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Villa Saint-Jean International School - Fribourg, Switzerland

Present Day Gallia Hall
 Present Day Gallia Hall
PHOTO Villa St Jean Outdoor Basketball Court Adjacent to Sapiniere
 PHOTO Villa St Jean  Outdoor Basketball Court Adjacent to Sapiniere from Villa Facebook Site

CLOSURE of Villa Saint-Jean International School for Boys

A number of years ago, I made the a summer trek back to Fribourg. Visiting the Villa was obviously high on my "to-do" list.

I was quite surprised to find that almost all of the Villa structures that I had known during my 1963-1965 staty at the Villa had been torn down in place of newer modern buildings for the "new" Collège Sainte-Croix.

The only "original" structures left were the Gallia Hall where we'd had our classroom training, as well as the sunken basketball court a bit south of the Sapiniè residence. Gallia Hall was deserted except for the noise of a cleaner in one of the upper floors. It clearly was not being used and had a musty air to the hallways. No internal improvements had been made. It seemed to be just as it was in 1963-1965.

It was actually sad that the building had been left to wither away. I couldn't help but wonder if its days too were numbered.

It seems that the definitive reasons for the closing of the Villa will not be known, as those that were directly involved have passed away. However we are left with informed commentary from several who were present at the villa at the time.

Jerry Gregg Commentary on Villa Closing

According to Jerry Gregg, a teacher at the school at the time, the Marianists' decision to close the Villa was made in December 1969 ending the school term in the spring of 1970.

‘Refused to go co-ed’
"Religious Orders were losing members in the late 1960’s. The Marianists of the Society of Mary were dedicated to teaching young men. As a result, they stubbornly refused to go co-ed when everyone else did.
Hence, Villa’s enrollment in its last year was 55 students–with 12 full-time staff members.

The St. Louis Province, which included VSJ, decided to close a school. Those who made the decision to close VSJ apparently were not in love with VSJ as were some of us were. The decision to close the Villa was made in December 1969.
"

Also in the spring of 1970, four of the school's six Marianists -- Cy Boschert, Werner Dobner, Fred Fuchs and Jerry Gregg -- left the order. The remaining two brothers-- Brother Patrick Moran, S.M. and the Rev. James Mueller, S.M. -- returned to the United States.

Stuart McClintock Commentary on Villa Closing

This part, taken from the Villa Talk board, was writen by 1970 graduate Stuart McClintock, now a university professor in Texas.

‘A mysterious event’
"The closing of the Villa was a mysterious event for those of us who were there at the time. Of course, being in the last class to graduate, those of us in the clas of ’70 were lucky.
My brother wass in the next class and had to scramble, especially since all the college stuff was coming up, and he had no school!

I remember when the announcement was made. The school had some kind of parents’ weekend at which, I believe, it was announced to them in “closed session”.

I can’t remember if that was my junior or senior year, but I think it was senior year. We were then told, but no reasons were ever really given.
Enrollment had been falling. Classes 7 and 8 had been dropped by then. The dollar was falling fast against the franc. It had gone from about four francs to the dollar to about 2.5 to the dollar.

Those are some of the circumstances I remember, but any more than that, qui sait?
"

Cyril Boschert Commentary on Villa Closing

In an 2/21/2007 posting (page 10) on the Villa St. Jean blog project Cyril Boschert commented on his perspective on the end of the Villa.
" Reading Stu McClintock’s article on the closing of the Villa points out that the “mystery” still remains, after 36 years! It’s likely to remain even longer.

Photo of VSJ Brother Cyril Boschert circa 1965 I was a member of the faculty of the Villa at the time of its closing. I was very much effected by its closing, but was in no way one of the decision-makers.

We Marianists who were there had been told it was going to happen (I don’t remember just when, but in the first semester, I think), were unhappy with the decision and tried our best, with the strong support of Brother Moran, to keep it going.

We planned, and proposed to the various Marianist authorities in the U.S. a program which we titled STEP (Study/Travel in Europe Program) which was to offer the Villa as the base for students from Marianist schools to study and travel in Europe. We hoped this would attract a sufficient number of students to all that the Villa and Europe had to offer in order to keep it going financially.
Brother Moran even made a trip to the States to propose it to various key people.

Sadly, the Villa closed nevertheless. Why? I cannot say with certainty because I was never in on the discussions which led to the decision to close.
What’s more, those who did make the decision and Brother Moran, who surely knew more than I did, are now no longer alive to give a definite answer.

I do remember, however, a few of the things that probably played a part in the decision.

  1. In the late 60’s an increasing number of religious, Marianists included, were leaving religious life. This fact, coupled with a diminishing number of new members entering, was starting to cause an acute shortage of personnel in existing establishments. Decisions had to be made how best to deploy available personnel. One of those decisions was to close the Villa.
  2. Why the Villa? One reason was probably financial. The cutoff point for breaking even was 100 students. The final two or three years (at the end there were only 55 students) were below that crucial level. The school was clearly a drain on Marianist finances that had to be considered.
  3. When the Villa became an international school in 1960 taught in Englsh by Marianists from the St. Louis Priovince it was already thought of as an opportunity for Marianist schools to be able to offer something special for their students by going to the Villa for a semester or year or two. This idea never really caught on.
  4. The international seminary across the street from the Villa always provided an opportunity for American seminarians to teach part time or become involved in different activities. In the early 70’s, American seminarians were starting to go to Toronto instead of Fribourg; therefore that connection to the Villa, and potential source of faculty, was also coming to an end.
  5. Marianist provincial authorities in St. Louis knew some of the Marianist staff at the Villa would soon be leaving the order. If the Villa stayed open, that would be a further drain on Marianist personnel.
  6. The enrollment of the Villa was not only very small, there was a large percentage of students who were not Catholic. In the eyes of some, Marianists traditionally taught in schools almost entirely Catholic, and the Villa was slipping out of that category.
  7. The city of Fribourg was anxious to buy the Villa property for a good price. The time seemed right for the Marianists to sell in order to meet their financial obligations throughout the world. A few years later the Marianist seminary across the street from the Villa was also sold. In the next few years a number of other Catholic international boarding schools in Europe also closed for reasons similar to the Villa’s closing.
  8. In the Wikpedia article about the Villa Jerry Gegg (mispelled as Gregg) was quoted as saying the Marianist authorities were not open to the idea of the Villa becoming coed. I was not aware of that being a reason, but it might have been. Overall, there just didn’t seem to be enough viable reasons to keep it open.

As I implied earlier, there may have been other more important reasons that I did not know about. What I have stated above, however, based on weakening memories of 36 years ago, may shed a little light on the “mystery.” Regardless, I think we can consider ourselves lucky to have been a part of the Villa while it lasted."

–Cyril Boschert (former brother at the Villa 1964-66 and again 1968-70)


  *********************************** 

We are left however with the memories.....

Photo of Villa Saint Jean School  Fribourg Goodbye Cartoon  Fribourg Jacket Patch



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