Their work in a school became well-known by the local bishop.
The year: 1822.
The school: located in south-central France.
And the ‘gentlemen of Annonay’, as they were dubbed: priests dedicated to ‘teaching and preaching’.
Such were the humble beginnings of what would become the Congregation of St. Basil on November 21, 1822.
“The Basilians are one of only two religious orders founded by more than one person, the Servites with seven founders and the Basilians with 10,” says Fr. Kevin Storey, CSB, Basilian Superior General in Toronto.
“It means that we are diverse in our origins and our sense of the importance of diversity in our ministry is intrinsically important to us. This is one of the reasons that all Basilian ministries have a desire to be diverse and inclusive of all types of students and parishioners. Diversity can often make things more complicated, but we believe it always enriches all those involved, as we experienced in our 10 founders,” he says.
“Basilian Founders Day is important for me because it is a reminder of the numerous Basilians who served the Church faithfully and devotedly since 1822,” says Fr. Andrew Leung, CSB President of St. Michael’s College School (SMCS), one of three remaining Basilian schools in North America. “It is amazing the impact that the Basilians had on Catholic education, especially in southern Ontario and Toronto,” he says.
The first Basilian Superior General was Fr. Joseph Lapierre, CSB. He established a school in south-central France amid social and political mayhem and the persecution of the Catholic Church during the French Revolution.
In the preface to a 2017 document entitled, The Ten Founders, former Superior General, Rev. George T. Smith, CSB wrote: “What does inspire us are some fundamental commitments that we see in our founders: to growth in holiness; to the common life; to education in the Church’s mission of evangelization; to humility; to an understanding that to seek God’s will inevitably lead to joy and suffering; and to a realization that the only way to embrace God’s will is with a sacramental imagination and a sense of humour.”
St. Michael’s College, as it was originally known, was the first Basilian school to open outside France --- in 1852 --- following the arrival of a group of French Basilian priests to Toronto in the mid-19th century.
The congregation later added schools in Michigan (Detroit Catholic Central) and Texas (St. Thomas High School).
“The daily impact of the Basilian Fathers on St. Michael's College School is quite important and constant,” says Fr. Leung, who was ordained at St. Basil’s parish in Toronto in 2008. “Students are reminded of the Basilian motto every day on their school crest and uniform --- teach me goodness, discipline, and knowledge. There are two Basilian priests who offer Mass, and prayers every day. One is also a theology teacher, and the other is the president of the school.”
While there is no formal congregation-wide commemoration of Basilian Founders Day, there will be smaller, quiet reflections and personal observances of this historic date at parishes, schools and colleges where the Basilians currently minister --- in Canada, the US, Mexico, and Colombia.
For Fr. Storey, the day will involve, “common prayer and a thanksgiving celebration of the Eucharist.” He adds, “I personally am in a small town in Mexico meeting with our novices (12 altogether) and we will celebrate mass, discuss our dreams for the future and then have a wonderful evening meal.”
Basilian Founders Day is celebrated each year on November 21, on the feast day of the Presentation of Our Lady.