The Vendée region in France, south west of Paris and bordering the Loire Valley, is an area steeped in Catholic history. Many Vendéens paid the ultimate price for their loyalty to Church and King during the French Revolution; inspired, one might imagine, by more than a millennium of French Catholicism, heroism and the legacy of St Louis Marie De Montfort.
To the east is Chatellerault, where, in 732AD, Charles met and defeated the advancing Saracen horde and where their leader, Abdul Rahman, met his death. Three hundred years earlier, St Martin of Tours lived and died in the town of that name only a short drive to the north.
The creation of Chavagnes International College in the village of Chavagnes-en-Palliers will, no doubt, attempt to write a new chapter in European Catholic history. Originally a junior seminary founded in 1802, the site of the college is said to have been built from the proceeds of a hoard of gold coins hidden in a nearby forest by a Royalist General in the face of advancing republican troops around 1796. It was closed under State persecution in 1902, occupied by German forces in 1940, and became a Catholic college in the 1970s, only to close once more in the 1990s.
This new venture has been established by an impressive group of leading Catholics in the disciplines of art, music, literature and theology. These include Ferdi McDermott, Founder of St Austin Press and Mentor magazine and a school principal; Eric Hester, former headmaster of St Ambrose College, Altrincham, UK, and former Chief Examiner in English Literature; and Joseph Pearce, the prominent Catholic literary biographer.
Chavagnes is a boarding college for English-speaking students who will receive a classical education that is unashamedly Catholic. Complementing the educational disciplines, students will take part in excursions, pilgrimages and a range of sports and other activities. Their faith development will include daily prayer, Mass - with sung vespers on Sundays and major Feasts - and Compline each evening. In the words of Chairman of the Advisory Board, Eric Hester, Chavagnes will "make its contribution to forming successful teachers, priests, leaders, fathers and - yes - saints for the twenty-first century."
Chavagnes is two hours by train from Paris, while the nearby international airport at Nantes is accessible via the local bus service. The college is currently taking enrolments for boys ranging in age from 9 to 14 (for Years 5 to 9) for the academic year commencing September 2002. The age range will be expanded in coming years to eventually include students up to 19 years of age (UK GCSE/O-level and A-levels).
The college fees are comparable with the major Australian boarding colleges and include full board, medical insurance and all excursions and pilgrimages. Scholarships and bursaries are offered at the discretion of the Principal, reducing these fees by as much as 50 per cent in cases of financial hardship and/or particular intellectual ability.
At the time of writing, six students from Australia are enrolled for 2002. The expense of airfares to and from France is an obvious additional impost on the parents of these children. Chavagnes College is developing a fund-raising strategy to help with these and other costs. Anyone who is interested in supporting the College and its Australian students should contact Conor Taaffe by email: firstname.lastname@example.org for further information.
Further information about Chavagnes is available from its website: www.chavagnes.org
- Paul Russell is the South Australian State President of the NCC.