BARON, EUGÈNE (named at birth Eugène-François), named Brother Ulysse, founder and first superior of the North American province of the Brothers of Christian Instruction; b. 2 Oct. 1856 in Erquy, France, son of François-Guillaume Baron, a customs officer, and Marie-Louise Cartier; d. 15 June 1932 in Ploërmel, France.
Eugène Baron was 16 years old when he entered the noviciate of the Brothers of Christian Instruction in Ploërmel, Brittany, despite the strong opposition of his parents, who knew nothing about the congregation. On 21 Oct. 1872 he took the religious habit and the name of Brother Ulysse, a name he would make famous in the countries where he carried out his ministry. The congregation was the work of Gabriel Deshayes and Jean-Marie de La Mennais, abbés who joined forces in 1819 to create this community devoted to the Christian training and education of youth, with a special concern for the poor. Their motto: Dieu seul (“God alone”).
The qualities that would mark the personality of Brother Ulysse were already evident: the desire to serve and a natural ability for leadership. When he completed his noviciate in 1873, his first assignment was the school known as La Caserne, in Ploërmel, at which he took charge of the pedagogical training of his young colleagues. The following year, however, he was sent to the mission on the islands of Saint-Pierre and Miquelon, where some of his congregation had been working since 1842. He would labour there for ten years in rather wretched conditions, despite which his enthusiasm and spirit of initiative never flagged.
It was from this mission that the idea of expanding into Quebec took shape, largely as a result of some Jesuit fathers who, during a short stay on the islands, extolled the advantages of having a school in Montreal. After a failed attempt in 1878 to open one at Saint-Denis (Saint-Denis-sur-Richelieu), the superiors of the Brothers of Christian Instruction, who were faced with the laws and decrees of the French parliament that posed a particular threat to the teaching orders, were convinced of the soundness of the plan. Brother Ulysse was chosen to found the North American province of the congregation and in 1885 he was sent to Ireland to improve his English.
In May 1886, at the age of 29, Brother Ulysse accompanied Brother Yriez-Marie, the assistant general, to the Collège Sainte-Marie in Montreal, where Bishop Édouard-Charles Fabre* was taking part in a celebration. The meeting of the prelate, the Jesuit authorities, and the brothers augured well and would be an important factor in the success of the brothers’ first schools in Quebec. Cooperation between the two congregations in academic endeavours was not new. It had begun in France during the 19th century and would continue in Quebec (1886–1948), the United States (1903–10), and Manitoba (1904–7). It was agreed at the outset that the Brothers of Christian Instruction would send four additional brothers to the Collège Sainte-Marie and two to take charge of the parish school in Chambly. Yriez-Marie returned to France, and in August five brothers, Ange, Clarence-Marie, Méleusippe, Placide, and Simplice, arrived in Montreal to lend a hand to Brother Ulysse.
After the school was established in Chambly in 1886, others soon opened, including those at Sainte-Scholastique (Mirabel) and Verchères in 1887, La Prairie, Montreal, and Saint-Henri-de-Mascouche (Mascouche) in 1888, and Saint-Cuthbert in 1889. Sixteen elementary schools – to serve mainly “the children of the people,” in accordance with the rules of the community – came into being in less than a decade. The brothers took on other projects as well (evening courses for adults, sports teams, and organizations for young people, for example), and several of them were called to serve at missions in other countries.
In his role as leader, Brother Ulysse was truly in his element. Establishing good relations with curés and school boards, deciding on the advisability of agreeing or refusing to open a new school, obtaining reasonable conditions so that the brothers could do good work, knowing when to refuse requests for cutting corners – these were among the tasks that fell to the superior. The headquarters of the congregation in North America were set up in La Prairie in 1890 and the noviciate opened there in 1891. While waiting for students to be ready to begin their teaching careers, the superior appealed to Ploërmel, year after year, for colleagues who would take over classes and replace ailing teachers. Between 1886 and 1902, Brother Ulysse would receive 93 fellow brothers from France. The noviciate in La Prairie would take in the same number of candidates in the period 1891 to 1902.
