As we look ahead to the XXIII General Chapter that begins May 17, we also reflect back on previous chapters to get a sense of our roots.
The VIII General Chapter was originally scheduled for 1914, but was delayed by five years because of World War I (The photo above with Fr. Dehon in the center was taken during WWI). Fourteen delegates (three were absent) gathered in Heer (Maastricht), in the Netherlands, July 29-31, 1919.
Curiously, the delayed chapter picked up where it left off in 1914. The five years of war were hardly mentioned except in Fr. Dehon’s closing remarks in which he said that he was “happy to note that charity and union did not suffer too much for the difficulties caused by the war.”
In his opening address the founder simply crossed out the number “37” and replaced it with “42,” indicating the years since the congregation’s founding. You can see it in his own hand in the image at the right (change is circled in yellow).
Typical of previous chapters, the delegates at the 1919 gathering got down to business right away. By the end of the first morning the vice general was elected (Fr. Joseph Laurent Philippe), as well as the three-member council. Each councilor represented one of the three provinces of the congregation: Fr. Kusters (Holland), Fr. Jonkmann (Germany) and Fr. Gengler (Franco-Belgium). There had been a proposal to erect an Italian entity, separating the region from the Franco-Belgian Province, but that proposal failed.
With its general administration in place by lunch on the first day, the chapter turned its attention to spiritual matters in the afternoon. The importance of spiritual formation of not only the Dehonians themselves, but of students in the congregation’s schools, was stressed. There was a desire for uniformity in oral prayers and an emphasis on the Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament as the expression of “our life of love and reparation.” Each local community was to spend 30 minutes a day in adoration, as well as do an annual retreat of eight days.
Delegates reviewed the Constitutions in regards to formation issues (silence was to be observed among novices during meals) and the apostolate. The superior general (Fr. Dehon) is quoted as saying that the congregation is mixed, “not strictly apostolic.”
This was the last chapter that Fr. Dehon attended. He died shortly before the IX General Chapter was scheduled in 1925. The man elected at the 1919 chapter as the vicar general –– Fr. Joseph Laurent Philippe –– was named at the next General Chapter as the first SCJ to succeed Fr. Dehon as superior general.
Click here to read about the 1926 General Chapter, the first to be held without the founder.