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(Sons of St. Joseph)
A congregation devoted to the Christian education of youth, founded in the Diocese of Ghent (Belgium) by Canon van Crombrugghe, in 1817. Father van Crombrugghe was at that time a simple village priest acting as curate at Heusden, when he made the acquaintance of a young man named van den Bossche, of remarkable talent and great piety. Together they conceived the idea of forming a body of men, under the patronage of St. Joseph, to work among the poor. Father Crombrugghe drew up a few rules, which were the basis of the future constitutions, and the first community of Josephites opened at Grammont, 1 May, 1817, a house known as Jerusalem. This was the year of famine, and the poor suffered great privations, which the Josephites were able to relieve in great measure by giving them employment and teaching them to weave. So many now flocked to their protection that on 2 November they rented a part of the old Carmelite monastery. The next year the founder gave a constitution to his religious, and the first Josephites bound themselves by the three customary vows. In 1819 a school for paying students was started next to the free school, but, by order of the Government, the day-school was closed because the congregation was not yet recognized. In 1823, in spite of the proscription, the Josephites for the first time wore their religious habit, but in 1826 were ordered by the Government to close their church, and the following year all religious and novices admitted since 1823 were obliged to leave the community. During the first thirteen years of its existence, between three and four thousand boys had been indebted to it for their education. In 1830, when the Belgians threw off the yoke of Holland, and the National Congress placed liberty of instruction in the new constitution, the Josephites began to take an active part in the work of education. Bishop van de Velde of Ghent approved their rules, and Father Ignatius van den Bossche became the first superior general. On all sides the Sons of St. Joseph were in demand for the direction of schools and colleges, so that the original object of the institute, which had been the instruction of the poor, was gradually modified. The house of Grammont remained the mother-house, appointed as such by the Holy See. A thorough course of professional studies was organized, in accordance with the official government programme, and later on a school of agriculture was added. This latter obtained such success in numerous exhibitions that it was granted the support and recognition of the State.
Under the generalship of Father Ignatius, many new houses were opened, the two most important being those at Melle and Louvain. The college of Melle is established in a former priory of the Canons Regular of St. Augustine, founded in 1431. These canons had a college at Melle in the seventeenth century, but this was closed by order of Joseph II. After passing through several hands, the property at length came into the possession of M. van Wymelbeke, the brother-in-law of Father Crombrugghe, and in 1837 was given over to the Josephites. Here they established for the first time a complete course of commercial education, which course was afterwards adopted in all the higher schools of commerce. Their museum of commercial products and merchandise has a European reputation. By a royal decree of 11 May, 1901, the Higher School of Commerce of Melle was given the right to confer degrees in commercial science. In 1900 the college of Melle founded a school of industries, with a maritime and a colonial section for the benefit of students who do not intend to pursue university studies. The new University of Louvain was opened by the Belgian bishops in 1835, and seven years later, at the request of Cardinal Sterckx, the Josephites established a course of classical and professional studies at Holy Trinity College, founded by the old university in 1657. Under the direction of Father Remy de Sadeleer, the congregation made great progress and, on 23 Sept., 1863, obtained a laudatory Brief from the Holy See. In 1869 the father general sent a few members of the congregation to England, where they opened a large college at Croydon. On 21 Sept. of the same year, Father Félicien Campe was elected superior general for twelve years and, in accordance with the general desire of the members of the congregation, set to work to obtain from Rome the honour of the priesthood for his spiritual sons. Re-elected in 1881, Father Campe, in 1884, bought from Lord Petre a property of 110 acres, at Weybridge, in the County of Surrey; St. George's College, Croydon, too small for the ever-increasing number of boys, was sold, and the students transferred to Weybridge.
The congregation was declared sacerdotal in March, 1897, by Leo XIII, who appointed Cardinal Svampa protector of the institute. The sixth superior general, Father Félix de Vlieghe, named in January, 1899, opened at the mother-house a "little novitiate", for the training of boys from the age of fourteen, who feel themselves called to the religious life. On 9 July, 1901, Leo XIII solemnly approved of the institute, and in 1907 Cardinal Merry del Val was named protector of the congregation.
J. P. Turner.