Pivotal Moments

Foundations in Marist Spirituality. An audio course in the 'Foundations in Marist Spirituality'. Listen to the audio of Marists by clicking play to discuss the origins of the founders. Also available is a worksheet for this online course to be used in your family or community.

Session 1 | Session 2 | Session 3 | Session 4

Jean-Claude Colin

Father Ray –

They go to the little chapel of Fourviere (France). They pledge to do what they can to bring about the society of Mary. It takes 20 years. 20 years for the priest group. In 1836. From 1816 to 1836. 20 years is a very significant period of time. You look at other religious congregations as such. All of a sudden somebody has an inspiration. Then all of a sudden they start getting people together and start their order. But, that didn’t happen with the Society of Mary. It took a look time. A lot of reflection. A lot of historical, political, social actors which prevented that from happening immediately. And I think we are probably the better for it. Because it gave time for things to settle. Almost like a filter the essence of something. Those areas of spirituality for the Marists. Stand out as key rich points. From which we draw so much wealth.

Andrew –

But looking at his whole life, were there pivotal moments when there was a change? Like at Le Puy. Were there moments for Colin which had a significant impact on him?

Father Ray –

There certainly were. A lot of those moments were brought about by outside agents. Look at the situation first. He was appointed to Cerdon (France) where he is the assistant pastor. The assistant priest to his brother Pierre. That gives him a change to reflect on, particularly reconciliation, the missions and difficulties in the higher hills (Buigey). They start what is called a mission band. In great hardship but it seems to give them more impetus to want to start this group. Then you have got the move from Cerdon to Belley. The invitation of the Bishop to be the director of the school there. The minor seminary. Colin is this shy person who is thrust into this public role. There he starts to write some rules for the school. It is a very difficult time in France politically. You have the revolutions going on. You have the upheaval in the church. You have got a split regarding Catholic practise. You have a whole range of things going on there. Some how these things are happening for him. Things are becoming very clearer. That somehow he has got a role to play in this. They have got to keep in touch.

He is taken trips to Rome to get these constitutions approved. Rome is saying “no”. “That this is a rule for angels. This is not a rule for men”. He is forced back to revise all these kinds of things. There are external agents working on him. Political. Social. Theological. All this stuff is moving forward. But the constitutions themselves were formulated but not accepted by the General Chapter of 1872. It is a long time. Like the germination of a seed to be planted.

Then you have the final thing where the Propagation of the Faith (in Rome) says “we will approve you. On the condition that you take on the missions in Western Oceania”. As soon as that happens, they take their vows on the 24 of September in 1836. Within a few months the first missionaries are sent out. That is only when the Fathers and the Brothers groups take shape.

Meanwhile you’ve got the Brothers groups since 1817 in the Diocese of Lyon. Which is a different diocese of Belley. They the Laity who got an approbation and approval out of the whole lot.

Jeann-Marie Chavoin

Sister Gail –

This association of Divine Love. That deepened her desire for God. Really focused her and gave her spiritual life direction. She was then committed to regular spiritual direction with father La Franc.

It showed up a lot with her relationship (her friend) with Jean Marie Jotillon. She took seriously the opportunity to share with others her spiritual journey. Those two used to meet and spiritual conversations and encourage one another. In their spiritual life. In their hopes and dreams for the future.

Andrew –

I am getting a sense in her life there were key people.

Sister Gail –

Key people. The good family background. A loving family. Key people in terms of the priests. She had father La Franc. Jean Marie Jotillon. The abbess of the monastery she used to go to.

She was searching. That religious dimension was strong in her. It took a long time. It was not until she was 30.

Things were suggested to her. But, she was prepared to wait.

Marcelin Champagnat

Brother Tony –

The boy (Marcellin Champagnat) did not go to school until he was 11.

Andrew –

Was that because he was working on the land?

Brother Tony –

I don’t know. I have never seen an answer to it. His father was very well read and had a very good life. His father was mayor of Marl. He was captain in the national guard. He was highly respected in the area. He was a man of great moderation. But also, believed in the revolutionary ideals. But was not fanatic. Marcellin Champagnat picks up from him some good common sense and practicality. Reading a situation…but knowing how to respond to it. That was the Marian way. “To see the need and do something about it” in the words of Mary MacKillop.

Andrew –

With this call, what do you think shaped his call. Was it his mother? It is hard to know.

Brother Tony –

Yes. It is hard to know. He did not write anything about it. I don’t think anything has been discovered. That he wrote about his actual call. It would have happened when he was in those fields with the sheep (as a young boy).

Andrew –


Brother Tony –

Yes alone. There must have been reflection going on. The impact of father, mother and aunt and general atmosphere. The way they talked about the revolution and the way they taught during the revolution. All of those things must have impacted on him. But what ever it was we don’t know. Something seems to have happened. In his early adolescent years. Up to the age of 14. While he was pretty much on his own. He would come back at night time of cause. But during the day, looking after the lambs. Something has happened then. But, as far as I know he has never talked about it.

