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Some milestones in the history of O.L. of Délivrance  (Elenchus OCSO, n°32)


At the request  of the bishop of Belley (France), in October 1863 the abbey of Aiguebelle sent forty-four monks to make a foundation in the heart of the plateau of Dombes, 25 km from Ars.  O.L. of Dombes.  The monastery was erected to an abbey on 29th January 1866.

In 1878, the community of Dombes numbered 118 members.

On 29th March 1880, a governmental decree bearing directly on religious congregations was promulgated by the French State.  It forbade their members to live together or to wear the religious habit.

6th November 1880: the first expulsion from Dombes, by a detachment of gendarmes.  The brothers dispersed.  Only 19 of them were allowed to remain in place.  Some time after, however, the other monks returned.  But the threat remained.  The abbot, Dom Benoît, then sought a place of eventual refuge outside the country.  First in Italy, at San Martino (Cecina), near Pisa, then in Spain (in the province of Guadalaxara, about 105 km from Madrid).

By that time, the decree of 29th March 1880 had already affected six monasteries: La Trappe, Bellefontaine, Timadeuc, Les Dombes, Acey, Divielle [1] .

A friend and notable benefactor of the community of Dombes, Mgr Trouillet, parish priest of St Épure, in Nancy, pointed out to Dom Benoît some addresses in Austria.

On 27th February 1881, Dom Benoît was in Austria, first with Fr. Mazoyer, a Jesuit from Lyon who served as his interpreter, then with Br. Gabriel Giraud, an oblate of Dombes, seeking a refuge in Styrie (capital Graz), in the south of Austria.  In the region of Maribor, overlooking the Save, the château of Reichenburg was for sale, which the proprietor wished to sell together with its estate [2] .

They visited the château on 6th March 1881.  In the mind of the abbot it would be only a temporary exile, while they waited for the "persecutions" in France to die down.  They bought the château from baron d'Esebeck, thanks to the family wealth of Brother Gabriel Giraud.

The abbot prepared the community of Dombes for an imminent departure.  A first group of "founders" (if one may call them that since they were forced to leave Dombes on 17th April 1881, and arrived at Reichenburg on 21st after a meandering trip of 300 leagues [3] . At this time one had to skirt around the Alps, which accounts for the length of the route.  The second group left Dombes on 13th June and arrived on 16th.  A third group left on 16th June with Dom Benoît, and arrived at Reichenburg (in future 'Rajhenburg', in Slovenian) on 18th June, a Saturday.  Dom Benoît "presided" at the "regular" installation of the community (30 monks) [4] . 

The monastery of Rajhenburg was placed under the patronage of Our Lady of Délivrance, which was not altogether guileless, as that feast was normally celebrated on 24th September.  This transfer was certainly taken seriously, because within a few years most of the monks became naturalised Austrians. 

On 15th December 1881, Dom Benoît Margerand drew up the official document of foundation, which he dated officially from 15th May 1881.

23rd March 1882: the second expulsion of the community of Dombes.

On 10th September 1882 Dom Etienne, abbot of la Grande Trappe and Vicar General of the Congregation, made the Regular Visitation of the foundation in Styrie, and approved it.

In 1889, Dombes again numbered 77 religious.  O.L. of Délivrance was becoming prosperous and lay brother novices were numerous.  Now they needed a "monastic" enclosure and a church at this chateau-monastery.  The enclosure was established bit by bit.  Happily for the beauty of the place, the project for a church did not come to anything.  They were content to build a bell-tower on the roof of the chateau and to transform the former drawing room of the chateau into a chapel for the choir, while the lay-brothers gathered in another large and splendid room.

The erection into an abbey took place on 10th September 1891.  The monastery was called, in German, "Kloster Maria-Erlösung".  On the same day Dom Jean-Baptiste Épalle was elected abbot of the community.

1934: For two years already the brothers of O.L. of Délivrance had been threatened with takeover by the regime of Tito.  They in turn sought a refuge in another country.  Mgr Roncalli, the nuncio in Bulgaria, encouraged them to make a foundation in Sofia.  But it was too costly.    A priest from Algeria, on retreat at Rajhenburg, suggested "Rivet", in the (?) area of Algeria. The community numbered 81 monks.

On 7th March five brothers went to see the place.  So began the foundation of O.L. of Atlas.

