I've watched numerous web sites dedicated to Villa Saint-Jean (with particular kudos to Steve MacIntyre and Kevin DiPalma) become inactive over the past number of years.
In an attempt to fill some of the holes left with the demise of the former Villa web sites, I decided to piggyback on the web site dedicated to the Brooks family with a separate Villa St.-Jean Section.
The original intent of this web site was to attempt to document the 1963-1965 time period for Fribourg's Villa Saint Jean International School for boys. However since the original site was launched I've been fortunate to get a number of Villa Yearbooks, Photos and Commentary from former Villa students from around the world. So the web site has been accordingly expanded. Its remarkable as to some of the off-beat, but still relevant remembrances one has after all of these years!
This Villa Saint-Jean web site contains;
PLEASE USE THE DROP DOWN NAVIGATION MENU ABOVE TO PROCEED TO A SPECIFIC SECTION or SIMPLY USE the "NEXT PAGE" LINK TO MOVE SEQUENTIALLY THROUGH THE WEB SITE.
I hope that some of you may find this web site of interest.
Wikepedia - with some minor edits and additions -- says it best:
Established at Fribourg (Freiburg in German), Switzerland, in 1903, during an upheaval of anti-clericalism in France, Villa St. Jean was established by Marianists from France as a French College (Villa St. Jean - Collège Français Internationale) with Catholic affiliations as a boarding school for the scions of the French elite.
According to tradition, the school's founder, François Kieffer a Catholic priest of the Marianist teaching order, consciously modeled Villa St Jean on Rugby School, then as now an eminent English public school (private school in American parlance), noted at the time for intellectual rigour and rugged sportsmanship.
(According to Brother Earl Leistikow, SM - Archivist, Marianist Archives, San Antonio Texas), the choice of the name, Villa St.-Jean is thought to be that St.-Jean (Saint John) is probably referring to a favorite image of Marianist founder Fr. Chaminade - that of St. John and the Blessed Virgin at the foot of the Cross. St. John is one of the principal patrons of the Society of Mary. This is believed to be the motivation behind the name of Villa St. Jean.
The school’s initial plan was to accept French-speaking students desirous of preparing for the French Baccalaureate degree.
As the Villa’s reputation grew, the school started accepting students from all nations willing to make the effort at learning new languages and eager to benefit from the school’s
comprehensive educational environment.
For the 1962-1963 school term, Villa St. Jean - Collège Français Internationale became Villa St Jean International School - an international school educating students from around the world in an American College Preparatory curriculum for boys in the Junior and Senior High School.
Fr Kieffer built his school on a secluded cliff top bluff, surrounded on three sides by the sinuous Saane/Sarine River, and bordered on the fourth by the quiet neighborhoods abutting the
Boulevard de Pérolles, a main thorough fare leading out of the medieval Swiss burg of Fribourg, considered one of the most beautiful cities in the country.
With steep cobbled streets, immaculately preserved Gothic houses and numerous fountains, Fribourg is one of Switzerland's most attractive towns.
Set on a rocky peninsula within a bend of the River Sarine it was founded in 1157. The River Sarine which carves a path through the town, is the local defining line of the Röstigraben: Fribourg is split roughly 70:30 between French Swiss, who call their town "free-boor" and are a majority on the western bank, and German Swiss to whom the place is "fry-borg" and who form a majority on the eastern bank. Some old-timers still use the ancient Bolze dialect, a mixture of French and German which can still be heard at the taverns of the Basse-Ville (Lower Town).
The Villa campus was perched on a flat, wooded plateau, nestled in an elbow high above the Sarine River, which over the eons had carved the bluff's curling cliffs. At its edges, in the woods beyond the unmarked perimeter of the campus, the plateau, gives way to those cliffs which fall 200 feet to the winding Saane/Sarine River below.
The five Villa Saint Jean buildings were: Gallia, Bossuet, Sapiniere, Ormes, St-Jean and an outdoor sports pavillon made in wood.
From 1903 to 1962 the Villa remained essentially a Collège Français preparing students for a French Baccalaureate degree.
The Brothers of Mary or Marianists who were to run the Villa from 1903 until its closing in 1970, were a religious body of men dedicated towards education.
The Marianists, for more than a century, had accumulated a store of experience in the education of youth in various countries of the world.
