For as long as I can remember, I had been an 'Enfant de Coeur' or, Choirboy. Ours was a very religious family and it was only normal that I would follow my older brother in the 'choir business'. After all, my mother was in about every religious organization such as Les Enfants de Marie, La Société des Meres Catholiques etc and my father was a member of the Parish Choir, La Société des Oeuvres Catholiques, Les Adorations Nocturnes, La St-Vincent de Paul to name but a few.
One of the many processions....
By the time my mother made the arrangements for me to attend the Juvénat at Mont-St-Bruno, I already had been taught by the Freres de Saint-Gabriel for two years at the Christophe Colomb School in Montreal. For some deep reasons which to this day remain buried 'deeply', my dear mother had somehow arrived at the conclusion that I wanted to be 'in religion' as we used to say in those days. She was convinced that I always wanted to be a 'brother' and that was that. Perhaps she had taken score of all the masses I had 'served' in the past few years and had erroneously thought that I had a great urge to attend mass. Unfortunately, it never entered her thoughts that i might have done so simply to accumulate a sizeable kitty so I could go hitchiking....
However, as dear aunty Rose would say.... "toujours est-il....." les dés étaient jeté et rien n'allait plus! I was to become a Bother of Saint-Gabriel and that was it. As we had really never discussed the subject to any great length, it rather came as a big surprise to, one day, see the Juvénat's bus stop at our house, one sunny June afternoon while I was quietly reading an X-13 story on the balcony, and to discover that the 'dear' Brother had come to fetch me and take me to St-Bruno.
Meeting the Cher Frere Supérieur
My first introduction to Saint-Bruno was rather a big shock. Mind you, I was accustomed by that time to the 'Brothers'; the way they dressed, the way they acted and so on because they had been teaching me for two years but still, my first interview with the Brother Superior (Cher Frere Clément, as I recall) was a shock. I had arrived at the Juvénat around four PM a rich boy. I had a watch, a scapulaire around the neck, a good sum of money (at least it looked like it to me at the time), some loose change, I also had brought a few prized possession with me such as my scout's pocket knife, a compass (what for, I don't know) and a few other trinkets.
Some thirty minutes after meeting the Cher Frere Superior, I was poor! After having been read the 'riot act' or, as the dear Brother had said "the way we expect you to behave while you are with us", I had been literally stripped of all my worldly possessions with the exception of my scapulaire as this was a religious item. No watch, no money, no trinkets, no nothing. Without even asking if I agreed with it, I had just made a vow of poverty. Wow. this was heavy. As the good Brother had said, I would have no need for money as there was nowehere to spend it. I would need no watch as I would be a member of a group which always knew where they were to be and at what time.The compass was superflous as the good Brothers would 'show the way" and on it went.
Life at the Juvénat
There is no need to describe in detail how life was at the Juvénat. Suffice to say that it was rather different from life at home. For example, we took all meals in common. That was to be expected but all the same... Let me say at the onset that many of my experiences at the juvénat were to prove most beneficial to me in later life. For example, whenever one got in trouble at the juvénat (and you could get in trouble mighty easily, I hasten to add) one would be punished and, the Brothers could think of many ways to do so. Following are some of the ways I can remember:
a) doing push ups;
b) washing floors, with pail and brush (and some were huge);
c) reading from the life of Saints and such during meals (my preferred punishment);
d) running a number of laps aropund the track, in all weather (hot and/or rainy etc);
e) doing 'parlor' duty on Sundays (another of my preferred punishments (see below);
f) doing KP duty (ie: peeling potatoes, washing dishes etc );
g) and it went on and on......
And now, about those meals..... all meals were to be taken in complete silence. No talking. This was tough as you must remember that we were all between eleven and fifteen years old and kids at that age like to jab. To help us digest, I suppose, someone would read a story usually taken from a book entiltled 'La Vie des Saints' or some other similar book. As mentioned above, the reader was usually one of us who was, at that particular moment, in trouble and, as I was often enough in trouble, I became a regular reader. Truth be told, I rather enjoyed that little chore. in fact, most of the time, I enjoyed it more than eating whatever the meal was at the time. This is not to say that the food was no good as it was as good as could be in the circonstances; but communal meals were not my forte and I had found other sources for food. Quite often, there just was nobody to read as nobody was in trouble at the time. So, all I then had to do was open my yap and poof.... you would hear some Cher Brother (on duty at the time) say "Frere Sauvageau... au podium." And off I went.
