Brother Gabriel and the holy Curé of Ars

Ars was one of the 450 villages that formed the department of Ain and one of the 300 parishes of the diocese of Belley half-way through the XIX century and, however, very soon, thanks to his holy Priest, acquired fame in France and beyond its frontiers. The parish of Ars lived the period of rechristianization after the French Revolution, but soon started also to experience progressively the dechristianization that characterised in its totality the XIX century.

St John Mary Vianney called the Brothers of the Holy Family to direct the public school of Ars in 1849. Brother Gabriel Taborin, founder of the Congregation of the Brothers of the Holy Family, who knew Father Vianney, sent a Community of three Brothers. The first meeting between them took place probably in 1837, when Br. Gabriel has just founded the Congregation of the Brothers of the Holy Family.

The Brothers of the Holy Family reached Ars in 1849 and they immediately inserted in this context and in this net of relationships to fulfil their mission as educators and animators of the liturgy. Besides directing the school, they collaborated in the sacristy and other activities of the parish, according to the mission inspired in their charism, and they helped in the welcoming of the pilgrims.

Their condition of lay religious, living in Community, placed the Brothers in a special position in the parish and in the village of Ars. In the fulfilment of their mission, they also carried out activities of educational character that put them in contact with the families, the academic and civil authorities, and ecclesial activities that placed them as men of Church with their religious habit, next to the Priest and his assistant, and in relation with the ecclesiastic sphere. On their part, the Brothers found in Ars the possibility of expressing all the dimensions of their charism in the  freshness of its origins.

The ten years that the Brothers remained in direct contact with holy Priest were a very intense experience that permitted to collaborate in a Christian community encouraged by the sanctity of the Priest even till unforeseen points. Their daily presence next to Fr. Vianney and his assistants led them to live extraordinary events, but, above all, to contribute with his help in the construction of the human and Christian community of Ars in the life of every day, through the education of the children and youth, the welcoming of the pilgrims, the animation of the liturgical ceremonies and the constant attention to the Priest.

Their insertion as a religious community in the parish incorporated them into a Church closer to the people and at the same time fully open, able to offer to all a path of conversion and holiness. The relation established through these contacts we can describe it as “fraternal collaboration”, given the simplicity, immediacy and fraternal spirit that were between them, though sometimes moments of difficulty.

The holy Priest died on 4 August 1859. After his death, the Community of the Brothers of the Holy Family continued its life and activity in Ars, participating in its main events and situations, many times united to the memory of the one who was considered as a Saint: the process of beatification and then of canonization, the construction of the basilica, the continuation of the pilgrimage, etc. But the Community was centred in its specific activities: the educational task in the school of the village and the boarding school, the service to the church and the welcoming of the pilgrims, that very soon included also the visit to the parish house of “House of the Saint”, as it was later called.

Until 1969 the Brothers have directed the school of Ars, date in which it was entrusted to the management of lay educators under the tutelage of the diocese. From 1980 the Brothers of the Community of Ars started living in the parish house and to be more directly integrated in the welcoming and pastoral animation team of the numerous pilgrims who visit each year the Shrine. Among them, the most notable has been Pope John Paul II, who visited Ars in 1986.

At present, the Community of Ars is formed by three Brothers from Burkina Faso. Their activities are developed in the sacristy of the Basilica and in the welcoming of the pilgrims. The Superior of the Community is member of the Pastoral Council of the parish of Ars and of the Council of the Shrine.

(Taken from the book of Br. Teodoro Berzal: “A Fraternal Collaboration. St John Mary Vianney, Br. Gabriel Taborin and the Brothers of the Holy Family in Ars”, 2013).