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A religious institute or congregation, which had its origin at Mechlin, in Brabant, in the fifteenth century, during the terrible ravages of a pest called the "black death." Certain laymen united under the guidance of a man named Tobias to succour the plague-stricken, without taking any vows or adopting a rule of life. One of their most obvious actions being the burial of those who died from the plague; they were known as "Cellites" (Lat. cella, a cell and hence, a grave). Later on, they chose as their patron, Alexius, a saint who served many years in a hospital at Edessa in Syria; and thenceforth they called themselves the Alexian Brothers. They spread rapidly through Germany, Brabant, Flanders, and other countries. As they were also styled Lollhorden (Old Germ. lollon, to sing softly) from their chants for the dead, they have consequently been sometimes confounded with the Wyclifian sect of heretics, the Lollards. They did not escape calumny and persecution, as appears from the Bull "Ad Audientiam Nostram" (2 Dec., 1377) which Gregory XI sent to the German bishops, especially those of Cologne, Trier, and Mainz, forbidding annoyance of the Cellites and enjoining punishment for their persecutors. This was followed by Bulls of a similar tenor from Boniface IX (7 Jan., 1396), Eugenius IV (12 May, 1431), Nicholas V, and Pius II. In 1469, the mother-house at Aix-la-Chapelle voiced the general feeling of the Brothers in asking the Prince Bishop of Liège, Louis de Bourbon, to raise that house to a convent of the Order of St. Augustine. This request was granted, and Father Dominicus Brock and five of the Brothers took the solemn vows of religious. This step and the revised constitution of the Order were confirmed by Pius IX (12 Sept., 1870).
The Alexian Brothers have four hospitals in the United States. The first was built in Chicago, 1866; destroyed by the great fire, 9 Oct. 1871, and rebuilt the following year. The second, erected at St. Louis in 1869, covers an acre with its departments for the insane, nervous diseases, and inebriates. The third is at Oshkosh, Wis. (1880). The fourth was built at Elizabeth, N.J., on land given for that purpose by Right Rev. Bishop Wigger. Competent surgeons and physicians attend to the patients, and the Brothers are nurses and do the housework of the hospitals.
Bishop Vaughan of Salford, England (later, Cardinal), invited the Alexian Brothers to take charge of a new home and hospital in his diocese, which led to their establishing themselves in England in June, 1875. Dr. Lacy, Bishop of Middlesborough, secured them for his diocese in 1884. In 1885, the Brothers established a Province of their Order and a novitiate in the United Kingdom. The latter, first attached to St. Mary's Convent, Newton Heath, Manchester, was later transferred to Twyford Abbey, near Ealing, which the Alexian Brothers had purchased. In England they do not have any asylums for the care of the insane, as in Germany, Belgium, and America. The English establishments are only for the aged and infirm.
STEELE, Monasteries and Religious Houses of Great Britain and Ireland (London, 1903), 10-13; cf. Brief History of the Alexian Brothers (Chicago).
JOHN J. A'BECKET