The Presentation Brothers’ Canadian Centenary
In 2010 Brebeuf College in Toronto honored the Presentation Brothers by hosting the Centenary Celebrations of the arrival of the Brothers in Canada. The event was reported on www.presentationbrothers.org in a news item dated 13 October. Here Brother Denis Claivaz, a native of Montreal, reconstructs his keynote address.
In 1910 the first eight Presentation Brothers stopped in St John’s Newfoundland and spent a few days with the Christian Brothers en route to Montreal. ‘Centenary’ means something in the New World as it was just 62 years ago that Newfoundland joined the Dominion that finalized the formation of Canada. This great country could only look back to 1867 when Upper and Lower Canada (Quebec & Ontario) formed a union that resulted in the beginning of Canada.
As Blessed Edmund Rice had looked out a window in Waterford and seen young boys in need, so too in Montreal Canon O’Meara looked out of a window and saw young boys, mostly of Irish extraction, who were struggling to receive a decent education. This time it was not Penal Laws but the fact that heavily-accented French Canadians were trying to teach English to the young immigrants. It just wasn’t working. So a trip to the Presentation Brothers’ headquarters in Cork City, Ireland, sealed a deal which brought the first Brothers to Canada.
The early years saw a rapid expansion of community houses in and around Montreal. Our annals point out that we had nine houses and in the 1950s there were 70 Brothers, half of them being North American. Three categories of Brothers were evident: the Dreamers, the Planners, and the Implementers. This is the Congregation to which I was personally attracted. I began my journey with the Brothers in the early 1960s.
The bold step which the Canadian Brothers took when they opened a Mission in the Northern part of Ghana, was also an inspiration to me. I volunteered three times and in 1975 was finally deemed worthy to head to Navrongo. To call it a life-changing experience is an understatement. Now that same Mission is one of the jewels in the crown of the Presentation Brothers. The Lord continues to supply us with vocations as the work there is obviously vital to the spread of His Kingdom
The keynote address was concluded with a story about the Obamas – and I told it as though I knew the family personally. The couple went out one evening for a quiet meal at a restaurant in Washington. During the meal a secret service agent excused himself and said that the owner of the restaurant wanted a private word with Michelle. Barack, being the gentleman that he is, obliged. When she returned to the table he enquired as to why the owner wished to speak with her. Michelle blushingly said that he happened to be her high school sweetheart and he just wanted to express his pride in knowing the first family. “So if you had married him you would now be the proud wife of a restaurant owner”, quipped Obama. “Don’t be silly, honey”, retorted Michelle without blinking. “I believe he would be the President of the United States”.
So it has been with the Presentation Brothers over the years. Our Patroness, the Blessed Virgin Mary, has been the ‘strong lady’ behind the scenes constantly allowing her Brothers to do His Will. Our history is powerful. Our Brothers have been models of commitment and hard work. We have so much for which to be thankful. Canada’s story is a proud one. We are grateful for the Brothers who gave tirelessly of themselves. The celebrations themselves reflected the quiet beings that we Brothers are. No fanfare, please. It is His Will that we do.
Presentation Brother Denis Claivaz
Edmund Rice International, Geneva
published January 2011