Étienne-Marie (Augustin-Marie Malenfant, known as Father Étienne-Marie) was born in Saint-Quay (French département of Côtes-du-Nord), France, on August 13, 1819. His father was Jean-François Malenfant, and his mother was Marie-Hélène Dolo. In 1833, at the age of fourteen, he entered the novitiate of the Brothers of Christian Education in Ploërmel. He was a teacher in two schools in the Ille-et-Villaine region from 1837 to 1849. In August of 1849 he was appointed as the director of the Brothers of Senegal in order to succeed the “founder,” Father Eutyme. Father Étienne-Marie had just as much energy as his predecessor, but was more moderate, and he found a way to consolidate things at the school. Governor Faidherbe, who had arrived in Senegal in 1854, was quite sure that Congregationalists were not ideally suited to be teachers in an area that was predominantly Muslim. However, he soon overcame his reservations. He created secular schools, but also looked favorably on the development of the Brothers’ schools (which were at the time, and which remained until 1904, public schools). The scope of the Brothers’ work widened several times. Someone living in Saint-Louis built a house that was rented by the government in order to serve as a school. Without much success, Father Étienne-Marie fought to convince his congregation that a more highly trained teacher was needed to work as a teacher in a colonial school than as a teacher in a rural school in Brittany, since admissions in colonial schools were open to all, which included the children of high government officials. From 1831 on, no-one was allowed to teach in a primary school in France without a teaching certificate. However, the Convention that was ratified in 1837 between the Minister of the Navy and Abbot de La Mennais allowed the Brothers to teach in the colonies based solely on their vows. Abbot de La Mennais had hoped to obtain an agreement whereby non-certified Brothers could be kept in the Breton schools, and certified Brothers could be sent to teach in the colonies, but the Minister of Education was firmly opposed to the idea. For that reason, when the director of the school in Saint-Louis protested that some of the teachers who had been sent to him were insufficiently competent, there was little hope that his complaint would be heard in Ploërmel. Father Étienne-Marie also worked hard, through his congregation, to recruit young people from Saint-Louis and Gorée. This effort met with great difficulties however, and it was abandoned (see André Corsini). Father Étienne-Marie died on September 23, 1867, at the age of forty-eight. Of the eleven Brothers in Saint-Louis at the time, he was the last of the eight who succumbed to an epidemic of Yellow Fever. In the eighteen years he was there, he had quietly shown himself to be a remarkably good administrator.
See references listed under André Corsini.
This article, reprinted here with permission, is taken from Hommes et Destins: Dictionnaire biographique d’Outre-Mer [People and Destinies: Overseas Biographical Dictionary], published in 1977 by the Académie des Sciences d’Outre-Mer (15, rue de la Pérouse, 75116 Paris, France). All rights reserved.