And a lot of good came from all that as this is where I learned to speak in public! The one drawback for the poor fella speaking at the podium was that he would miss his meal, be it breakfast, lunch or dinner but this was never really a challenge as I had found other sources of food. Within the first week, I had discovered that the good Brothers had a mountain of food available to them for snacks and so it came to pass that I would visit the kitchen on most nights and grab whatever I could in the short period of time I spent in the kitchen before being caught. I never was. Ah the good old days. Perhaps this is where I formed the habit of eating at night. It never left me and I do to this day.
Sacrifices are good for you
Needless to say, the good Brothers loved to build characters. One of their cherished point was that whenever we suffered, we were to offer it to Christ for the redemption of our sins, or somehing to that effect. That was fine with me but some guys out there just couldn't have enough. I will never forget that one fellow. For example, we would all be sitting around a tree somewhere, resting after a lengthy go at picking apples or whatever else they filled our day with and we'd watch this fella running around, tipsaying up and down making faces as if he was in deep pain. The fact was, he 'was' in deep pain because he would put some sharp little stones in his shoes and go running around just so he could 'suffer a little' as if just being there was not enough and offer it for the redemption of his sins, as he would say. And this is no lie. The fella had turned tipsy. Even the good Brothers had to admit that he was going overboard somewhat. As I recall, this particular fella never made it. He was sent back home.
Can we bring you something?
From the first day I arrived at the Juvénat, my mother kept her promise and visited me with my father each and every Sunday. And on every visit, she would ak me if there was anything they could bring me the following Sunday. I often asked for chocolate bars (I remember Cadbury bars were my favorite along with O'Henry's' but, knowing that we were not allowed 'sweets' at the Juvénat, she would not be part of a deception and complicity in the breaking of any rules so she would refuse to bring any. However, when I told her one Sunday that the place was so peaceful, I would like to learn to play the violin so could she bring me my father's violin? Of course, that filled them with joy and the next Sunday I was the proud owner of a beautiful violin. The only problem was, I could not get any sensible sound out of it and only managed to produce squeals which turned everybody simply bazooka. That marked the end of my career as a concert violinist.
Just prior to my being abducted, I had bought a nice balsa wood kit of a beautiful cruiser which I never had had a chance to start assembling. Needless to say, this was high in my priority for 'things to get me." One Sunday brought the said kit and, shortly after my parents had left, I had found a quiet spot and had begun assembly of the kit. I never made it to the laying of the keel as I was caught by a Cher Frere and, pursuant to my 'vow of poverty' I had to turn it in. That was a shock. As it turned out, this particular treasure was handed back to me when I was sent home and it eventually was built, as you can see below.
Building 'La Grotte'
As mentioned earlier, most of our days at the Juvénat were spent doing some kind of work related to the business the good Brothers were running at the time. The Brothers were in the apple growing business 'big time'. They operated huge apple orchards located on the hills of St-Bruno and at the time, I was sure they were sole suppliers of apples for the entire Montreal area.
Early in the morning we Brothers (read: free help) would board a bus not unlike today's school buses and head for the orchard. And we would spend most of the remainder of the day, you guessed it, picking apples. I was rather small in those days and weighted but a feather so it was no big deal to climb up the tree and pick those apples, 'delicately as to not bruise them' as the good Cher Frere in charge would say, and fill our quota for the day. The said quota was not a figure per se.... the name of the game was pick as many apples as you can, sometimes with the encouraging help of the Cher frere and that was it. Oh, and don't forget.... if you ever fall off the tree or somehow hurt yourself some other way, don't cry! Just 'offre le au P'tit Jesus pour tes péchés' as the good Cher Frere would say. Great!
It could have been worse. We could have been picking potatoes (a back-breaking dirty job) or we could have worked in the fields, tilling and parsing the soil etc... and, picking apples had its benefits: you could gorge yourself all day eating apples. Of course, this was totally verboten. Rule Number One was Do Not Eat Apples and Rule Number Two was: see Rule Number One! Most of the fellas, at least those who really had the vocation and were perpetually looking for ways to offer sacrifices and suffer for the expiation of their sins adhered to the rule faithfully. Unfortunately, I was not one of them and I ate my share of apples. And they were good. Nothing but MacIntoshes!