In 1903 the anticlerical policy of the government of Émile Combes in France led to the dissolution of congregations and religious orders [see Marie Le Gallo]. The brothers in Brittany faced three choices: to stay where they were, becoming secular teachers while remaining secretly attached to their religious obligations; to break their ties with the congregation; or to leave the country and faithfully and openly keep their commitments. They decided to emigrate, and thus in 1903 the provincial house in La Prairie received 108 religious (novices, scholastics, and professed brothers with some experience), most of them in their early twenties. Welcoming and settling these new arrivals would keep the superior busy until the end of his term of office.
Brother Ulysse and his colleagues quickly set about providing food and lodging for all these exiles, comforting them sometimes, initiating them into the customs of the new world, finding work for them (in the kitchen or the print shop, for example), and preparing them for their future assignments (mainly in teaching or missionary work). At the same time, the superior insisted that all of them raise their intellectual standards and improve their pedagogical skills, without neglecting their spiritual lives. A department of studies, to prepare the young brothers for obtaining the necessary teaching certificate and university degrees, was set up in 1899 and carried on its endeavours. There were also more professional-development days, practice-teaching classes, and summer sessions. In short, the superior sought to implant in Quebec the traditions that had been the congregation’s riches and strength from its inception. But Brother Ulysse’s most brilliant inspiration – an idea he would be proud to see carried out – was opening a school in Plattsburgh, N.Y., in 1903 and sending 23 young brothers to that city; there they attended the English-speaking normal school of New York State. They would be of immeasurable assistance two years later, on their return to Quebec, where Brother Ulysse needed teachers fluent in that language.
In the autumn of 1910 the heads of the congregation had other plans for Brother Ulysse, who had been directing the mission for 24 years and had to struggle against the dangers of routine and weariness, both in himself and in others. He was to take charge of the mission in Spain, which had been started in 1903 and existed in conditions of extreme poverty. Although he left his North American endeavours with a heavy heart, he generously and enthusiastically resumed his work as a builder, leaving behind for his successor, Brother Louis-Arsène, a group of 250 professed religious, 147 of them French and 103 Canadian.
Thanks to his talent for languages and his adaptability, Brother Ulysse soon felt at home in Basque country. He left in 1923, when he was co-opted to sit on the general council, which had recently been set up on the Island of Jersey. In 1927, relieved of any major responsibility, he returned to Spain, where he carried out light or interim duties more appropriate for a man of his years. But time had taken its toll, and in February 1932 he suffered a heart attack. He returned to Ploërmel, where he died on 15 June, after 58 years of active service in mission fields.
The Brothers of Christian Instruction in Canada and the United States, for whom the name of Brother Ulysse has always aroused affection and admiration, are proud of the work their founder began. A talented administrator, he put in place the elements that enabled his successors to continue developing the congregation and to make their mark in mass education.
Arch. des Frères de l’Instruction Chrétienne (La Prairie, Québec), 6101–2 (reg. des entrées au noviciat de La Prairie, 1891– ). Arch. des Frères de l’Instruction Chrétienne (Rome), 422/016 (corr. du frère Ulysse (1890–1910) et corr. administrative du frère Ulysse (1911–22). Frère Symphorien-Auguste [Émile Durand], “Le très cher Frère Ulysse (Eugène Baron, 1856–1932),” Chronique des Frères de l’instruction chrétienne de Ploërmel (Ploërmel, France), no.118 (novembre 1933): 689–706; no.119 (janvier 1934): 778–89; no.120 (mars 1934): 855–68; no.121 (mai 1934): 934–39. Études mennaisiennes (Rome), 21 (1998); 22 (1998); 28 (2002). Jean Laprotte, Les Frères de l’instruction chrétienne en Amérique du Nord, 1886–1986 (La Prairie, 1988).