Br. Flavian Laplante, Social Activist and Hermit

Br. Flavian Laplante, C.S.C., was born on July 27, 1907, in St.-Louis-de-Richelieu, Quebec, Canada. He was the seventh child of nine to Honoré Laplante and Louise Théroux, who named him Doria.

After meeting the Holy Cross brothers at school, he entered the Congregation at the age of 16. On August 15, 1923, he received the religious habit and took the name Flavian. Just over five years later, after completing his Novitiate and studying at St. Joseph’s Scholasticate, he professed Final Vows on August 16, 1928.
laplant young
After working several years in Notre Dame College in Quebec as a teacher and dorm supervisor, Flavian was assigned to the Congregation’s mission in East Bengal in 1932 (present-day Bangladesh and India).

Flavian arrived to Chittagong in East Bengal on December 1, 1932. His first assignment was to assist at the Congregation’s new high school in Padrishibpur. Besides assisting with construction and other manual labor, Flavian also taught and supervised a dormitory before he became principal two years later. This was the first in a series of teaching and administrative assignments at the Congregation’s schools in East Bengal.

In May 1942, when the Japanese Army started air raids on Chittagong, Flavian went there to assist. He remained in Chittagong in 1943 and 1944 when a severe famine hit the land so he could help tend to the hungry and sick. Flavian worked principally with the Hindus, who were considered at the bottom of society. It was during this time that he met the fishermen to whom he eventually devoted most of his life.

Following the end of World War II, Flavian worked out a program so that many fishermen could receive new boats, because theirs had been commandeered during the war. Flavian often accompanied the fishermen out to sea for days. He even led them in resistance against pirates and participated in rescue missions. Flavian’s main plan, however, was to organize the fisherman into cooperatives in which they could help each other.

At the same time, Flavian began constructing an orphanage at Diang, about 10 miles from Chittagong, after the War to care for the orphans from the Chakati Refugee Camp. Flavian persisted in the project, including the construction of a school, despite thefts and vandalism from the unsupportive neighbors.
laplante 2
With the exception of an assignment to Noakhali from 1957 to 1962, Flavian dedicated the rest of his life to ministering in Diang and among the fishermen of the nearby region. He renamed the settlement there Miriam Ashram or the “Marian Hermitage,” borrowing from the Hindu tradition of places of religious retreat.

Many development and educational projects were started in these years, including the Women’s Promotion Center founded with the help of the Holy Cross sisters. In 1975, Flavian also set up the “Kalidaha Fishing Project” to help fisherman motorize their boats and founded a technical school to give them the skills to build and repair their own boats.
On December 24, 1976, after returning from his fifth and final home visit to Canada, Flavian retired to the life of a hermit. He lived in his personal ashram (or hermitage) 1,500 feet from the brothers’ residence in Diang.

In 1981, when his health became a serious concern, Flavian wouldn’t go to Canada for treatment on the advice of his superiors. Instead, he completed 49 years of service to the poor in Bangladesh, dying there on June 19, 1981.

“Brother Flavian was contemplating to spend his retired days in prayer and contemplation at Diang. To his relatives in Canada he mentioned: “No more errands, no more visits to Dhaka to meet with officers, nothing but prayer and manual work in the orchards of Diang, in the gardens around the hills that I climbed so often and came down as often….Therefore, I shall spend the last years of my life at the feet of the Master.” (The Great Flavian by Brother Alberic Houle, CSC, p.134)
laplante 1
During his return from Canada, Brother Flavian visited some ashrams (hermitages) in Europe and India in December 1976. After arrviving at Diang, he got rid of his earthly possessions, tools and documents — the last relics of his active life at Diang. Brother Alberic Houle writes in his book (p.140): “On December 24, he entered his cell (8’x8′) covered with a thatch roof. As furniture, he had a bed, a small table, a chair, three “poufs” for visitors, two small shelves to keep a few books and his small portable typewriter. The ashram is situated between three hills, with an opening on one side; formerly, it was a “Hatir Kheda,” a trap enclosure where many years ago people would cpture herds of wild elephants. Bro. Flavian began his new life as “Shadhu,” hermit, in the orchard of Miriam Ashram at a distance of 1,500 feet from the Brothers’ residence. He did not cook: Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists, Christians brought him food (fruits, biscuits, bread…). He did have, however, a small stove to make tea and warm up his food.” His ashram life was very intense and austere — prayer, contemplation, spiritual reading, reading, writing, meeting visitors who came for his spiritual advice and encouragement, work in the gardens, and finally only a few hours’ sleep…
In early 1981, Brother Flavian’s health began to deteriorate. On March 19, he was diagnosed with stomach cancer. On June 19, 1981, he made his last confession and received Holy Communion from Father Shaha. At 9:20 p.m. he died muttering : “Come, Lord Jesus.” He was buried solemnly at Diang by Bishop Joachim Rozario of Chittagong.”
mariam ashram
Marian Ashram, a church developed in one of the oldest Christian settlements at Diang Hill under Patiya upazila, was declared as a parish on February 13 in 2009 and a two-storey church was built there beside the grave of Brother Flavian, who died on June 19 in 1981.

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