As luck would have it, our group had its share of over-zealous vocationed sufferers who liked nothing but to tell on other Brothers who went astray. I vividly remember one such occasion. This Saint-to-be young Brother had been watching me devouring apples for a while and could no longer hold his piece and had to share it with the Cher Frere on duty. I heard him yell "Cher Frere Alphonse, Frere Sauvageau mange des pommes." To this, I responded by throwing a well aimed apple at him (the biggest I could find) which resulted in his falling off the tree when it him him square on the caboose. Then I heard, mixed with crying, "Cher Frere Alphonse, Frere Sauvageau m'a jeté une pomme." Then, all hell broke loose.
The Cher Frere had no choice. He was a good sort, really, and hated to get any of us in trouble but, when we insisted, he did what he had to do and as a result, I was invited by the Révérend Cher Frere Supérieur for tea. And another document was added to my ever growing file. I suppose I would have been fired on the spot would it not have been for the fact that I was a good apple-picker and there were so many apples left to pick. Whatever the reason, I was granted a 'sursis' and got to stay at the Juvénat a while longer.
Hosting Jean's Sister
Sunday was 'visitor's day' and a highlight of my life at the Juvénat not only because this was the day my parents visited but it also held some hidden benefits.
One of my best friends at the Juvénat whose mother also thought was destined to be a Frere Saint-Gabriel was named Jean Bourbonnais. We had known each other for years and were both from St-Marc, Rosemont. He also received the visit of his family every Sunday. Although I must admit I wasn't crazy about his father, or his mother for that matter, he had a sister of whom I was particularly enthused at the time. And, being part of the Bourbonnais family, she visited too. And the only way for me to meet her and spend some quality time with her was to do 'parlor duty' on Sundays.
Needless to say, I 'volunteered' every week to be a 'parlor boy,' a duty shunned by most of the other 'Freres'. Of course, the 'Cher Frere' in charge of the parlor boy recruiting drive was not privvy to the real reason for my wanting to volunteer every week to carry out such hated duty and he was only too happy with my excuses (which I forgot) if only to fill his weekly quota of volunteers.
I remember my friend's name was Jean but try as I may, I cannot remember his sister's name, which only goes to prove it must have been puppy love (remember, I was all but fourteen years young) but all the same, at the time, it was pretty serious business. And that proved to be my downfall. She, and my love of music did me in!
While at the Juvénat, we all had to take on a hobby. I picked drum playing for no better reason than it gave me the chance to be alone by myself pounding something while others collected butterflies or filled scrapbooks with dead leafs or dissicated insects. Not for me that fooey stuff. And besides, I felt that drum bashing was a good change from my violin playing. It was my first crack at playing in a musical band and I enjoyed every minute of it. So it was that on a certain Sunday toward the end of August, the Bourbannais family came to visit and, after greeting them at the parloir, I was granted permission to accompany them while they visited around. After all, they were friends of the family so what harm could come of that?
There was a tool shed nearby where we also stored our musical instruments and I asked Jean's sister if she would like to hear me playing the drum. She also must have liked music because she readily agreed to and off we went. It was lucky for me that her father did not see the 'clin d'oeil' that her brother Jean gave me as we went along.
When a reasonable amount of time had gone by and Mr Bourbonnais suddenly realized that he could not hear any sound of drums playing, although we were only a hundred feet or so from where he was standing, it dawned on him that this called for investigation. So, along with the Cher Frere he was then conversing with, and with Mme. Bourbonnais tagging along, they came looking for us. And they found us! Had a grenade exploded when they entered the tool shed, the result would have been the same: sheer panic. I had not yet begun showing her my skills in drum playing as the drum was still resting quietly on the ground. Instead, we were caught in flagrant delecti, my oh my, kissing! That's all folks... just kissing but hey, this was a Juvénat and I venture to say that the good Cher Frere probably had never witnessed such a disgusting act. He remained speechless for a while but Mr. Bourbonnais didn't.
