The mission to which he felt called since childhood, led Brother Gabriel to produce a series of writings through which he transmitted the same thing he did with his life: the meaning of being a Brother.
All these writings therefore have a basic unity: they express the message of a person’s life. At the same time, however, they vary greatly in length, genre, date and form of publication. Some writings were printed directly by their author, others have remained in manuscript for a long time. In 2014, a CD was published with all of Brother Gabriel’s writings in French and Spanish.
To facilitate the understanding of the writings, they have been placed in five groups according to their nature and their addressees
- Intended for the Brothers
- Addressed to the students and to the faithful
- Various writings
The reading of his writings supposes a different type of focus on Bro. Gabriel Taborin as an individual to that which might be obtained from the interpretation of his life in biographical studies, theses, and articles of a historical nature dedicated to him. We have in his writings what he intended to say, or to tell us, if we wish to make his message ours.
Considering his writings as a whole, Bro. Gabriel appears as:
a witness to God’s love who follows the steps of Jesus, attentive to the will of the Father, seeking to respond to his vocation, to cooperate with God’s plan, and to guide others through the way of the Gospel;
a man of the Spirit, capable of receiving and enhancing a charism characterized by fraternity, by a spirit of family, by educational activities as well as those associated with the catechesis and with the animation of liturgy; and capable of making it fructify through transmitting it to others;
a prophet of his time, well rooted in his era and within his geographical and cultural environment, still in possession of the inner strength required to quit his own country and to propose a set of values and a way of life: “consecrated laity” within religious life, not easily understood in his time but which made it well into the future;
a travel companion and a guide, Brother amongst Brothers, passionately living this fraternity, and who has a prevailing word to say to those willing to walk with him.
In fact, through his writings, Bro. Gabriel does no more than to transmit, sometimes creatively, sometimes following the path already traced by others before him, what he himself had already received, whether through reading, through his teaching activities, as a catechist, or as the Founder and Superior of a religious Congregation.
The contents of his writings as a whole can essentially be tracked back to:
the Holy Scriptures to which he refers frequently, whether implicitly or explicitly;
the diocesan catechisms and certain doctrinal synthesis which he had first studied and mastered, then successfully taught;
the most read and commented spiritual authors of his time, amongst which we can quote “The Imitation of Christ”, Saint Francis de Sales, Saint Vincent de Paul, Saint Alphonsus de Liguori, and the authors of the French school of spirituality, which goes back to Peter de Bérulle (1575-1629). Amongst the latter Saint John Baptist de la Salle is of particular significance, especially considering his writings regarding educational matters;
the authors who deal with religious life matters, ranging from the Rule of Saint Benedict and the monastic tradition, to the Jesuits, Alphonse Rodríguez and John Baptist Saint-Jure, and also John Peter Médaille.
I. Autobiographical writings
Some of Brother Gabriel Taborin’s writings are autobiographical in character. The most important is undoubtedly the “Historical Review”, an incomplete autobiography which he wished to place before his Spiritual Testament. The ASFB (Sacred Family Archives in Belley) has several manuscripts (undated) which prepare or are drafts of the “Historical Review”:
Among the writings which provide us with information on the life of Br Gabriel we must also place the testimony he himself gave in the Cause of Beatification of the Curé of Ars, St John Mary Vianney.
- HISTORICAL REVIEW
- THE DEPOSITION OF BRO. GABRIEL’S DEPOSITION IN THE PROCESS OF BEATIFICATION OF THE PRIEST OF ARS
- THE SPIRITUAL TESTAMENT
II. Writings addressed to the Brothers of the Holy Family
This group of writings comprises essentially the Rule of Life and the periodical publications addressed by Brother Gabriel to the Brothers of the Institute.
The concern to write a Rule of Life in which to express the experience of his charism and the way to transmit it to others accompanied Brother Gabriel throughout his life. To this was added the desire and the need for it to be approved by the ecclesial authority of the diocese or of the universal Church.
