“We aim to form the leaders of the future” says Ferdi McDermott, Principal of a young international college for boys in the Vendee village of Chavagnes-en-Paillers in France. It is known as Chavagnes International College and welcomed its first students in September 2002. Situated twenty miles south of Nantes it offers a classical education to boys from around the world.

Housed in an imposing nineteenth century, granite building, it became an illustrious centre of Catholic education during that period. Founded as a “petit-seminaire” soon after Napoleon’s concordat with the Pope in 1801, the school educated the future bishops, doctors, lawyers and leaders of France. Despite the political upheaval in France during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, it remained true to its founding mission until 1972. At that time it closed its doors to junior seminarians and became a boarding school, educating both boys and girls until 1996.

Today, two centuries after its foundation, some of its former glory has been restored. At the College, boys are given a broad and balanced education, adapted to meet the changing needs of the twenty first century. The broad curriculum includes a wide variety of academic subjects as well as music and sports. Public examinations, accredited by British examination boards are presently offered at GCSE/ O-Level and A-Level.


Chavagnes boys in a science class 

Chavagnes boys in a science class

Academic excellence is a priority. Mornings and evenings are devoted to the rigours of academic work, whilst afternoons are given over to the less academically demanding areas of the curriculum. Students benefit from a good library, well equipped science laboratory, good facilities for the use of computers, a large theatre for musical concerts and plays, tennis and basketball courts and playing fields. Teaching is typically in groups of five or six, with a limit of fifteen per class. Encouraged to give their best in all situations, students learn independence and self-confidence. The students are happy and well-balanced. Teachers are enthusiastic and have a good relationship with the children.

At the centre of the school is the neo-gothic Chapel with its magnificent organ, designed by one of France’s great organ builders of the Romantic Movement, Louis Debierre (1842-1920). The instrument has just been granted historic monument status. It is here in the chapel that the boys assemble, in uniform, each day to assist at daily mass. Mass, usually in Latin, is celebrated by the colege’s full-time chaplain,  British priest Father Mark Lawler of the Diocese of Leeds. 

Prayer, in the spirit of fidelity to the Catholic Church, underpins daily life at Chavagnes International College. “Sadly” says its Principal, “many of the best schools in academic terms, fail to impart a real Christian vision to their pupils”. His hope is that boys will take with them when they move on from Chavagnes  “a real knowledge and love of Christ and the Church and a profound appreciation of Christian culture”.

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