He, as the saying goes, let us have it. As it was the wrong time for us to tell him to 'stay cool', we respectfully shut up and took it all in. Of course, both my mother and father came to investigate what all the fuss was about and we got it from them too. Which is quite understandable, given the circumstances. I felt a little lousy about the whole episode mainly because my folks were good friends of the Bourbonnais and had actually come to visit in their car as my father didn't own a car then. I worried for a long time afterward about that episode having had any ill effect on their friendship but it turned out I had worried for nothing. Shortly before he died, I asked my father if he remembered that famous Sunday and he sure did. As he then said "How could we forget it?" My father told me then that he had not been terribly surprised to find me kissing her because he never thought for a moment that I was, as he said, 'brother material', end of quote. Unfortunately, the same could not be said of my mother as she was as certain as can be that I would be the 'Brother' in the family, Marc my older brother was to be a priest or lawyer and Paul, the young one would one day be Montreal's Cardinal. And to prove it, peek at the photo below.... Poor Mom! None of her wish ever materialized but, on the good side, one must admit that all of her three sons turned out pretty well all the same.
As I cannot find my log for those days (yes... I was keeping a log even then) I am not positive of the actual date this all took place but I can state with confidence that this marked the beginning of my downfall. I again was invited for tea by the Révérend Cher Frere Supérieur and, after joining him in a short prayer appropriate for the occasion, he in turn 'let me have it'.
I must open a parenthese here and explain a little about all those 'prayers'. It seems that everytime I was invited to visit (read: command performance) the Révérend Cher Frere Supérieur, I was in for a Prayer-a-thon. You have guessed by now that those were not social calls; I had somehow erred and was there to be put back on the right track and, as the Révérend Cher Frere Supérieur was prone to say, we would first pray the good Lord and ask his forgiveness for what I had done etc etc etc. It gave one a really good feeling to know that one was headed straight for hell and, were it not for the good offices of the Révérend Cher Frere Supérieur, one was sure to make it. Ergo all those prayers for which I was reminded I had to be thankful..
You might have reached the conclusion by now that I must have been the blackest sheep in that herd but, before you get that can of black paint and start splashing paint all around, let me remind you that it didn't take much in St-Bruno to be invited to a 'prayer' session. All you had to do was veer off the golden path one inch and poof.... you received an invitation. For example, I was found one day to have some loose change in my pockets; about two dollars worth. Off I went.... I had broken the rule which said I was not to have any money in my possession. I had after all declared and rendered all the money I had when I first came to the Juvénat and had agreed to the scheme so why was I not sticking to the rules? How do you answer such a hard question? You don't! Instead, you join the Révérend Cher Frere Supérieur in his Prayer Fest and hope for the best.
On another occasion I remember having been summoned to another Prayer fest because I had been caught wearing a watch. That was a no-no as I well was aware of because I had also turned in my watch when I had first arrived. I never figured out the rationale behind forfeiting us the right to know what time it was but I gather it was just another way to show us who was the boss. But, as my good Aunt Rose was prone to say "Toujours-est-il...." I was caught and I had to pay the price for it. On their last visit, I had lied to my father and told him I had lost my watch. Could he get me a watch? I felt pretty sure I would get one; after all, I had asked for a violin and had gotten one so what was a watch next to that?
I long wondered why I was doing such foolish things such as carrying loose change in my pockets (which could be heard) or wearing a watch (which could easily be seen) or throwing little nerds off a tree (which hurt.) I may not have been the brightest star in the firmament that year but I was not dumb either and I knew very well that every such occurrance would lead me straight to the Révérend Cher Frere Supérieur's office. So why did I do it, one may ask. Later on, the answer came to me.... I wanted to be caught. I wanted to be expelled from that den of do-goodies. I wanted out but, truth be told, did not have the guts (some would say courage) to tell my mother. And for this lack of guts, I have since offered many mea-culpas....
