Francophilia
By Richard Harms, College Archivist, Heritage Hall

BroeneA century ago, the literary department of the Theological School of the Christian Reformed Church was in the process of becoming a college. In 1894 the board of trustees had approved admitting students who were not intending to become ordained ministers. Among the many adjustments needed to accomplish this metamorphosis was the expansion of the faculty and the curriculum. One of the areas that was broadened was the teaching of foreign languages.

When the school began in 1876, instruction was in Dutch, while the students, all preparing for ministry, studied Hebrew, Latin, Greek and English. The study of German was added soon after because of the extensive religion and theology scholarship that was being produced in German. At about the same time that German was added, the curatorium (now the board of trustees) was receiving student petitions complaining about the difficulty of learning English, particularly because some classes were even being taught in English.

With the addition of non-pre-seminary students to the school in 1900, the curriculum was expanded into a four-year preparatory sequence (comparable to today’s high school), with an additional fifth year for those whose elementary education had not fully prepared them for the four-year sequence. In 1907 the two-year John Calvin Junior College was added to the curriculum, with three tracks of study: seminary preparatory, classical and modern classical. The last two were modeled on the first two years of the University of Michigan curriculum so that students could complete their studies for a bachelor’s degree there. Although just a handful of new classes were added to the curriculum at this point, two were three-credit-hour courses in French for those in the modern classical track. During both years of the junior college, students had the option of taking either the two French courses or two courses in mathematics.

Teaching the new French classes was Albert E. Broene, professor of modern languages since 1903, but who at various times also taught Latin, mathematics, history, Bible, botany and physics. The first class in French had five students, Garrett Heyns, Herman Hoeksema, Peter Hoekstra, Harry Lieffers and Martin Ten Hoor. Although Broene preferred teaching German, particularly since he had done graduate work in Heidelberg, he taught German and French at Calvin until 1952, even though he had officially retired in 1946 at the age of 70. Students had quickly nicknamed him “Drooge (Dry) Albert,” which French students later changed to “Sec Broene.” Yet the dedication of the 1930 Prism presents another student view of the professor of modern languages as “an eminent scholar, a stimulating teacher, and a real and congenial friend.”

After having been the French department at Calvin for almost half a century, Broene turned over the work to Arthur J. Otten. When Broene retired, for the final time, the enrollment of the college was increasing rapidly so that since 1952, 20 people have taught or are teaching French full-time at Calvin.