Core to the Marianist Brother’s belief is the importance of educating “The Whole Man” with classroom training augmented by co-curricular and extra-curricular activities which cumulatively educate and nourish the mind, the body, and the soul.
Throughout the years the Marianist order at the Villa operated somewhat along the following manner:
For most of the years that the Villa was in operation, the “Director” and the “Principal / Headmaster” were one and the same person.
(LIST below compiled with assistance of:
Padre Antonio Gascón, S. M., Curia Generalizia dei Marianisti, Via Latina, Roma, ITALIA)
(Religious) DIRECTORS & Principals of Villa Saint-Jean: Fribourg (Suisse)
The Villa St.-Jean Collège Français was attended by many famous alumni including the recently abdicated King Juan Carlos I of Spain and The Little Prince author Antoine de Saint-Exupéry amongst others.
In early 1962, following a request from the Pope, the French Marianists were recalled to allow the church’s efforts in Africa’s missionary lands as well as serving the church’s college facilities in metropolitan France. ( Another more controversial explanation for the change from the Collège Français to "American Villa" was that the "French" Villa in fact closed and its administration, faculty and students departed -- some say as a result of the policies of the “Magnificent Toad” [the name given by students and staff to the last French Villa director] and/or more money could be earned from American / International students pursuing an American College Preparatory curriculum. Whether this more controverserial explanation is true or not, clearly there are many bitter former "French" Villa faculty and students.)
Accordingly the Superior General of the Marianist Brothers transitioned Villa St. Jean to an English "International School" (focused on the American College Preparatory curriculum for boys in the Junior and Senior High School - grades 7 to 12).
In so doing the church addressed another problem, that of English speaking families living in Switzerland (and the rest of Europe for that matter) who could find no Catholic High School in country. The American Marianists, along with a few lay instructors, took over allowing the French Marianists to be repatriated.
The principal year of transition from French to the United States style curriculum was 1962.
Rev. Fr. Louis J. Blume become in 1962 the first headmaster of Villa St Jean International School for the 1962-1963 school term.
Brother Wilfrid P. Moran would follow in 1963 as headmaster (Principal) until the Villa's closing in 1970.
Villa St Jean, under the guidance of the Marianist brothers and priests who founded and administered it, was remarkable among elite Swiss boarding schools for its ability to reinvent itself as required by changing times.
Before the Second World War the school was distinctly Gallic in character, a pensionnat (boarding school) educating mostly French aristocrats, many of whom today recall its sometimes strict ascetism.
In the decades after the War, Villa St Jean was transformed, and by a decade and a half after the war's end the school had become a metropolitan international institution, teaching principally a U.S. high school curriculum to a student body gathered from Europe, the Americas, the Near and Far East, and conferring on its graduates either a U.S. high school diploma or a Swiss or French baccalaureate degree, as appropriate to the individual student.
During its incarnation as an international school, although nominally a Catholic institution, the Marianists administering Villa St Jean hired lay faculty and staff without reference to
religious affiliation, and admitted students on the same basis.
Consequently, the student body was a diverse religious mix of Catholics and Protestants, Muslims and Buddhists, consistent with its international character.
Yet, despite this ability to adapt and change, like so many other boarding schools in Switzerland at that time, Villa St Jean, the last all-boys boarding school in Switzerland, was ultimately unable to weather the changes of the late 1960s, and it closed its doors permanently in 1970.
Despite their architectural and historical significance, most of the campus buildings were razed in 1981, a travesty that would not have been permitted under more recently enacted Swiss architectural preservation laws.
Following the decision to demolish the Villa buildings in 1981, the only building that was left standing, apart from a wooden-roofed outdoor basketball pavilion, is Gallia Hall, which served as the principal classroom and laboratory building.
Now the former Villa St.-Jean land site is home of the Swiss lycée Collège St Croix.
M. l'abbé Kieffer and the Early Days of Villa Saint Jean.
Villa student Kevin DiPalma writes; "From Sion, Father Bernard Truffer S.M. sent us copes of his own papers "that gives an idea about the foundation of the Villa Saint Jean,
and the spirit and intention of its founder, l'abbé Kieffer".
Villa student Stuart McClintock translated this material (from the 2 referenced books) from French. THANK YOU Stuart!
There are still a number of "live" web sites on the internet which reference Villa Saint Jean in one way or another including:
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Ralf Brooks' Villa St.-Jean Collège Français & International School WEB SITE