Chavagnes en Paillers: a Catholic college with a Catholic culture

Chavagnes en Paillers: a Catholic college with a Catholic culture

Paul Russell

Last year I wrote a short introduction for AD2000 about the new Catholic boarding college for English-speaking boys in France. I recently had the pleasure of visiting Chavagnes International College, spending time with the students, faculty and Brother John Moylan CFC, Chavagnes' Australian connection.

Chavagnes en Paillers, the town from which the College takes its name, is situated in the Vendée region of South Western France. The Vendéans have a proud history, having staged a war against the Revolutionary forces "for God and King" at great cost. Vendéans are proud of their Catholic heritage, a point that cannot be missed in all the shrines, grottos, churches and chapels that dot the landscape.

Chavagnes International College occupies the site of a former seminary and junior seminary founded and built in 1802 by the Venerable Louis Marie Boudouin. A small chapel adjoins the College property on the site of the small house where Baudouin lived and where he died. Daily Mass is still celebrated there for the townspeople.


The College site has a chequered history. In the Middle Ages it housed a priory of monks. Legend has it that the original buildings of 1802 were financed with a hoard of gold coins hidden in a forest from the advancing revolutionaries sometime earlier. It was confiscated by the State in 1905, bought back by the aristocracy in 1912 and given back to the Church, half occupied by a German garrison during World War II, and visited by Cardinal Roncalli (later Pope John XXIII) in the late 1950s.

The College is an imposing landmark. Sitting opposite the parish church, it is located at the centre of town. Its three-storey H-shaped form and hundreds of windows made me wonder what the seminary must have been like in its heyday. The College also has its own chapel boasting some fine artwork.

If the region has the trappings of a deeply Catholic faith, the College has the heart and head to complement them. One could not fail to be impressed by the sight of young men and boys rising early to attend daily Mass. Hearing young, pure voices chanting at Compline in semi-darkness was a moving experience as was their obvious devotion to the faith.

The vision that has become Chavagnes International College burns deeply within all members of the faculty, headed by Ferdi McDermot, founder of the international cultural magazine, St Austin Review. The staff are all Catholic and all passionate about the faith and about education. At Chavagnes, the students receive the highest quality tutelage with a view to building future men of faith and action.

Many of us, from time to time, entertain grand thoughts and dreams about what we might do - sometime. Chavagnes is an example of faith in action, of putting flesh on the bones, turning dreams into reality.

But this reality has not come easily. I venture to guess that the entire faculty could command significantly more than their existing remuneration elsewhere, while the expenses involved in restoring only part of the buildings to a comfortable standard must run into hundreds of thousands of dollars. There is much more that can and will be done if the courage and commitment that exists there currently is anything to go by.

Unashamedly Catholic

Is the effort worth it? The academic achievements in O-level and A-level exams alone, at such an early stage in the College's history, are testimony enough. But the College is about more than that, much more.

On the first evening of my short stay, I was treated to a musical extravaganza from the choir and instrumentalists; earlier that day I had the pleasure of hearing an A-level student practising on the church organ. A local French boy who had been at the school for only 10 months conversed with me in near perfect English where previously he had known none. The students also take part in sport, horse-riding, art and visits to local shrines. A highlight of the school year is the annual Paris to Chartres pilgrimage.

Chavagnes International College has already welcomed four Australian students, with two current. Any Australian parents thinking of a boarding school education for their son(s) that is unashamedly Catholic would do well to consider Chavagnes. It would be an immeasurable investment in your child's faith and future. Full board and tuition equate well with Australian alternatives and bursaries are available.

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