Brothers of Our Lady of Mercy

The Start

There has been a community in Huberdeau from May 15th 1923 till 2007, originally connected with the orphanage and the College Sacré Coeur, but from 1976 onwards, it hasn’t been run by the Congregation anymore; now it is an Institute for young delinquents and it is called “Accueil Vert Pré”.

A fruitful meeting

Brother Assistant Marcellin Van den Heuvel occasionally met Father Jean Le Bail, Provincial Father Superior of the Fathers Montfortanen, who governed a flourishing Institute for orphans and neglected youth in Notre-Dame de Montfort (the previous Notre-Dame des Lacs) as well as in Huberdeau. Together with “Les Filles de la Sagesse”, they spent their best forces on education and teaching of 350 children from 5 to 10 years old. About 30 older children helped the Fathers and their Co-helpers at the work on the fields, in the workhouses and in the stables.

However, this meritorious educational work didn’t serve the purpose of the Congregation, founded by H. Louis Marie de Montfort. Their purpose was missionary work and preaching. Thus father Provincial proposed that the Brothers of Scheppers would take care of one of the Institutions.

Taking over of the Institution

The orphanage

Soon they made their choice for Huberdeau. The contract was concluded on May 14th 1923 at the notary’s home of A. Derome,. The first party was presented by Father Provincial Jean Le Bail and Father William Lemmens, local head in Huberdeau and for the other party it was Brother General Superior Leonard and Brother Egbert Davey, Headmaster of the Saint-Aloïsius College in London. Our Brothers would gradually take over the complete Institution.

In 1923, at Our Holy Mary Ascension, the steamer Minnedosa from the Canadian Pacific Railway weighed anchor in Antwerp. Our Brother were aboard:  Chrysostoom, Materne, Romain, Engelbert, Lucien, Edmond and Gaudence. Ten days later they arrived in Huberdeau. Soon they met  their delighted hosts and visited the many wooden buildings. Only the next day they admired the large domain of about 378 ha.

Mgr. Labelle, priest at Notre-dame des Lacs once called it   “Le Paradis du Nord”. It is a unique beautiful landscape, limited by the river La Rouge and by afforested hills. Tall cliffs surround the lake La Loutre, filled with lots of fish in it; this lake drains its redundant water through a small brook in the last named river.

But, the Brothers had not found enough occasion to admire the beauty of the surrounding nature when at September 4th,  a small caravan with Brothers from Swan-Lake arrived to reinforce them.. Those were Brothers Rombaut, August, Venance and Odilon.A risky experiment

The next morning, a risky experiment took place: the youngest orphans from Huberdeau moved to Montfort, 110 older from Montfort were moved to Huberdeau. The next day, the first school year started. The school material was the strict minimum: each pupil had the disposal of a slate, a slate-pencil, a note-book, a catechism and only one manual that had to contain the complete subject-matter of tuition.

What they feared, happened. At the playground the elder assembled and were shouting “Vive Montfort” and “A bas Huberdeau”. A few windows broke and in the dining room there was a famous uproar. Only during class, it was calm. The revolt continued in the Chapel: while the boys from Huberdeau prayed aloud or were singing devote songs, those from Montfort shut their mouth. Thanks to the calm resolution and the large solidarity amongst the Brothers, this revolt stopped just like that and soon they could start a serious study. As the pupils didn’t have the required standard, each holder of its class would teach the curriculum of the previous year.

Education method

Soon, all the pupils appreciated the educational method of their new teachers who always combined gentleness with severity. And, slowly, but with a great certainty, as the boys grew physically but especially psychologically and socially, the Brothers only had to act in those moments in which the circumstances demanded  a prescription or an absolute order. They now realized that real education meant “making themselves superfluous”. This educational system expanded and developed completely in what is now known as “La Cité des Gais Lurons”, which is  for instance adapted in Lac-Sergent  and this satisfies as well Brothers and pupils.

Brother Michel De Becker and his First fire

In Huberdeau the name of Brother Michel De Becker is still well known. This engaging Brother has  passed a long but very fruitful period in Canada. His first period goes from 1923 till 1933. Afterwards he became Headmaster in Niel, but in 1937 he returned back to Huberdeau as Headmaster.

During the World War, June 1941, at 3 o’clock in the morning, he was awakened. Fire! 2 hours later the wooden Institute was but a pile of ashes, except for the distant farm. And though, the Brothers were happy, because there were no victims amongst the 360 pupils! Only Brother Leon had caught a few serious burns during his heroic action.

A special train brought all the children to a special Institute for elderly people. There, they first  had a medical check-up. Some returned to their families, others could stay in equal institutes like Huberdeau, the Brothers Novices and a few hundred weaker children could stay at the Fathers in Montfort. Soon, the wooden barracks were built again to relieve those Fathers as soon as possible.

In September of the next year, the new Institute was inaugurated. It was built now fully in reinforced concrete, and then,  the Brothers took care of 400 children and gave them paternal protection.