Saturday, April 25, 2009

Brother Flavian Laplante Declared 'Servant of God' - 1

(L-R): Brother Flavian Laplante, C.S.C. in front of Our Lady of Lourdes
Grotto at the Miriam Ashram at Diang, Chittagong District, Bangladesh;
Brother Flavian as a sannyasi (hermit) at the Miriam Ashram

Photos Courtesy: The Orient magazine (April & May, 2009), Montreal, Canada

Bishop Patrick D'Rozario, CSC, of the Diocese of Chittagong, Bangladesh, recently opened the cause of sainthood and declared Brother Flavian Laplante, CSC, a servant of God at a Mass at the Marian shrine at Diang attended by more than 6,000 pilgrims, including many priests and Religious. The Bishop also at the same time elevated the shrine, founded by Brother Laplante in 1976, to the status of a parish.

Brother Flavian Laplante, CSC, (1907-1981), popularly known as "Brother Flavian", was a Holy Cross Brother and a missionary who worked in Bangladesh from 1932 to until his death in 1981. Initially he was a teacher and then a headmaster in different Catholic schools in the districts of Barisal, Noakhali and Chittagong. Later he was greatly involved with the socio-economic development of the Jolodash (servant of the water or sea) community whose members were Hindus, always facing social exclusion from others and economic hardship. In the last stage of his life, he founded Miriam Ashram (a house of prayer) at Diang, 10 miles south-east of Chittgong on the Karnaphuly River. In the ashram, he also built a grotto with the statue of Our Lady of Lourdes and turned it into a shrine in 1976.

Life of Brother Flavian

Brother Flavian, named Doria, was born on July 27, 1907, at St. Louis de Bonsecours in the valley of Yamaska in Quebec, Canada. He was the seventh of the nine siblings -- three girls and six boys. He studied in a village school, about an hour's distance from his home. He proved to be a very good student in the school, especially in Mathematics.

He then joined Holy Cross Juniorate and studied at nearby St. Cesaire College (high school). At the age of 16, he joined the novitiate of the Congregation of Holy Cross at Ste. Genevieve-de-Pierrefonds. On August 15, 1923, he received the religious habit (long white dress) and took the name 'Brother Flavian'.

On August 16, 1924, he took his first religious vows (of poverty, chastity, and obedience). From 1924 to 1927, he was at St. Joseph's Scholasticate studying at the university and at the same time doing household chores, caring for the flower beds, repairing sports equipment and nursing sick scholastics as an infirmarian.

From 1928 to 1932, he was a games teacher and supervisor of the students' dormitory besides being a part-time teacher at the Notre Dame College in Quebec. On August 16, 1928, he took the permanent vows to dedicate himself fully as a Brother in the service of God.

Missionary in East Bengal (later Bangladesh)

On October 17, 1932, Brother Flavian accompanied veteran missionary Father Omer Desrochers, CSC, and Brother Ambrose Dion, CSC, and a fresh missionary Father Eugene Poirier, CSC, to East Bengal. Before his departure, of course, he made it a point to meet with Brother Andre, CSC, the holy man who was renowned for his miracle-works at St. Joseph's Oratory, Montreal. When he requested for his prayers and blessings, Brother Andre blessed him saying: "You are leaving for the Mission! I truly envy you."

Teacher and Headmaster

From 1932 to 1943, Brother Flavian served as a teacher and headmaster at different Catholic schools in the districts of Barisal, Noakhali and Chittagong. His genial behaviour, initiative, sportmanship, organizing capacity, hard work and mentoring ability left a lasting impression on the students of these schools.

Among the Famine Victims

During the World War II, the Indian subcontinent, including East Bengal (present Bangladesh) was part of the British empire. In 1942, the Japanese occupied Burma (Myanmar) and came upto Cox's Bazar. They also bombed parts of Chittagong city from the air. The British government at the time told missionaries to move away to the villages and let their soldiers use Catholic Bishop's House, Catholic mission and school buildings and compounds in Chittagong for war purposes.

To prevent the Japanese advance, the British government had confiscated most of the people's boats and trawlers and strictly controlled the supply of rice in the country. Moreover, about 60,000 people from East Bengal would go to Arakan of Burma every year at the times of plantation and harvest to work as farm labourers. This was a good source of earning. Ship loads of Burmese rice would also be imported to East and West Bengal. Due to the war, farmers' earning in Burma and import of rice from there stopped. All these caused a terrible famine in Bengal in 1943. Millions of people were affected and thousands upon thousands died due to lack of food.

The British government through its military personnel opened relief centres in different parts of the country to feed the famished people. At the request of Mr. Stuart, the District Magistrate of Chittagong, Brother Flavian opened a centre in Chittagong city where he was living (at Mr. Leonard Moreino's house). Brother took the offer most gladly. In fact, there were two relief camps: one was run by Brother Joseph, C.S.C. on one side of the road for Christians and Muslims who ate beef and, on the other side, Brother Flavian ran another for the Hindus -- mostly fishermen -- who, for religious reasons, did not eat beef. There were many cases of most famished people, who somehow managed to come to the relief centres so exhausted, that they fainted and died while eating their first meal in the camp after a gap of several days!

Brother Flavian and his colleagues worked day and night for taking care of the famine victims. Father Godfroy Danis, C.S.C., wrote in the Bulletin Missionnare of January, 1952 under the title "La Famine et la charite": "A crowd of destitutes could be seen going towards Bro. Flavian's headquarters; they were coming from all directions and in every possible condition; they were coming by day, by night. Bro. Flavian's lodging and the grounds around the house became a real caravansary. Bro. Flavian himself occupies a small room in one corner for a few hours at night when falling from exhaustion, he crumbles so to say among his beloved famished people."

Brother Flavian also had opened a dispensary in a corner of the house to nurse the wounded and the skin-diseased persons.

The British army needed 500 fishing nets to camouflage the military vehicles and artillery equipment. At their request, Brother Flavian engaged a group of local fishermen, their wives and children to produce these nets on cash payment. At the beginning of May, 1943, at the request of Colonel Delgardo, Army Chief Director of Chittagong port, Brother Flavian engaged 1,000 fishermen to work as dock workers for loading and unloading army supply and materials. In addition, Brother also opened the first school for about 200 orphans, who were children of fishermen and lost one or both parents or were born illegitimate.

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