A report on the conference from one of the guests from the UK, Mr Alan Frost.
The International College of Chavagnes in northern France has a long and distinguished history. This history goes back to the thirteenth century when it was donated to the Catholic Church by a local noble family of English origin. Initially the site was actually that of an important Roman villa, and for several hundred years subsequently, it was occupied as a monastery by Benedictine monks.
After the French Revolution, here in the heroic Vendée region, it was for two hundred years one of France’s most distinguished seats of Catholic learning, educating thousands of boys who went on to become priests, bishops, doctors, poets and leaders throughout France, re-established as a Catholic institution by Fr. Louis-Marie Baudouin in 1802. Since 2002 this clearly hallowed ground has become the home of an international Catholic college, offering an individualised classical education to boys from around the English-speaking world.
In 2016 during the summer vacation, the College revived the annual gathering of lecturers, religious and visitors that had not been held for some years. The Conference proved a success and will be held again next summer, with the intention of this becoming a yearly feature, especially in the light of the College’s new hiugher education section, Chavagnes Studium, now offering degree course in the Liberal Arts.
The full title of the Conference was ‘The Virgin Mary in Liturgy, Literature and Life’, inspired by the 300th anniversary of the death of St. Louis-Marie de Montfort celebrated in 2016. He is known especially for his devotion to the Blessed Virgin and for his preaching. Of particular importance are his books ‘True Devotion to Mary’ and ‘The Secrets of the Rosary’. Over a period of four days several distinguished speakers gave impressive and enlightening talks, the guest of honour being His Lordship Bishop Athanasius Schneider from Kazakhstan.
The Bishop gave a talk on ‘The Blessed Virgin Mary and the Defence of the Faith’. Headmaster and founder of the modern College, Ferdi McDermott gave two wide-ranging talks, one on ‘The Life and Legacy of St. Louis Grignion de Montfort’ and other on ‘Our Lady in the Literature of the British Isles’. The Chaplain to the College, Fr. Mark Lawler spoke on ‘G.K.Chesterton on Mary and the Church’, the subject of his current Ph. D. research. The previous chaplain, Fr. Bede Rowe tackled the deep subject of ‘Mary as the New Ark of the Covenant’. Two visiting guest speakers were Mr. Gerhard Eger who delivered a very broad talk on ‘Approaching Mary through the Liturgy’, and Fr. Michel Favalier, F.M.I., who paid tribute to the priest who set up the original College as a junior seminary, ‘The Venerable Louis-Marie Baudouin and the Spirituality of the Incarnation’. The Catholic writer Donal Foley, a member of the group for the whole Conference anticipated the centenary celebrations in Portugal next year with a talk on ‘Our Lady of Fatima and the Church’. Another member, though not among the speakers this year, was Fr. Simon Henry, parish priest in Leyland, Lancashire and GB National Chaplain of the M. & H. Order of St. Lazarus of Jerusalem. He has posted much interesting detail and impressive photographs from the Conference on his ‘Offerimus Tibi Domine’ website.
Before and after the talks each day, solemn High Masses were celebrated in the College Chapel, a number of sixth formers and former pupils coming along to attend, serve and assist with the singing. Indeed, the College choir has released two CDs of religious music. Two outstanding features of the liturgical devotions, which included Offices, were firstly: a Pontifical High Mass at the Faldstool in the Extraordinary Form celebrated by Bishop Schneider with attendant priests assisting as Deacon and Sub-deacon. Secondly, the memorable and stirring singing by the choir and the congregation of ‘Chez nous soyez Reine’, effectively the anthem of the Paris-Chartres annual pilgrimage. Just inside the College entrance is a beautiful little chapel where Fr. Baudouin is buried and here some Low Masses were celebrated as well as the praying of the Rosary.
Meals, and the food and wines were much appreciated, were taken in the refectory, while outside tables in the gardens provided ambient places for relaxation and discussion. The College is situated in a quiet village in a delightful and rural part of France, the Vendée region. An interesting tourist feature nearby is a preserved and spectacular railway with original stations. Part of the rolling stock includes first class dining cars from the old Orient Express, lovingly restored and once again the food was excellent, served by staff in period uniforms.
The terminus of the round trip is a short walk from St. Laurent-sur-Sevres, where St. Louis-Marie de Montfort is buried. Bishop Schneider lead prayers and silent devotion by his tomb; very special moments, very special place where lies one of the great promoters of the Rosary and the ineffable importance of Our Blessed Mother Mary in the life of a Catholic. Ad Jesum per Mariam.
Finally, and something of a ‘treat’, were two evening visits to local chateaux, through the association of the College with descendants of generals who fought for the Catholic cause against the Revolutionaries. The chateaux retain their antique splendour, and are literally only a walk away from the College. The link to those troubled times through the family members whose ancestors fought for the survival of the Catholic Faith in the area is also sensed and maintained through the ongoing history of the International College in Chavagnes.
Alan Frost, M.A., M.Ed.