Challenges

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Jeann-Marie Chavoin

Sister Gail –

One of the biggest challenges was this “waiting”. Of discerning God’s will for her. There would have been the ordinary challenges of the revolution and the upheaval in France. It would not have been in all places such as violence in Coutouvre where she was. But certainly the general up roar in France. The impact that had on the church as it was really under attack. Not just under attack, but its flaws and weaknesses were being recognised more and more.

There was a lot of movement away. Movement away from the church. A lot of criticism with the riches of the church. Yet she stayed with the church. She was very keen.

She did not talk a whole lot about the evils of the church, but she embraced a Marist vision which was to build a church which was different. She embraced that and Mary’s role in it.

My sense in reading about her childhood was this “searching”. What (questions) goes with that – “was she deluded?” Granted…we don’t hear to much of that. But she was prepared to wait. When you have colleagues and friends doing the opposite, most young girls would be pretty timid. She just said “no. No thank you”.

Andrew –

So, she is strong?

Sister Gail –

Strong. A strong woman. Determined. This came against her sometimes in her life.

Andrew –

Did that affect her relationship with Colin?

Sister Gail –

Later on, it did. Not at the beginning. They really supported one another. Because he was much more on the timid side. While, she was much more sure. She had a more stable background than Colin. That would have helped her. Even in the waiting. She had stability. She was not an insecure person.

Andrew –

She was sure.

Sister Gail –

She was sure. She was clear about what she was wanting. When the invitation came, she went. In those 6 years in Cerdon, she was given approval to start a community. The dream took shape in Colin’s mind. Certainly in her. There was a lot of communication and sharing etc and support. There was times when the (Marist) fathers got down and she encouraged them, there was times when she was down, and they encouraged her. They needed each other in supporting one another. When things were bad she would say “lets go down to the church and pray together”. There was a tremendous lot of support.

In helping giving expression to the dream and putting words on it.

Jean-Claude Colin

Father Ray –

I think it would have disappointed not just Colin, but disappointed Jeann-Marie Chavion and Marcellin Champagnat as well. Their dream was to have this multi branched family. The lay branch. The sisters. The brothers who would teach. The Marist Fathers and brothers.

They wanted this reality called Marists. Which was very inclusive. Not an exclusive thing at all. It was very inclusive. But Rome (the Catholic Church head leadership) said “no. it would be ungovernable”. The consequence was “no we are not going to approve this”. I would imagine the disappointment not just for Colin but all of them who would have been captured by this wonderful dream.

This personal insight that seemed to be so rich and the realisation of “Mary’s gracious choice” that enabled them to articulate them as a member of her particular group (Family).

Andrew –

They were well ahead of their time given what Vatican II (in the 1960s) called the whole church towards. Were there other personal challenges which Colin faced?

Father Ray –

His main challenges might have been his personality. There are moments of conflict with the sister’s group in how they saw their vocation and how he saw it. You have got the relationship with the brothers which initially when Marcellin Champagnat died (1840) he (Champagnat) reminds them that father Colin is their general and superior. But, that goes through a whole lot of changes. There had been sensitive issues between some of the fathers and some of the brothers. You have got the tension between some of the sisters and the fathers. That is part of it but it is not the whole story. Many who joined the sisters had brothers who were in the Marist Fathers as well in the Marist Brothers. It is not describing something which has got a lot of conflict or tension. There were moments of significant tension.

That reflects Colin’s personality in a way. He is a remarkable kind of man in many senses. This is where we might be a little bit different from the brothers. Colin for us is not the ultimate for what it means to be a Marist Father. Mary is the ultimate and that is very significant part of our consciousness. While there is a move to have Colin recognised as a saint in the church, it is not the kind of thing many of us would be comfortable with. For the simple reason that once you canonise someone, they tend to be put in another area. They take on a different reality.

Andrew –

Moving away from that human…

Father Ray –

There is the human side. Colin may never be canonised because he is far too human.

Marcellin Champagnat

Brother Tony –

There were a number of episodes where he tended to young people. Boys and probably girls who were dying. They were at the age of 7,8,9 and 10. All of this prompted him to start the brothers. Which had been on his mind for some years from the seminary. This is all encapsulated in what is called the “Montage Episode”. Which was in October 1816. That took place higher up the mountain. This seems to be what we call the “Seminal experience” (strongly influencing later developments). It was after that, that he gathered Jean Marie Granjon (23) and Jean Baptist Audras (14). He said “I want you two to become Marist Brothers”.

He establishes them in a house which he bought. He borrowed money and bought this house in Lavalla. Installed the two brothers in it and then more kept coming. Over the next couple of years more young men kept coming.

He moved in with the brothers. He establishes a school at Marl. Which was his own town. Lavalla. Nervesa, Tarentaise, Burgdignes. For a start. And it all spread from there. Numbers were so go that by about 1824 he decided he would really need to build something bigger. He gets a property further down the valley. A little bit of flat land. He and the brothers pitched in and built the place. They had professional work men, but the brothers and he got in and built the place.

Andrew –

Could they afford to build something like that?

Brother Tony –

Yes. Again. He borrowed money. He was well supported by a number of people. Father Courveille lent Champagnat money is an important part of the story. Champagnat borrowed from other people. Champagnat eventually was able to pay it off. That would not have been easy. What ever was happening he was able to deal with the finances.

It was always struggle street for them. They were in fact poor. Their food was poor. Their clothing was simple. They did not demand high fees from their students. Their fees would have been minimal. Along with their fees and donations from benefactors. They managed.

Andrew –

Poverty was part of the charism?

