Catholic Church of Montreal > Publications > Info Archives > February 2015 -The Brothers of Charity: 150 years of service in Montreal

February 2015 -The Brothers of Charity: 150 years of service in Montreal


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As we celebrate the year of Consecrated Life, the Church of Montreal marks the 150th anniversary of the arrival in the diocese of one of its most fascinating male religious communities. The Brothers of Charity set foot in Montreal on the 22 February 1865. This community opened in 1884 the Asile Benoît-Joseph-Labre where they welcomed the elderly, the terminally ill, the alcoholics, the drug addicts and many individuals struggling with different psychiatric diseases. It is there that Émile Nelligan spent more than twenty years.

In 1864, it had been several years that Bishop Bourget was looking for a religious community willing to administer the Hospice Saint-Antoine and to help the poor of his diocese. On his way to Rome, he stopped in Ghent on the 29 and 30 of November 1864 and encountered there the Brothers of Charity. Founded in 1807 in the Belgian city of Ghent by the Servant of God, Father Pierre Joseph Triest (1760-1836) the community's mission is primarily to help the poor and the sick. Immediately, Ignace Bourget invited the community to settle in Montréal and to run the Hospice Saint-Antoine.

Barely a week after the departure of Bishop Bourget, Canon De Decker, the spiritual director of the community, wrote to the Bishop of Montreal informing him that the general Council had unanimously accepted the project of a foundation in Montreal (this letter can be read below). He agrees with Bishop Bourget to send four brothers to Montreal. With this first foundation outside Belgium, the community of the Brothers of Charity of Ghent opened a new chapter in their history. They are now present in more than 30 countries.

Bishop Bourget was committed to ensure the subsistence and maintenance of the new community. To enable the establishment of this community, he could count on the support of many lay people. The installation in Montreal of the Brothers of Charity was made possible by the generous support of Antoine-Olivier Berthelet, a businessman and philanthropist who donated to the community a property where they could settle.

On the 6 February 1865, while Bishop Bourget was still in Rome, four brothers left for Montreal. On the 21 February 1865, in mid-winter brothers Eusèbe, Sébastien, Lin and Edmond arrived in Portland, Maine. The next day at noon, they reached Montreal by train. In the absence of Bishop Bourget, they were greeted by the administrator of the diocese Canon Truteau. Canon Fabre, the future Archbishop of Montreal, was appointed as Director of the new community. On the 1St March 1865, the first day of lent, the brothers officially took over the administration of the Hospice Saint-Antoine. A few months later, Bishop Bourget returned to the country with two more brothers to support the new establishment.

Over the following decades, the community set up several charitable initiatives such as the Asile Benoît-Joseph-Labre.  Since their arrival in 1865, the Brothers of Charity have helped thousands of vulnerable individuals who had been excluded and marginalized by society. One of their major missions has been to help the homeless and the offenders to learn a trade in order to facilitate their reintegration into society. The community is still present in the diocese of Montreal where 17 brothers continue to volunteer in different institutions. In addition, the Brothers of Charity of Montreal actively support the missions of their colleagues in Nicaragua and in Peru.

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