The Life of Brother Deodat

Brother Deodat The Little Chapel

Brother Deodat was born on 18th July 1878 in a small town southwest of Nantes and he died in Nantes on 21st November 1951 at the age of 73. His civilian name was Antoine Treilhaud. The official records of the De La Salle Brothers in France rather harshly describe him as a shy, timid and extremely anxious man with a sickly cardiac and consumptive nature (consumption being the old name for TB) as well as a big nose. You can decide for yourselves about his nose but we do know that he was fond of taking snuff.


The De La Salle Brothers came to Guernsey in 1904 and developed Les Vauxbelets first as an Agricultural College and then as a Boys College. Brother Deodat arrived in December 1913 aged 35 and for the next 25 years he acted as sacristan and was in charge of the dining rooms. 

Without a teaching role he may have had a bit more time than the other Brothers but why exactly did he decide to build the Little Chapel? He tells us the answer in his own words in his diary;

“I arrived in Guernsey for the first time in 1913. From the very start my attention was attracted by the copse facing southwest across the Vauxbelets valley. The trees were lofty and majestic and the slopes were pretty steep towards the stream. At once the thought came to my mind that the spot was eminently suitable for the erection of a grotto resembling that at Lourdes with a little Chapel to represent the Basilica at that same famous pilgrimage. I ventured to expose my plans to the Brother Director and he granted me a space in the wood where I could put my project into execution. Overjoyed I started work at once in March 1914”

Lourdes, for anyone who doesn’t know, is the place in the foothills of the French Pyrennees where the Virgin Mary appeared to the young shepherdess Bernadette as she gathered firewood by a grotto on the banks of the river Gave.


It only took Brother Deodat a few months to build his grotto and he adorned it with the very same statue of Our Lady of Lourdes that still stands there today, the one that has just been lovingly restored.


The grotto was officially blessed on the eve of the outbreak of the 1st World War. The very next day Brother Deodat was summoned back to France to do military service but when he arrived there he was declared medically unfit and he returned to Guernsey again in September 1914. He then set to work building a small chapel above the grotto, which he completed in a matter of weeks. That chapel stood for almost 10 years but it was only 9 feet long by 6 feet wide and it had a very narrow entrance. When the Catholic Bishop of Portsmouth visited in 1923 he couldn’t get through the door so he refused to allow the chapel to be used for Holy Mass.

Brother Deodat The Little Chapel
Brother Deodat The Little Chapel

Brother Deodat took this as a sign from above that his little chapel needed to be bigger so he completely demolished it and started work on a brand new Chapel, the one decorated with pebbles, shells and pieces of broken china that we know and love today 100 years later. He was still working on it in 1939 when ill health forced him to leave the island and return to France. With the intervention of the 2nd World War and the Occupation he was destined never to return.


After the war the other Brothers, particularly Brother Cephas, continued to work on the Chapel but the years took their toll and the fabric of the Chapel steadily deteriorated until as we know in 2016 it was found to be at risk of collapse. Had the Foundation not taken up the challenge to save it, we might well have lost the Chapel forever.


The Little Chapel has been described as a work of art and a labour of love. It is both those things but it’s also so much more. It’s the embodiment of one shy man’s deep devotion to Mary and it’s a very personal and yet very public expression of his faith.
Now that the De La Salle Brothers have left the island and Les Vauxbelets has passed to Blanchelande College, the Chapel will act as a lasting and we hope permanent reminder of their long association with the people of Guernsey. Several generations owe them an enormous debt of gratitude for the selfless contribution they made not just to education but also to the spiritual life of the island. It’s a legacy of which they can be justly proud.

A bronze bust of Brother Deodat was especially commissioned for the Chapel’s centenary in 2023. It was made by local sculptor Mark Cook and donated to the Chapel by a kind and generous benefactor. Given Brother Deodat’s shy and retiring nature it was thought appropriate that he be positioned somewhere quiet and unobtrusive so the bust is installed into the alcove on the right as you face the Chapel. From there he will be able to keep watch over the masterpiece he created and he will be able to see for himself just how much everyone still loves it and is inspired by it.