The Alexians, Alexian Brothers or Cellites are a Catholic religious institute or congregation specifically devoted to caring for the sick which has its origin in Europe at the time of the Black Death. The order follows the Augustinian rule.



The Order has traced their origin in the early 12th century, as Beghards, the male counterparts of the Beguines, the lay communities of women who followed a devout style of life in a limited degree of common life. These men did not get much attention until this Order made a great contribution in history as they arose in the city of Mechelen, in the Duchy of Brabant (in central Flanders, now Belgium), sometime in the 14th century, during the terrible ravages of the "Black Death". Certain laymen united under the guidance of a man named Tobias to succor the plague-stricken, without taking any vows or adopting a rule of life. One of their most obvious actions was the care of those stricken with the Bubonic plague, along with their families and the burial of those who died. These laymen lived in little rooms or cells (from Latin "cella," a cell that became their early name "Cellites").

It has long been speculated they were able to support themselves by begging for food, thus, they derived their pre-Alexian name. This was dismissed by the Encyclopedia Brittanica version of 1911.

The plague victims became the outcasts of the society and were thrown outside the city walls, along with the other marginalized folk, to die. But these laymen, who were moved by compassion, came together and vowed to take care of these victims that were abandoned by not only the state and the church, but also their families. Later on, the group attracted more men who chose to abandon their secular lives to live in community as brothers and to serve the needs of the poor. Eventually, the Catholic Church saw the utility of the brothers and invited them to be formally recognized as a religious group. Subsequently, giving them Pontifical status. The brothers chose St. Alexius as the patron saint of an early chapel, this saint had served many years in a hospital at Edessa in Syria; and thenceforth the people started calling these laymen the Brothers at St. Alexius chapel, which eventually evolved into Alexian Brothers. Thus, the townspeople gave the Brothers their modern name.


The Brothers rapidly spread through-out Germany, Brabant, Flanders, and other countries. They were also styled lollebroeders (M[iddle] [Dutch), 'mumbling brothers', or "Lollhorden", from Old German: lollon, meaning "to sing softly," from their chants for the dead. (This name was later adopted as a term of contempt, applied first to Franciscans and later to the heretical followers of Wycliffe[1].) The Alexians did not escape calumny and persecution, as demonstrated from the Papal Bull "Ad Audientiam Nostram" (2 December 1377) which Pope Gregory XI sent to the German bishops, especially those of Cologne, Trier and Mainz, forbidding annoyance of the "Cellites" and enjoining punishment for their persecutors. This was followed by Bulls of a similar tenor from Pope Boniface IX on 7 January 1396, Pope Eugene IV on 12 May 1431, Pope Nicholas V and Pope Pius II.

In 1469, the motherhouse at Aix-la-Chapelle voiced the general feeling of the Brothers in asking Louis de Bourbon, prince-bishop of Liège to raise that house to a convent of the Order of St. Augustine. The request was granted, and Father Dominicus Brock and five of the Brothers took the solemn vows of religious. This step and the revised constitution of the Order were confirmed by Blessed Pius IX on 12 September 1870.

In the early 20th century the Alexian Brothers had four hospitals in the United States. The first was built in Chicago in the year 1866; it was destroyed by the Great Fire, on 9 October 1871, and rebuilt the following year. The second, erected at St Louis in 1869, covered an acre with its departments for the insane, nervous diseases, and inebriates. The third was in Oshkosh, Wisconsin and built in the year 1880. The fourth was built in Elizabeth, N.J., on land given for that purpose by Right Rev. Bishop Wigger. Competent surgeons and physicians attended to the patients, and the Brothers nursed and did the housework of the hospitals.

Today, the Chicago hospital has become the Alexian Brothers Medical Center and Rehabilitation Hospital in Elk Grove, Illinois, and the St. Alexius Medical Center and Behavioral Hospital, both in Hoffman Estates, Illinois. These also operate satellite centers and clinics around Illinois. In Missouri, Tennessee and Wisconsin the Alexians run a group of facilities, care systems, homes and communities all for older adults. The other hospitals have been sold or closed.

Bishop Herbert Vaughan of Salford, England (later, Cardinal), invited the Alexian Brothers to take charge of a new home and hospital in his diocese, which led to their establishing themselves in England in June 1875. Dr Richard Lacy, Bishop of Middlesbrough, secured them for his diocese in 1884. In 1885, the Brothers established a Province of their Order and a novitiate in the United Kingdom. The latter, first attached to St. Mary's Convent, Newton Heath, Manchester, was later transferred to Twyford Abbey, near Ealing, which the Alexian Brothers had purchased.

The Modern Order

The Immaculate Conception Province (the American Province) sponsors Alexian Brothers Health System, which provides services in acute care, residential elderly care, retirement centers, and AIDS ministry in Illinois, Missouri, Wisconsin, Tennessee, and also outside the USA in the Philippines and Hungary.

The contemporary British and Irish establishments in London, Manchester, Dublin and Limerick include facilities for the elderly sick and physically handicapped through a nursing home and Day Centre; an AIDS ministry; care and rehabilitation of homeless men; and support for people suffering from mental illness.

On the European continent the contemporary German branch of the order has houses in Aachen, Krefeld, Malseneck, Münster and Twistringen. In Belgium they have centres in Boechout, Tienen, Grimbergen and Henri-Chapelle where they provide psychiatric services.


  •  This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainHerbermann, Charles, ed (1913). "Alexians". Catholic Encyclopedia. Robert Appleton Company. 
  •  This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainJackson, Samuel Macauley, ed (1914). "article name needed". New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge (third ed.). London and New York: Funk and Wagnalls. 


  1. ^ OED

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