Poor mother! She was so sure of herself about me and, for that matter, about my brothers too. I simply did not have the courage to come clean and tell her there was no hope in that regard so that, when the good Brothers showed up that day while I was rocking on the balcony, I figured, why not? The summer is young and if I don't follow them and go to the Juvénat, I would probably go out hitchiking all summer and get in noe end of trouble. And besides, I had to do my tenth Grade in any case and had to admit that those Brothers were good at what they were doing. I had just attended two years of their teaching at the Ecole Christophe-Colomb and I rather enjoyed their teaching method so off I went. I figured it would always be time to tell my mother later that I had tried but alas, that it was not to be, that I was not a clone of Monseigneur Douville and that was that.
I also knew at the time that my friend Jean Bourbonnais had already joined them and I figured, if he could do it, why couldn't I? One thing I didn't know however is that I would spend the good part of those three months of summer picking apples, doing general janitorial work (ie: washing floors, a lot of floors), building Grottes (heavy work carrying all those big rocks) and otherwise keeping busy with many other not so pleasant chores.
Truth be told, I had only myself to blame for causing my mother to believe I had, as one would say, the vocation. Would I have come clean and told her, when she visited, this was not the place for me, there would have been no abrupt let down later on when I returned from the Jevénat and resumed my life at home. Instead, when asked how I liked it at the Juvénat, I would say how much I liked it, so peaceful and so many things to do etc etc The problem was that in fact, I somehow did like it there and was not lying outright. Perhaps I laid the sauce on too thick and went overboard in order to make her happy but little did I realize that she was taking it as gospel truth and could only see me graduating a few years down the road, complete with soutane and all.
What else could she think? For example, one Sunday, I told her I found it so peaceful here, I felt like putting my feelings on canvas so could she, please, get me a set of oil paints? That made her very happy and of course, the following Sunday, I received my first oil paint kit. And, as I remember, it was quite a nice kit too. I did dabble with it for a while but soon had to face the fact and admit that Cezanne, Picasso, Rambrant et all were safe and I was no competition. I then threw myself fully into another artistic avenue, ... music an, in such a pleasant decor, why not violin? So, the following Sunday, you guessed it: I made my request for a violin as I wanted to study that instrument. And yes.... the following Sunday brought a violin, not a Stradivarius mind you but a nice violin complete witht he required number of strings and an archet. Unfortunately, talent did not come with the package and no symphony was composed on that particular instrument.
When again I asked my father why they would bring me whatever I asked for, no matter how far fetched it was, he replied that as long as I was in St-Bruno, trying to play the violin, I was not loose on the highways hitchiking to God knows where. And he had a point. Earlier on that summer, as soon as school had closed, I had gone on a tour of Gaspesia with my good buddy Jacques Perreault (a trip described in another chapter)
Returning Home - Surprise!
What I regret the most from this sad episode is the bad surprise my return home caused my mother. It is a scene I shall never forget. My return was unanounced. The good Brother superior suddenly decided one bright Saturday morning that the Brotherhood was not to be my station in life and presto, I was on the first bus to Montréal, and, home. As I understand, he had mentioned to my father that there was a chance I might not find my place at St-Bruno and to expect my arrival at home anytime but, my mother had not been told.
So it came as no surprise to my father to see me when I arrived. Shortly after, I heard footsteps up the stairs and went to the door to welcome my mother. She was returning from the store and had two bags, one under each arm. I opened the door and said "Hello maman, plus de Juvénat!" Then the bags fell off on the floor. Surprise. Poor mom. It was painful to see. It was nearly the end of september and school had been going on for nearly a month. What was I to do? Not to worry.... my father had already taken care of that little problem: My entrance to the Ecole Supérieure Saint-Stanislas had already been made in 'early June'. My father had a sixth sense in those matters. See next Chapter: Ecole Supérieure Saint-Stanislas
Odds and Ends - Closing remarks.
As as become the norm in such stories, I would like to close by bringing up loose ends, ..... events recalled after I had written the main story and tidbits needing some amplification etc.
Take a walk in the forest - Brother André
I mentioned earlier that I rather liked the way these Brothers taught and here is a case in point. It won't come as a surprise that much of what they taught was linked to religion, or at least, so it seemed that way to us at the time. They did it in a very subtle way, passing a hint here, quoting some philosopher there, much of which went right over our head. But some remnant of it stayed with us, hidden I suppose in our subconcient only to surface much later, many years later when we had reached the maturity to make sense of it all.
