Wednesday 2 March 2022

Jean-Baptiste Debrabant - Alice Curtayne

Jean-Baptiste Debrabant
Alice Curtayne

St. Anthony Guild Press

I encounter the works of Alice Curtayne 4 years ago. I became fascinated with her books and booklets. I have been able to track down some and many I have never been able to find, at least to date. This volume I tracked down and read almost as soon as it arrived. The copy I tracked down was very beat up. It has a thin board cover, Wide Margins and three inserts of black and white photos throughout the volume. The first is of Jean-Baptiste Debrabant The subject of the volume, The founder and first superior general of the Religious of the Holy Union of the Sacred Hearts. The second is the Very Reverend Mother Marie Therese, SUSC at the time of writing the Superior General. One of the first motherhouse at Douai, France. Erected in 1845 and confiscated by the French government July 25th, 1905. The description of the book I found was:

12mo - 18.5 x 12.5 cm.; ix - 72 pp. Blue card stock covers with gilt lettering on the front and yapped edges on the open margins. A biography of Jean-Baptiste Debrabant, the founder and first Superior General of the Holy Union of the Sacred Hearts, published in commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the founding in the United States. Illustrated with 3 black and white plates one of which is a frontis piece.

This book is written mainly as a biography of Jean-Baptiste Debrabant. But it is also a history of the teaching order of nuns he formed. As well as the order of teachings brothers that he formed and lived to see collapse. The book was published in 1936 by the St. Anthony Guild Press, Franciscan Monastery, Peterson, New Jersey. It was published in commemoration of the Fiftieth Anniversary of the Founding of the Holy Union of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary in the United States. 

But we also know it is not the volume the author envisioned. Curtayne states:

“But the truth is that the following pages present a portrait which is all too blurred, faith and inexact. Circumstances temporarily prevent my doing better, but I remain keenly aware of the deficiencies of this work.
While preparing this booklet, I was tantalized by a certain fleeting vision of the subject as a man of the highest courage and unflagging energy, a passionate believer, who lived his Faith with a very rare singleness of purpose. But I never really captured on paper this elusive and attractive vision, for I was constantly baffled by the scanty and unsuitable material upon which I was forced to work.”

She also states:

“I myself was taught by the Sisters of The Holy Union (St. Anne’s, Southampton) during all the formative years of life. It was a Holy Union nun who first convinced my hesitant mind that I had some ability in English, and that it conceivably might be a duty rightly to develop and use that talent. … When, therefore, the request came to use my pen on behalf of the congregation, I could not refuse. To comply seemed a duty of honour.”

Curtayne begins her Author’s Preface with:

“Jean-Baptiste Debrabant lived in the aftermath of a furious onslaught upon he Church which France had experienced in his father’s time, very much akin to that which Spain is undergoing today (1936). He was very poorly equipped for the work, yet he set himself doggedly to pick up the stones out of the ruins and build again the shattered edifice of Christian education. He placed upon the Catholic training of youth a value which we may be in danger of forgetting today. In the whole matter of academic instruction, he was extraordinarily humble and appreciative. I think that if we could only dimly understand his sentiments, we should be the gainers of wisdom.”

And a little further on:

“Yet Jean-Baptiste Debrabant was one of the truly great figures of the French nineteenth century, as he was a giant in the Catholic educational movement of the same period.”

I can state that Curtayne’s fears of shortcomings in this work are without cause. It might not be up to her vision but reading this book 86 years after its publication I find it a very well written work. It brought the live of this man and the congregation he founded. While reading this I could not help but think of him as a French Saint John Bosco. It was a remarkable read from start to finish. 

I am very glad to have finally tracked down a copy of this book. It was an excellent read. And this story should inspire us in our faith and our trusting God and his will. Read this volume, dream big and work hard.

Note: This book is part of a series of reviews: 2022 Catholic Reading Plan

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