"Brothers on the Battlefield": The Christian Brothers During the Franco-Prussian War

During the Franco-Prussian War (1870-71), the Christian Brothers did not shy from the battlefield but aided both sides in the bloody conflict.  

The Franco-Prussian War, also called the French-German War (1870-1871), resulted from a diplomatic breakdown during negotiations among the leadership of France and Prussia. In response, the Prussians published a deliberately insulting, edited version of the diplomatic exchange between the two countries in order to provoke a war. French emperor Napoleon III declared war on Prussia July 19, 1870. By September 2, 1870, Napoleon III was defeated, surrendered to the Prussians, and abdicated the throne.

The Third French Republic was formed on September 19, 1870. The citizens of the new Republic were left to fight a bloody and losing battle started by the aristocracy.  The war lasted several months and included a four-month siege of Paris that finally ended in January 1871. France ultimately failed to push the Prussians out of the country. The war ended May 10, 1871 with the Prussians declaring victory, forcing France to cede eastern portions of the country to the victors.

According to their own accounts, the Brothers served as negotiators, medics for both the French and the Prussians, and advocates for the people of France.  They collected money and food and they offered their houses and schools as hospitals. 

It was important for the Christian Brothers to demonstrate their patriotism and charity to the public to counter anticlerical sentiment in France that had developed during the nineteenth century. 

This exhibition from the Manhattan College Archives brings together artifacts and images collected by the De La Salle Brothers that demonstrated their efforts on behalf of the French people during and after the war.