Active in preaching, popular missions, social welfare, and teaching, the male religious orders had about 25,000 members in 1768, living in 2,966 houses, monasteries, and convents. In that year a royal commission on the regular clergy began a series of investigations which would continue through to 1780, leading to a renewed dynamism for the regulars in the fields of education and teaching. The schools of the Christian Brothers, which had been founded by Jean-Baptiste de La Salle between 1694 and 1705 and were formally approved in 1725-26, flourished under this new impulse. Even if no systematic reforms took place in France in the later eighteenth century, there was nonetheless a consistent reduction in the numbers belonging to the male religious orders: from the some 25,000 in 1768 to slightly more than 16,000 in 1789, with a particularly large drop of 40 per cent among the Franciscans, and a more moderate decline of 27 per cent among the female orders. The structural weaknesses of the regulars, combined with an ever more pervasive hostility towards them in public opinion, would lead to their suppression by the French National Assembly in the early years of the Revolution.

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