fell ill. Brother went back to France to recoup his health. After his return, a year later expansion of the workshop was executed and a beautiful chapel too was built.
Age could not be defied. He returned to France to pick up his lost health but was not to be. He died at St. Laurent on 12th November 1933.
People knew Bro. Baptist as a hardworking religious. He was very sensitive and loved his Brothers very tenderly.
Bro. Martin de Vertou
Bro. Martin de Vertou was the Benjamin of the trio, only 26, when he Landed at Pondicherry. He had the experience of teaching in different schools for 10 years before his nomination to the Petit Seminary College at Pondicherry.
Bro. Martin was born at Nantes on 4th February 1876. His education in St. Peter’s parish in Nantes run by the Brothers of the Christian schools inspired him to enter the Juniorate of the Brothers of St. Gabriel at St. Laurent in 1889. Two years later, he was admitted in the novitiate and on 15th August 1891 he received the Religious habit and exactly two years later he made his first profession. Until 1903, trod Indian soil on a ‘mission’. He joined the staff of the Petit Seminary College at Pondicherry where he remained till his retirement at the beginning of 1947. He represented the French army as an officer from October 1915 to March 1919. He became Director of Pondicherry community from January 1905 to July 1937. The last 12 years of his life he spent were at Honey Rock, Yercaud.
Bro. Martin de Vertou, better knows as “Monsieur Faucheux” has become a part of the history of Indian Province as one of the three “Founders” in 1903, and who remained a revered veteran. He remained an eye witness to growth and prosperity of this independent province in India which had a bright future.
As a teacher, a man , as a religious, Bro. Martin was gifted with a stern sense of duty. He knew what he had to do and did it whatever the cost. He was a model of discipline, respect and courtesy towards authority, obedient to all rules, whatever religious obligations, pedagogical directives or even to the least of very elaborate code of etiquette. The testimony of his conscience was the only reward he ever worked for. He was a real gentleman, polite to an excess, and of studious disposition. Bro. Martin de Vertou was a “Self made” man.
Though possessing only the rudimentary qualifications of a primary school teacher he was to acquire international repute as a botanist, historian and mainly as an archaeologist. He won three gold medals and many certificates. For him ‘time’ was very much more than ‘money’ – It was a gift of God to be used solely for His greater glory.
These were the men the founding fathers of this Institute of the Brothers of St.Gabriel in India. The beacon of Missionary spirit and hope they brought to this land grows with even greater intensity to stride ahead beyond these one hundred golden years of committed service to this nation.