French priest, theologian, established colleges, seminaries, communities of women, and schools b. at St-Malo in 1780; d. at Ploermel, Brittany, in 1860
JEAN-MARIE-ROBERT DE LAMENNAIS, French priest, brother of the preceding, b. at St-Malo in 1780; d. at Ploermel, Brittany, in 1860. On the day after the Concordat of 1801 he carried out the purpose he had manifested since before the Revolution of entering Holy orders. He was ordained in 1804 (February 25) after theological studies pursued both in private and under the direction of Abbe Vielle. We have already spoken of the influence he exercised over his brother Felicite. Older than he by two years, he did not possess his brilliant literary qualities, but he had a more robust constitution, and was temperamentally calmer and more equable. He shared, as we have seen, his brother's education, his studies, and his first labors. But an active ministry was more to Jean's taste. Leaving, therefore, to his brother the exclusively intellectual apostleship, he became, after the suppression of the College of St-Malo, vicar-general to the Bishop of Saint-Brieuc. Later he was also vicar-general of the Great Almoner of France, the Cardinal Prince of Troy, and of the Bishop of Rennes. Wherever he went, he did not spare himself—establishing colleges, seminaries, communities of women, and schools. He took an active part in the foundation of the Congregation of St. Peter, of which he had almost always the practical management and for a time the title of superior general. In fact, it was on account of his position in this congregation that he received from Msgr. Dubois the title of Vicar General of New York, when that prelate sought his assistance.
His brother's apostasy, while wounding him most deeply, also created for him a great deal of annoyance among the clergy of Brittany. Refusing thenceforth every honor—even that of the episcopacy, which, it is said, was offered him seventeen times—he devoted himself wholly to what was the great work of his life, the Institute of the Brothers of Christian Instruction. He had established it in 1817 to supply the benefits of Christian teaching in country districts too poor to secure the services of the Brothers of the Christian Schools of St. Jean Baptiste de la Salle, who were not allowed to work singly. When he was still vicar-general of Saint-Brieuc; he would seek in the fields and assemble in his own home young peasants, whom he himself instructed in the ways of piety and to whom he imparted elementary knowledge. From these gatherings grew his congregation, with which the members of a similar institution established by M. Gabriel Deshayes, Vicar-General of Vannes, soon associated themselves. In 1820 he had about 50 disciples; in 1829 he had 133; over 260 in 1831; 650 about 1837. When he died, 800 were scattered throughout Brittany, Gascony, in the colonies of the Antilles, Senegal, Cayenne, and Haiti, whither they had been sent by the French government. This great and rapid success was due chiefly to the skillful and energetic administration of Jean de Lamennais. For forty years he was the one who attracted and trained the recruits, guided the young teachers, opened and visited the schools. He also won for them the gratitude of the public authorities, and the approbation and praise of Pius IX testified in a Brief of February 1, 1851; and he built for them a fine motherhouse at Ploermel. He himself was an example of all the Christian virtues to such a degree that forty years after his death, which occurred on December 26, 1860, the process de fames sanctitatis with a view of his beatification was initiated under the patronage of the Bishop of Vannes. His native land has not forgotten him. At Ploermel a statue has been raised to the memory of this man, who perhaps has done more than any other in the nineteenth century for the Christian education of the people. In the beginning of the twentieth century, before the persecution in France scattered the teaching congregations, his institute was more prosperous than ever and counted among its members about 2700 religious, giving instruction to 75,000 scholars, and distributed among 460 institutions, of which one was in Canada.