If we are to believe his own testimony, we must admit that Bro. Gabriel began to think about a rule of life very early on. In 1838, in his letter of introduction to the Conduct of the Brothers of the Holy Family, he wrote: “The rules contained in this book have been the object of our most serious reflections for more than twenty years”. If we go back twenty years from 1838, we find ourselves at the time of the young Gabriel’s studies at Châtillon-de-Michaille or shortly after. And at that time, in his own words: “The reading of the lives of the saints, to which I devoted myself assiduously, had given me a strong inclination for the religious life, and especially for that type of religious life in which one devotes oneself in a special way to the education of youth and to adorning the holy altars”.
The different versions of the Rule of Life which Brother Gabriel wrote can be considered as milestones on the same path which he continued to follow in the Institute.
4. CONSTITUCIONES DE LA ORDEN DE SAN JOSÉ
5. CONSTITUCIONES DE LA ASOCIACIÓN DE CATEQUISTAS DE SAN ARTHAUD
6. CONSTITUCIONES DE LOS HERMANOS DE LA SAGRADA FAMILIA
7. GUÍA DE LOS HERMANOS DE LA SAGRADA FAMILIA
8. MISA Y VÍSPERAS DE LA SAGRADA FAMILIA
9. NUEVO GUÍA DE LOS HERMANOS DE LA SAGRADA FAMILIA
10. CIRCULARES A LOS HERMANOS DE LA SAGRADA FAMILIA
11. BIOGRAFÍAS DE LOS HERMANOS DIFUNTOS
III. Writings for schools, parishes and families
Gabriel’s writings were intended for the pupils of the Brothers’ schools and for the faithful of the parishes where they carried out their mission. Some are more specifically for school use such as Principles or The Treasure, others have a broader perspective such as The Way or The Angel Conductor. All of them, however, respond to a concern for teaching and catechetics which Brother Gabriel cultivated throughout his life and which, in his own way, reflects the fundamental features of his charism: integration of school and parish, synthesis of culture and faith, importance of the liturgy.
With the growth of the Institute, and especially since his installation in Belley, Brother Gabriel could no longer exercise directly the functions of teacher, catechist and animator of the liturgy. His main task was to form and accompany the Brothers and to devote himself to the affairs of the Institute.
But his presence among the Brothers was always very close. He lived it above all through three means: frequent visits, correspondence and books. Through the latter, he prolonged in some way the instructions given during the novitiate and the annual meetings of the Brothers, and he provided concrete material to achieve the uniformity he so desired in the Brothers’ schools.
12. THE WAY OF SANCTIFICATION
13. PRINCIPLES OF GREGORIAN READING AND CHANTING
14. FRENCH GRAMMAR
15. THE GUIDING ANGEL OF THE PILGRIMS OF ARS
16. THE TREASURE OF THE CHRISTIAN SCHOOLS
17. MANUAL OF THE BROTHERS OF SAINT ANNE
IV. Other writings
The Prospectus. The term “Prospectus” has been adopted to designate a series of very short printed matter (2-4 pages) by means of which Brother Gabriel Taborin made known the characteristics of the Institute or of one of its houses. The complete series of Prospectuses preserved in the ASFB comprises 16 texts, including notes, news and prospectuses, the latter being the most frequent term in the headings.
The Statutes are official documents, of a normative nature, designed to express in summary form the main characteristics of the Institute and its functioning as an association. Brother Gabriel Taborin drew up a large number of these texts which he adapted for the authorities, ecclesiastical or civil, and modified according to the indications received or new situations.
Words of homage. The ASFB has a large notebook with more than 170 handwritten pages in which are recorded speeches and words of homage addressed to important persons on the occasion of certain memorable events, such as visits to the Belley Mother House community, anniversaries, feast days, annual retreats and other significant moments in the life of the community.
18. LEAFLETS, STATUTES, WORDS OF TRIBUTE
19. THE ADMINISTRATION’S REGISTERS
20. OTHER WRITINGS
V. The correspondence
Gabriel’s correspondence is a rather complex but very interesting world. It is the part of the writings that best gives an account of the relational world of Br Gabriel and of the Institute at its origins.
