Brothers of St. Francis Xavier (CFX, Official Catholic Directory #1350), a congregation of lay religious founded by Theodore James ryken (brother francis xavier) in Bruges, Belgium, 1839, for the education of youth, especially in America. Unable to carry out his plan to found a religious body in Holland for catechetical work, Ryken went to serve the American mission in 1831. Attracted to the Indian apostolate, he returned to Belgium to establish a religious community for that end. In 1837 he returned to the U.S. to seek the approbation of the American bishops for his plan but was persuaded by Bp. Joseph Rosati of St. Louis, Mo., to direct his enterprise toward the education of American children and to staff schools in his diocese. Returning to Belgium, Ryken began his foundation in June 1839 under Bp. Francis Boussen of Bruges.
Destitute and beset by many difficulties, the little community grew slowly. In 1843 an infant school was opened in Bruges, and Ryken with three others took the habit. In 1846 the 10 oldest pronounced vows. The first branch house was opened in Bury, Lancashire, England, in 1848 as a preparation for America. With the death of Rosati (1843) and the collapse of subsequent negotiations elsewhere, Ryken was forced to wait until 1854 to send his first colony to America. At the invitation of Bp. Martin John Spalding, six brothers arrived in Louisville, Ky, Aug. 11, 1854, and opened St. Patrick's school and a school at Immaculate Conception parish. For a time little progress was made in America, partly because of financial problems in Bruges. In 1860, at the request of the bishop of Bruges, Ryken resigned as superior general in favor of a younger man, Brother Vincent Terhoeven, who governed until 1895. Under his direction the congregation prospered, and in 1875 separate provinces were created in Belgium, England, and the U.S.
Schools in Belgium were few at first because of the foundations in England and America. St. Francis Xavier Institute, the central house at Bruges, evolved from a small school opened in 1844. In time primary and secondary schools were established throughout West Flanders. In England, where they were the first brotherhood from the continent, the Xaverian Brothers played an important role in the development of Catholic education, filling many parish schools in Lancashire and London and staffing for a time St. Mary's Training School, Hammersmith. Toward the end of the century they moved into secondary education, but the English province declined when elementary schools were abandoned.
In the U.S. the Xaverians staffed most of the parish schools of Louisville and opened St. Xavier's Institute (1864), their first secondary school in America. In 1866 they were invited by Spalding, now archbishop of Baltimore, Md., to open St. Mary's Industrial School, inaugurating a type of work for which the Xaverians in the U.S. were noted for many years. Under Brother Alexius, the first provincial (1875–1900), the brothers opened other schools in Baltimore, including Mt. St. Joseph's College, and expanded into Massachusetts and Virginia. During the provincialate of Brother Isidore Kuppel (1907–25) the brothers turned their attention to their own professional training and to secondary education. In 1920 the first of several schools was opened in New York. In 1927 the congregation received papal recognition, and in 1928 Brother Paul Scanlan, the American provincial, was elected superior general, the first American so honored in any religious institute of European origin.
The Belgian province was first to revive the missionary character of the congregation by sending a colony to the Belgian Congo in 1931. In 1949 the American Xaverians entered Uganda. Shortly after the division of the American province in 1960, the central province opened schools in Bolivia.
The Congregation underwent many changes in response to the developments stemming from the second Vatican Council. Membership decreased, but forms of ministerial activity and geographic dispersion increased greatly. In addition to education, the brothers undertook a variety of pastoral and social ministries, especially in poorer areas. Brothers from the US established new foundations in Haiti, Alaska, Kenya, Lithuania and Bolivia. The secondary schools in the United States were reorganized as "Xaverian Brothers Sponsored Schools," a network which now includes 12 schools in Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, Maryland, Kentucky and Alabama. In 2001, the Brothers ministered in 11 different countries on five continents.
The structure of the Congregation was modified in 1995 with the dissolution of all provinces and the consolidation of the international membership under one general leadership group, with a Generalate in Baltimore, Maryland.
Bibliography: Brother julian, Men and Deeds (New York 1930). j. j. downey (Brother Aubert), March On! God Will Provide: The Life of Theodore James Ryken (Boston 1961).