1939:  The war between France and Germany !  In March 1941 the Germans besieged the monastery of O.L. of Délivrance and expelled the monks.  The community took refuge in Bosnia, at Marija-Zvijezda.  The two communities lived side by side until the end of the war, and in 1945 the Slovenian brothers went back to Rajhenburg.

On February 28, 1947, a new expulsion, this time by the communists.  The priest-monks "found new jobs" as parish priests.  The brothers either found employment or stayed in a parish in the entourage of one or other of the priest-monks.

Elected abbot of Dombes in 1957, Dom François Xavier Rouast did not rest until he was granted the opportunity to visit our brothers of Rajhenburg (which the communists had rebaptised Brestanica, from the name of the river which runs through the village and flows into the Save there).  Communism was relaxing and "tourists" were allowed to enter Yugoslavia.  And in fact the monks of O.L. of Délivrance were  dispersed through all the states of Yugoslavia: Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia, Montenegro, Macedonia, etc…

Dom Xavier had been in direct contact with Dom Pius, abbot of Rajhenburg since 1940.  He left in the spring of 1960 to meet Dom Pius at the Italian-Slovenian border.  From there, together, they visited the dispersed brothers (still about forty of them).  In 1963 they attempted to reassemble the community in a presbytery, in a magnificent location, at Radmirje.  But the communal life lasted only for a few years.  Each one went back to his own place.  From then on, every year Dom Xavier undertook the "regular Visitation" of the dispersed community.  A trip in a 2 CV Citroën, taking several weeks!

Becoming abbot in 1990, Dom Bernard Christol fervently kept up this tradition.  Every year, first with Dom Xavier, then with a German-speaking interpreter, he visited the remaining brothers.  Three brothers had found fraternal refuge in the Cistercian abbey of Sticna (congregation of Mererhau) in the diocese of Ljubljana.  Another had found sanctuary in the Charterhouse of Pleterje.  One brother remained as sacristan at the shrine of O.L. of Lourdes at Brestanica, close to the chateau-monastery.

In 1997, Dom Bernard was accompanied by M. Nicole, abbess of O.L. of La Grâce-Dieu, "sister abbey" of O.L. of Délivrance through its filiation from Dombes.  This visit brought great joy both to our brothers and to the community of Sticna.  M. Nicole was even received into the community refectory, at the right of the abbot, Dom Anton Nadrah. The Abbey of Sticna was founded in 1135 by Morimond, and so is the older sister of Aiguebelle.

In 1998, to mark the foundation and the restoration of Cîteaux, Dom Bernard invited Dom Anton to visit Dombes.  As 1998 was also the centenary of the restoration of Sticna (1898), this visit was put off until the following year.  In spring of 1999, Dom Anton came to Dombes with Br Maximilien and a family-brother of Sticna who speaks French well.  They stayed for three days.  We used the time to visit Ars, Cîteaux, Grâce-Dieu, Acey, Aiguebelle, Chambarand, Taizé, Cluny and Paray-le Monial.  The fraternal bonds were deepened and, one might say, extended!

But the brothers of O.L. of Délivrance were dying out, one by one.  Dom Anton, and then Dom Cassien, proposed several times to the two brothers who were still at Sticna that they make stability in that community, to be an integral part "of" that community.  But the two brothers wished to remain faithful to their Order, the Strict Observance.

When the dispersal of the community of Dombes was envisaged, in 2000 Dom Bernard planned a new paternity for La Grâce-Dieu and for O.L. of Délivrance (there was now only one remaining brother, Br Norbert, at Sticna,).  The two communities opted for the paternity of Acey.  Br. Norbert signed his change of filiation for Acey on 15th September 2002, the feast of Our Lady of Sorrows and the patronal feast of Sticna.

On 28th June 2004 Br Norbert, the last brother of O.L. of Délivrance, died at Sticna.  At the end of August, Fr Bernard Christol and Dom Jean-Marc of Acey went to Sticna and to the Chartreuse of Pleterje to thank these two sister communities for the fraternal care which they had extended to our brothers.  Both communities very kindly allowed us to celebrate the Divine Office with them in choir.


But henceforth O.L. of Délivrance does not exist any more!


[1] In 1791, the abbey of Divelle was taken as national property and awarded to the Domenger of Mugron family who in 1869 gave it to the Cisterciens. It was the monks of Melleray who moved into Divielle. But this foundation was not a success.

[2]   Today, Slovenia, in the diocese of  Maribor.

[3]   which is 1200 kms or 744 miles

[4] Cf. "Actes du Chapitre Général de 1881".