First of all, it must be said that it is difficult to establish with certainty the total number of letters, both sent and received by Br Gabriel, either personally or as a representative of the Institute. As an indication, in L’Entretien Familial, there is a table according to which the letters received would be 11,431 and those sent 6,231; the author of the Positio says he counted 7,791 letters sent and the calculation made by Brother Orencio Gómez in preparing the first edition of the CD (Compact Disk) with the writings of and about Brother Gabriel establishes the number at 6,830, but not all the texts are letters. The 2009 Catalogue of the ASFB (Archives Sainte Famille de Belley) recorded 6,719 letters.
The situation in which the letters are found in the originals explains, at least in part, this difficulty. Sometimes the same letter or part of it is found in several registers, is incomplete or lacks a date, addressee, etc., which makes counting and classification difficult.
Naturally, the originals of most of the letters sent by Brother Gabriel and his collaborators, both from Belley’s house and from other places, have not been preserved. Only a few of them have come back to the archives of the Gabriel Taborin house, from some Brothers, some of Brother Gabriel’s relatives and others. There are also a certain number of copies made on the occasion of the Diocesan Beatification Process or at other times. A curious case is that of the letter sent by Bro. Gabriel on 14/05/1840 to the Holy Curé of Ars and returned by the latter with the expression written by the postman on the envelope: “Refused for taxes”. The addressee did not want to receive a letter for which he had to pay a fee, since it did not have a stamp.
But most of the correspondence sent by Brother Gabriel is preserved in the ASFB thanks to a procedure that is both admirable for its simplicity and tenacious perseverance. It consisted in entering the text of the letters in a register before writing them on the paper which was sent by post. Ten large registers containing some 5,500 letters have been preserved. There are also in the ASFB other registers with series of letters addressed to the religious authorities, no. 11, and to the civil and military authorities, no. 12 (exemption from military service for the Savoyard Brothers) and a register with numerous letters written by Bro. Amadeo in 1856-1857, the period when Bro. Gabriel spent some time at Tamié.
To help the occasional or patiently systematic reader of this correspondence, we offer a few observations.
Bro. Gabriel is the moral author of all the letters sent, even if he did not write them all. Many of them he dictated or indicated to his secretaries in what direction they should be written. But it is reasonable to think that the margin of expression of his collaborators, with the exception of Br Amadeo, is rather limited.
Reference to the correspondence is indispensable for a serious study of the person and work of Brother Gabriel. No other document allows us to establish the continuity of some of the processes which characterised his work, or to verify the information, important or detailed, without the letters.
The tone of communication in the letters always remains within the limits of simplicity and sober dignity. The letters deal immediately with the subjects at hand, without much consideration or search for a refined style. Gabriel’s ability to express himself must be acknowledged. The introductions and conclusions always remain within the forms of the epistolary genre.
Correspondence was a means of developing “family spirit”. This is the intuition set out in an article in L’Entretien Familial quoted above, and this intuition is perhaps the one which best expresses the aims of Bro. Gabriel’s correspondence: to attend to the development of the religious family, to give an adequate response to each situation or problem which arises, to encourage all on the path of goodness…. Beyond the desire to maintain a correct administration, one can always perceive the desire to build an organism which is growing and which requires attention of a very varied nature in order to respond to its social and ecclesial mission.
The intensity and breadth of the relationships established through this correspondence are such that they not only reveal Brother Gabriel’s personality in its entirety and the development of the Institute he founded, but they also reflect the picture of a whole period from what in France is called the July Monarchy (1830) to the middle of the so-called Second Empire (1852-1870), naturally in the context of a religious institution of modest proportions. If this statement is valid for the correspondence, it is even more so for the whole of Bro Gabriel’s writings.
Letters 1826 – 1839
Letters 1840 – 1841
Letters 1842 – 1843
Letters 1844 – 1845
Letters 1846 – 1847
Letters 1848 – 1849
Letters 1850 – 1851
Letters 1852 – 1853
Letters 1854 – 1855
Letters 1856 – 1857
Letters 1858 – 1859
Letters 1860 – 1861
Letters 1862 – 1863