ROBERGE, STANISLAS-ALPHONSE, named Brother Symphorian Lewis (like his French-speaking colleagues, he preferred to gallicize his official religious name and signed Frère Symphorien-Louis), member of the Brothers of the Christian Schools, educator, school administrator, author, and magazine editor; b. 10 April 1848 in Saint-Pierre, Île d’Orléans, Lower Canada, son of Jacques Roberge, a farmer, and Scholastique Côté; d. 25 March 1924 in Montreal.
Stanislas-Alphonse Roberge entered the noviciate of the Brothers of the Christian Schools in Montreal on 24 Sept. 1865 and donned the religious habit on 8 December. He took his final vows on 16 Aug. 1877. In the meantime he had begun his teaching career in 1866 at the parish school of Saint-Joseph in Montreal, where he taught for 14 years. Living conditions were difficult because the school and the community were housed in the church basement. Since the premises were insalubrious the brothers had to move to a better residence in 1870 and to a new school in 1874. As the teacher in charge of the first class (as the final year was called) for a decade, Brother Symphorian Lewis was highly successful. His merit was recognized by commercial firms and business offices, which vied for his best students. In 1880 the new provincial visitor for Canada, Brother Réticius [Louis Gonnet*], chose him as director of the district’s junior noviciate (or juvénat). Brother Symphorian Lewis’s strong personality and his leadership, which were already acknowledged, stood out in a community that had few real teachers. He became the first director of the scholasticate that was established with eight novices on 24 Aug. 1887, in the mother house on Rue Côté in Montreal. Two months later the group moved to the premises known as Mont-de-La-Salle in Maisonneuve (Montreal).
But it was at the Collège du Mont-Saint-Louis, a large boarding school opened in Montreal in 1885, that Brother Symphorian Lewis would make his mark. He went there on 3 Feb. 1890 as assistant director and prefect of discipline and studies for all its senior classes. In 1894 he became its director. The college by then had some 400 boys, mostly boarders, and it provided a three-year preparatory course, beginning in the fourth year of the primary level, which led to either a four-year program of commercial studies or a six-year science one. Both French- and English-speaking students were accepted and instruction was bilingual. Brother Symphorian Lewis contributed more than anyone else to the stability and flourishing of the new college. It was he who gave Mont-Saint-Louis the distinctive character that would make it one of the finest works of the Brothers of the Christian Schools in Canada. He not only consolidated the educational programs and attracted a growing number of students, but he also made his college better known, with many religious and lay figures being received for visits or special performances.
Highly talented, a tireless worker, and a model of discipline, Brother Symphorian Lewis took on the teaching of literature and philosophy to the students in the senior classes of the science program in addition to his administrative duties. While contributing to the publication of his community’s Leçons de langue française, he wrote three philosophy textbooks for his students. Until 1920 he was in charge of producing a series of books on Canadian history, and he reputedly was the author of the intermediate and senior history textbooks. Considered by archivist Édouard-Zotique Massicotte* “the most complete, the best organized, and the most interesting” history for schoolchildren, the series emphasizes facts, especially those of a military kind, and puts forward an edifying vision of the past. Widely used in schools in the province of Quebec, it influenced the thinking of several generations of children.
An “inexhaustible poet,” according to the authors of Un demi-siècle au Mont-Saint-Louis, Brother Symphorian Lewis wrote a long autobiographical poem in verse (“Égypte et terre promise ou la vocation de Paul”), six historical plays (Colomb dans les fers, La découverte du Canada, Champlain, Maisonneuve, Dollard, Montcalm ou la trahison), and three biblical dramas (Le meurtre de Caïn, Joseph, Les Macchabées). He can probably also be credited with writing La perle de l’océan. These works were in the main symphonic odes for which he composed both words and music, and most were never published. A number of his plays were put on by the students at his school. He also wrote a collection of poems on the rosary, Couronne poétique des mystères du rosaire, and a long epic poem (about 10,000 lines) dedicated to St Jean-Baptiste de La Salle. His poetry flows, but it is often more fluent than lyrical and the alexandrines are sometimes little more than prose. Brother Symphorian Lewis also published Glanures canadiennes in Montreal around 1920. His major work, however, is a historical study entitled Les Frères des écoles chrétiennes au Canada, 1837–1900, which was brought out in Montreal in 1921. It is based on sound documentation, sometimes supplemented by personal recollections, and it would prove very useful to the authors of L’œuvre d’un siècle in 1937.
Brother Symphorian Lewis resigned as director of Mont-Saint-Louis in 1914 to become director general of studies for the district of Montreal. He now oversaw instruction in all his community’s schools in the district. He still lived at Mont-Saint-Louis, where he continued to teach literature and philosophy. That year he took charge of the Bulletin du T. S. Enfant Jésus, which was published by his community. He contributed poems signed Fr. S. L. almost every month until December 1923, and a few historical articles from time to time. As the person in charge, he collected or composed anonymously the religious stories and edifying accounts that formed the subject-matter of this devotional publication. His qualities as an educator and author were recognized by various awards, including the Ordre des Palmes académiques, conferred by the French government.
Brother Symphorian Lewis was a diabetic, and his health, which began to deteriorate in 1920, declined further towards the end of 1923. He recovered, but on 7 March 1924 he had an unfortunate fall that led rapidly to his death on 25 March. His personality has been well described by the authors of Un demi-siècle au Mont-Saint-Louis, who noted that he had “the soul of a religious imbued with piety, a burning patriotism, an open-minded intelligence, a sincere love of young people, rare talents as an organizer, [and] lastly, utter urbanity.”
Most of Brother Symphorian Lewis’s poetic and dramatic writings remain unpublished, apart from Couronne poétique des mystères du rosaire ([Montréal?, 1905?]), La découverte du Canada: drame historique en quatre actes, en vers et un tableau (ad libitum) . . . ([Montréal], 1899), and poems that appear between 1914 and 1923 in the Bull. du T. S. Enfant Jésus (Maisonneuve; Laval-des-Rapides [Laval], Qué.); his other works are available in mimeograph or typescript form. His educational and historical writings were published. From 1891 to 1910 he also prepared “Notes historiques sur le Mont-Saint-Louis”; these are held by the Arch. des Frères des Écoles Chrétiennes du Canada Francophone (Laval).
ANQ-Q, CE301-S12, 10 avril 1848. Arch. des Frères des Écoles Chrétiennes du Canada Francophone, “Historique de l’établissement des frères dans la communauté de St-Joseph (Montréal)”; Lettre d’É.-Z. Massicotte au frère Symphorian Lewis, 30 mars 1912; “Notes historiques sur le Mont-Saint-Louis,” 1 (1888–1916); 2 (1916–1927); “Notice historique sur le noviciat, la maison-mère et les autres établissements des Frères des écoles chrétiennes au Canada”; “Origine de l’établissement des Frères des écoles chrétiennes, dans la ville de Montréal, au Canada.” F. M.-L., “In memoriam,” Bull. du T. S. Enfant Jésus, 10 (1923–24): 204–5. “F. Symphorian-Lewis,” Institut des Frères des Écoles Chrétiennes, Notices nécrologiques trimestrielles (Paris), no.102 (janvier–mars 1924): 237–51. L’œuvre d’un siècle: les Frères des écoles chrétiennes au Canada; centenaire F.E.C., sous la dir. du frère Meldas-Cyrille (Montréal, 1937). [Étienne Poitras et Armand Yon], Un demi-siècle au Mont-Saint-Louis, 1888–1938 (Montréal, 1939). Nive Voisine, Les Frères des écoles chrétiennes au Canada (3v., Sainte-Foy, Qué., 1987–99), 2.