For example, not long ago , I was taking what has become a near daily habit: a walk through the forest behind our house. Although I am not all that fond of walking, this is one place where I really enjoy myself. Only a few minutes from our backyard, one would think one is in the middle of a rain forest. The trees are so tall and the vegetation so lush yet, only minutes from the nearest house. It was on such a walk where I sat down on a big rock near the creek that runs near our home and took it all in. There was little water trickling down the creek, not enough to make any noise but on the other hand, the surrounding trees were as impressive as ever and it was then that I suddenly recalled what one of the Brothers had said during one of the many walks we went on in the forest at St-Bruno. As near as I could recall, he had said, and it is worth highlighting:
Notice the slant toward religion here but, there was more to it, much more than that and it took me nearly fifty years to be able to fully appreciate what the good Brother had meant. The miracle actually rested in the fact that I remembered at all what he had said. And this is what I meant by some of it having been tucked away in our subconcious only to surface at the proper time, when it all made sense.
No scandal here, Brother
Much of the content of this chapter was written shortly after I retired, long before the news media reported on all those scandals which had taken place in various religious institutions. I am referring of course to the rash of lawsuits brought against many religious orders charging them with homosexual attacks and mistreatments of their young charges. Far from me the thought of claiming those as figs of someone's imagination as most were proven in court. However, I wish here to state, for the record, that never, in all the years I was in the charge of the Freres de Saint-Gabriel have I ever encountered a Brother or witnessed an event which would have made such a charge possible.
We may have been young but we were not blind and, there were over one hundred boys all sharing the same dormitory in St-Bruno. Had there been any hanky-panky going on, the news of it would have spread like fire and we would have known about it. Two Brothers (Cher Frere as they were called) shared the dormitory with us, one at each end, each in their own room. The rest of us were scattered on the floor, with no privacy curtains. Almost every night, minor fights would break out, nothing serious, and the odd fella would start crying, missing his mother or whatever and then the Brothers would come out to break the fight or console the crying fella and then would return to their individual cubicle. And that was it.
I am not suggesting that the Freres Saint-Gabriel was the only Order that did not count homosexuals among their brethem but if they did, they kept it in the family and never, to my knowledge, made contact with their charges, meaning us. This goes for my experience at the school and at St-Bruno. What makes me so certain of my stance on the matter is the fact that kids, especially in those years when homosexuality was kept in the closet, could be very cruel especially when the subject in question was, as we then called them, a 'tapette'. If one had been discovered, be it one of the boys or one of the Brothers, it would not have been kept secret. He, whoever he was, would have been in for a rough time indeed and I would remember. But there was no such occasion I can recall.
Unfortunately, not the same can be said about the same situation at Radio Canada where I worked for a few months, prior to my joining the Air Force in 1958. But this is described in another chapter all its own.
Final thoughts on the St-Bruno period
The summer of 1953 was shot! Completely gone! Or at least I thought so for many years. After all, it had come as a shock; I had been planning more hitchiking trips for that summer and instead, I had spent it praying, picking apples, building holy grottes, reading the life of Saints and what have you. No, it definitely was not my idea of having fun at the time. I would rather have spent it visiting Gaspesia again or exploring the western part of the country. Anything but being cloistered in a Juvénat.
However, years later, with the benefit of hindsight, I had to conclude that those short four months had been more beneficial than I had first thought. It had wisened me a little (although I had not recognized the fact at the time) and it had provided a transition from boyhood to manhood. After all, I was graduating to the tenth grade and was not getting any younger. It did teach me a lot about responsability and, not the least, if taught me public speaking! I may have made many jokes about having been inspired by the awe of it all (the quiet moments, the walks in the forest, the listening to the ever present classical music played at the Juvénat and so on) but much of it remained with me for the rest of my life.
It was also only much later that I understood what my parents had been going through the previous two or three years and had to conclude that they had done the right thing by 'puttuing me away' for a few months, just long enough to let me cool off. To this day, I remain conviced that my mother truly believed she had a Brother in the family. I was it. But my father was never fooled and knew better. Which explains why he had made my entrance to saint-Stanislas as early as June of that year. And he could not have selected a better school, warts and all.
So this closes the curtain on what I had to admit later had been a good, happy summer.