Brother Tony –

Absolutely. It was genuine poverty. It was not just poverty in a general sense of not having everything you wanted. They struggled to make ends meat (to get by). They did not eat fresh meat. Until about 1830. They ate salted meat. Their wine would have been ordinary wine broken down with two thirds water.

Andrew –

Did Champagnat eat?

Brother Tony –

Yes he did. But, he did not look after himself. I suspect ultimately why he does have stomach cancer. As a priest of cause, he had to be fasting from midnight to say mass. Sometimes he would not have been saying mass until 11 am in the morning. He would travel. Arrive at a place. Say mass at 11 o’clock and of cause he had not eaten since the night before. He did not drink water. Now. That is fatal. By the time you come to the mid and late 1830s his health had deteriorated. Very seriously. As far as I know it was stomach cancer. The last couple of years. Probably 18 months or so he was in very poor physical health. He died at a reasonably young age. 51. 52.

Andrew –

Were there other challenges he faced particularly?

Brother Tony –

Absolutely. One was the reputation of being a country yokel. Because he did not speak good French. His critics claim here was a man who could not read well. Could not write well. Teaching people to read and write. A man without good grammar teaching people to write well. But if you look at his letters, while there are some grammatical mistakes, from what I can make out, the letters are very well written. There in informal French.

His own language must have been peppered with all sorts of images. Because he spoke a proper dialect. It would not have been sophisticated filled with intellectual and philosophical ideas. Very down to earth. It was farming. It was split finger nails. It was fixing fence posts. It was raising lambs. It was cooking meals. It was making bread. It was all the sorts of things that farmers had to do.

He has a lovely turn of phrase. We don’t know a lot of them. He talks about “the guy having no elbows”. No spark. No vitality. No push. “He will show us a fare pair of heels when he parts”. “He will eat us out of house and home”.

Francoise Perroton

Sister Marilyn –

Pauline Jericot began in 1820. Was not recognised until 1822. Francoise Perroton was part of that group from 1820. Was one of the people who volunteered to have a group of 10. He interest in the missionary life and part of the church was very strong from an early age. Even though she did not leave until 1845. As a younger person she gave her weekly penny to the “Propagation of the Faith”. Read the Annals. That is where she read that letter of the women in Nouva in Oceania asking for women to go out and help form them as Christians.

Andrew –

A lay woman calling…

Sister Marilyn –

Yes. They just asked for women to come out. They did not say religious because they would not have known religious. We know the church itself was very reluctant to allow religious women to go out to Oceania and even more so after the martyrdom of Peter Chanel (Marist Father in 1839). They wrote an interesting letter which obviously stirred Francoise Perroton to respond.

She was 49 years old when she made that decision. To leave a fairly settled and secure life. In France. Everything she knew in that city area. To set out by boat. To ask the captain. Captain Marceau who took her out. To accept her without being able to pay for her fare. Offering to work on the ship.

We know that Francoise Perroton had contact through her spiritual director with the Marist priests. With father Julian Eymard. Was advised not to speak with father Colin. That he (Colin) would not accept women going out to be in Oceania.

She set out on a journey that took around 11 months.

When she arrived in Wallis, the Bishop refused to receive her. Poor captain Marceau was stuck with a woman he did not know what to do with. He was an interesting person as he carried supplies out the missions. He was known to the missionaries as an important part of their life. He knew people on the island. It was the chief of the island who actually accept Francoise stay there. They built a hut for her. He had some young girls to go and stay with her. That is how it began.

Andrew –

A few years earlier Futuna had the martyrdom. But my understanding is that a few of the locals became Christian and became Catholic.

Sister Marilyn –

Francoise started on Wallace and then later moved to Futuna. There was rivalry between the different islands and the groups. Yes. In Futuna you are right. They had the French missionaries there. Both islands were able to work with the men. The work was slow. It was difficult for the priests to approach the women because of cultural differences. That is why the women had printed that letter which was printed in the Annals which prompted Francoise Perroton to respond and go out.

Francoise Perroton never asked for French women to come out. Later on she said she would never ask French women to go through the suffering she went through. The isolation. When they arrived she was thrilled. The priests probably said to the bishops who difficult it was to have one woman there. Amongst them. Some of the priests were very sensitive to Francoise Perroton and the other pioneers when they came.

The first three women who came out to join Francoise Perroton had a very short time together. On Futuna at that stage. Then the Bishop decided to put two on one island. After a while there was only 1 on 1 island. They were scattered very quickly. They had to draw strength from each other through letters they could send by the boats that went around to carry supplies.

Andrew –

The women were isolated?

Sister Marilyn –

They were very isolated. Yes. And were very reliant on the local women there. To help them. To support them. In a sense of explaining cultural situations. Helping them learn the language.

The pioneers had a strong sense of wanting to teach the women. To help them to become good Christians. To improve their own position in the society in which they lived.

There were difficulties with the priests who thought the pioneers and Francoise had come out to look after them. They were called their auxiliaries. As they wished to be. There were clashes when the priests just wanted them to look after plantations. And look after the daily needs of a mission station. Because, they felt strongly that they had come to do more than that. Especially, to help the women. In things that the priests could not do.

Andrew –

Were these diocesan priests?

Sister Marilyn –

They were Marist (priests). Right from the beginning the pioneers were working with the Marist priests in those areas. There were no diocesan priests in that part of Oceania. So when the priests moved from place to place, so did our auxiliaries (pioneers). With the auxiliaries there Oceanian women who would go with them. From one island to another. Which carried its own difficulties and risks for the women from one island to another. They would naturally have travelled in that way.

They had that very strong Marist missionary spirit from the beginning.

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Date
12 February 2021

Tag 1
Courses

Tag 2
Formation

Tag 3
Spirituality

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

Source URL
http://www.maristlaityaustralia.com...

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