When the priests came to the house looking for vocations. They had been sent there by the parish priest. They knew this was a foundational family. So he steps forward and says “yes”. Much to everybody’s surprise. But, probably the mother had some sense. The mother must have had some sense. She would have read him. There was a hint that he was her favourite. Whether that is the earlier biographer Brother Jean Baptist assuming. I do not know. The mother gave him great support.

When he failed badly in that first 12 months. The mother said “do you still want to be a priest?” he said “yes I do”. She took him on pilgrimage to La Louvesc of the shrine of John Francis Regis. It was a couple of days there and back. They walked. Then when he is sent home from the seminary. The same thing “do you still want to be a priest?” “Yes”. “Alright lets go and pray”. She was a great support to him.

Andrew –

What about when he came in contact with Jean-Claude Courveille? This idea of the Marists.

Brother Tony –

Courveille was really the instigated of the whole lot. He claims to have had a vision of Mary at Le Puy (France). This was the great Marian shrine. Not far from Lyon. He was partially blind. Bathed his eyes in the sanctuary lamp oil and (then) could see.

He (Courveille) claims to have had a vision of Mary who said to him “just as the Jesuits were formed in the 16th century to deal with the Protestant revolution, I want the Marists to be formed in this century to deal with the aftermath of the French revolution”. So, there was a strong parallel between Jesuits and Marists.

Courveille when he went to the seminary, was amongst like minded people. There was a strong sense in that area of establishing religious orders. There was quiet a lot of them founded within the first 20 years of the 19th century (1800s).

The soil was ready. Courveille plants the seed. There are discussions. Courveille has this vision of a Marist Family consisting of priests, sisters and lay people. Champagnat kept saying to them “we must have brothers”. Every time they met Champagnat would say “we must have brothers”. They eventually said to him, “if you are so keen, you take it on”. Which of cause is what he did. He had established the brothers within 6 months from when they were in the seminary.

Francoise Perroton

Sister Marilyn -

Certainly, I imagine after stepping off that ship. She felt not wanted. But she trusted. She trusted that God’s providence would guide her. She trusted Mary to lead her.

There were pivotal times.

After 10 years there (Wallis in Oceania), she felt really depleted of energy. Of her ability to keep on and thought of returning to France. She made it to Futuna. Within 3 years the first three pioneers arrived. We have 11 pioneers. From Francoise Perroton in 1845 to the last one Maree De Presentacia in 1860. That is the group we refer to as the pioneer sisters. We are talking about the French Third Order of Mary members coming out from France. But we don’t forget there were women who longed to also members of the Marists.

Andrew –

Why did the later pioneers come out?

Sister Marilyn –

Bishops going back shared what was happening in the missions. They were more open to the need of women. It was still not easy for religious women to come out. Certainly, father Farb was very instrumental. And later, other Marist priests and help settle the situation. They expressed in their letters they wanted to be religious.

There was an attempted with the Sisters of Our Lady of Missions to have them incorporated into that congregation. Their foundress worked with the Marist priests in France to organise a mission and a missionary congregation in Oceania. The pioneers were told they could become part of that congregation as it was established. That they would be able to do a novitiate there where they were.

A number of the pioneers entered the congregation and actually took vows. Most of them left. The rule of the Sisters of the Lady of the Missions was very much a rule worked out by their foundress. Who had been a religious in another congregation. She had strict ideas for religious. For enclosure. For limited contact with the people. Whilst, our pioneers had always lived with them and amongst them.

Once there was friction between Marist priests and the Sisters of the Lady of the Missions. The pioneers did not know they were Marists. No matter what happened they stayed with the Marist Fathers. They stayed in the missions where they were.

Andrew –

So, they remained lay people in a way until later on ?

Sister Marilyn –

Yes. They became the first of all, the organisation was slow. They became diocesan congregation in the different dioceses. With a vow of obedience to the bishop of the diocese where they were. They had a rule set out for them by bishop La Mass and other bishops also at different times. They were guided, but the priests back in France decided they had to do something. They found a lady called madam De Gruel. Who was a widow. She was named to prepare women in France to come out to Oceania. They started off with a house of formation in Lyon. It was very good as the sisters in Oceania would see sisters coming out would have a formation and take vows. They saw themselves as religious.

The difficulty for further development was that these women were still under the Marist Fathers. They were not autonomous. Rome was not in agreement to have such a big Society of Mary. Eventually the Marist Fathers wrote a rule and submitted it to Rome. That it would be recognised under Canon Law. That was first recognised in 1931. There is a long time between 1845 and 1931.

Andrew –

More than half a century.

Sister Marilyn –

The pioneer sisters felt that after 1881 they had a better organisation. Better understanding and more stability. A lot of things we did would not have been acceptable for religious women back in Europe. The missionary work. The way that we lived. Living in such small groups. They felt very blessed if there was two of them. Together. Rather than having larger communities. The fact that they did not have strict enclosure. Religious life was changing in Europe.

Andrew –

They were willing to take that risk of being with the people.

Sister Marilyn –

Yes. To this day – we will set out to work where there were no priests. Some religious would not accept that because you do not have daily mass and do not have the support of the sacraments. Yes. What they did still remains part of our life in the congregation today.

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10 February 2021

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Father Ray Chapman, Sister Gail Reneker, Brother Tony Butler and Sister Marilyn Farley

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