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The Xaverian Brothers or Congregation of St. Francis Xavier (CFX) are a religious institute founded by Theodore James Ryken in Bruges, Belgium in 1839 and named after Saint Francis Xavier. The institute is dedicated to Roman Catholic education in Belgium, England and the United States.
Theodore James Ryken was born in 1797 in the small village of Elshout, North Brabant, the Netherlands, to ardently Catholic middle class parents. Orphaned at a young age, Ryken was raised by his uncle.
Ryken was trained as a shoemaker. He felt a calling by God which drew him to work first as a catechist, followed by helping manage an orphanage, and later by caring for cholera patients in the Netherlands.
At age 34, Ryken went to North America, where he served as a catechist among the missionaries to the Native Americans. During his three-year tour, he conceived the idea of starting a congregation of brothers to work alongside the missionary priests. On returning to Europe, he set about planning to found such a society in Belgium, a country eminent for missionary zeal.
When Ryken returned to the US in 1837, he decided that the children of Catholic immigrants were more in need of instruction than were those of Native Americans. Bishop Rosati of St. Louis, Missouri encouraged him to found a congregation of laymen to teach all classes of youth. Six other bishops sanctioned his plan to bring religious teachers to the United States.
Ryken served a term of probation in the novitiate of the Redemptorist Fathers to prepare to go to Rome to receive the permission and blessing of Pope Gregory XVI for his mission. He modeled the religious garb of members of his institute after that of the Redemptorists. The spirit of the Xaverian Brothers, on the other hand, can be traced to the influence of Rev. Isidore Van de Kerckhove, the Jesuit confessor and counselor of Ryken; De Kerckhhove drew up the original rules of the order. Although many religious institutes were being founded at the time as part of a Catholic revival that succeeded the fall of Napoleon I, Ryken had a different vision. He wanted to found a missionary institute rather than a congregation that would address the needs of a specific region.
On June 15, 1839, Ryken, then 42 years old, settled in a rented house on Ezelstraat in the centuries-old city of Bruges, Belgium. For five days he waited for the arrival of the two companions who had promised to join him in his undertaking: a weaver and a tailor. His companions proved to be less dedicated and resilient than he and he needed a year to recruit better suited candidates. He and his colleagues soon opened two primary schools in Bruges, and some of the Xavieran Brothers were sent to a normal school at Sint-Truiden for professional teacher training.
By 1841, the community had grown beyond the space available in the little house on Ezelstraat; with financial help from a sympathetic banker, Ryken purchased a large estate in a neighboring section of Bruges called "Het Walletje". The Xaverian Brothers began to attract candidates from Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, England, Ireland and France.
In 1848, a colony of brothers went to England to open schools in parishes in Bury and Manchester. Eventually, they opened Clapham College, London and the boarding schools of Mayfield College and its associated preparatory boarding school at Foxhunt Manor, in Sussex. Mayfield College closed in 1999 because of the lack of entrants to the order.
Troubles and resignation
For the rest of his superiorship, Ryken would be burdened by the loan he took in order to purchase Het Walletje. In addition, he was not a very good administrator, and his institute had a crisis at the Mother House in Bruges. Ryken was asked to tender his resignation by Jean-Baptiste Malou, Bishop of Bruges. Ryken willingly turned over his office to a younger man, and spent the last eleven years of his life as a simple member of the institute he had established.
Before his death on November 26, 1871 at age 74, Ryken attended the first general chapter of his institute in Bruges in 1869. By this time the institute had cleared its debt and the number of brothers had increased from 58 in 1860 to 133. They had nine well-established communities working among the poor in Belgium, England, and the United States.
Mission to the United States
In 1853 Louisville Bishop Martin Spalding invited the Xaverian brothers to open a school in his diocese, and in 1854 the first colony of brothers moved to the United States. The Brothers took charge of several parochial schools in 1864 and opened St. Xavier High School, Louisville, Kentucky.
In 1864, Spalding, then Archbishop of Baltimore, asked the Xaverians to open schools there, and they did so. Baltimore was made the center of Xaverian activities in the United States, and in 1876 a novitiate was opened there at the site of Mount Saint Joseph College, where it still stands.
A small Rosary-making club formed by Xaverian Brother Sylvan Mattingly in Louisville, Kentucky in 1949 grew to be the largest Catholic Rosary making group in the United States. Inspired by the message of Our Lady of Fatima, Mattingly formed "Our Lady of Fatima Rosary Making Club" in the basement of St. Xavier High School. Although Mattingly died in 1951, the organization grew to be Our Lady's Rosary Makers, which has 17,000 active members in the United States and has distributed hundreds of millions of free rosaries worldwide.