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 –

One of the significant issues for me is that Father Colin filled that space where the energy and the vision in response to Marist life and Mary’s invitation was articulated. Father Colin spent many many years on what were the implications on belonging to the society of Mary. From that hard work that he did we have many resources. They have come from that deep spiritual well. Father Colin was able to describe what it means to belong to the Society of Mary. What is special about the society of Mary as there are many religious congregations in the church. Quiet a few have a marian flavour. But this Society of Mary have a particular direct in it’s own reality and it’s own identity. Father Colin responded to that. Father Colin gave a clear outline and interpretation. Of what that meant. We draw from Father Colin the tremendous resources and insights. The different shades of meaning and different angles of Mary. We would not have that unless we had him. Given Jean-Maree Chavoin, the co-founder of the Marist Sisters, articulated that very well when she kept saying to him about writing the constitutions that “he had to do it”. He had been chosen in an indirect kind of way by Mary to put forward on paper as best he could what it meant to be a Marist.

Andrew –
But right from the beginning from his childhood, what do you think shaped him towards that life?

Father Ray –

If I was thinking of anything, I would be thing of interiority. Father Colin was a very shy young fellow. He lost his parents at a very early age. He used to like being on his own. People describe him as going into the woods which were not far from where he was living in the little village of Barberie. He used to go and spend a lot of time in personal reflection. He had a devotion to Mary from an early age. If you look at that quiet interior life, which might be akin to a spiritual well. That enabled him touch into the depths of a transcendental experience. By that I don’t mean there was any particular experience for him. There is some question later whether Mary ever appeared to him. That is an open question. But there is something in his own personality and his own up bringing. That enabled him to get in touch with something deep within himself. In a sense. This enabled him to be a person without the barriers. He did not get distracted. There is a kind of seriousness. There is a kind of depth and richness about him. That somehow enable him to be an instrument of Mary. In touch with a deeper part of that relationship.

Then, maybe to the fact that he did not have a mother. From a young boy. He had a sense of a yearning and a dream of what a mother would be. He seemed to articular Mary from that perspective extremely well. Where did that come from? We don’t know. Was it a grace from Mary herself to articulate so well her role as a mother.

It is more the interior dimension of his life. The quiet, withdrawn and shy dimension that precipitated the further development of his life as he reflected deeply in a very contemplative way. Which at the same time came back at the end of his life. The place of La Neylière becomes a place like two book ends. Where he dwells in a deep spiritual place. Where he tried to describe how Mary related to him and how he related to her. Particularly in her desire to have a Society named after her.

Jeanne-Marie Chavoin

Sister Gail –

Jeanne-Marie Chavoin was invited by the Colin brothers when they were in Cerdon France. In the parish their. Pierre Colin as the parish priest. Jean-Claude Colin as the curate. Jean-Claude beginning to share the dream of the Marists. From the seminary and then following on the Fourivere pledge. Pierre had lived for a time as curate in a parish of Coutouvre France where Jeanne-Marie lived. Pierre said “I might know someone who might be interested in this project”. For the women. He invited Jeann-Marie to Cerdon.She visited and then came back with Jean Marie Jotillon. They became the house keepers for the fathers in Cerdon. Jeanne-Marie said “this is for me”. She became the foundress of the feminine branch of the Marist family. With Jean-Claude Colin. We have both as our founder.

Andrew –

What shaped her childhood towards this call?

Sister Gail –

Jeanne-Marie Chavoin was the daughter of a tailor who owned a tailor shop. She was very involved and a very outgoing young woman. Very involved in the village life also in the parish life. She did nothing extraordinary in the parish. She did the things that parishioners would do in those days. In terms of mass and joining groups. Praying the rosary. Ordinary parish activities. She was engaged with her family.

We have to remember this was the time of the French revolution. Things were a bit chaotic. Her family took in for quite a time a revolutionary priest. There were priests at the time that supported the revolution and some of them did not. Some priests took the oath of the government which was counter revolutionary. They shielded him.

Andrew –

What could happen to him if they found out he wouldn’t take the oath?

Sister Gail –

I am not quite sure at the level of punishment, but they were so brutal.

Andrew –

There was a certain risk.Sister Gail –

Risk. Risk that involved for the family. I don’t know how well this was known throughout the town that they were hiding this priest. But I think this was fairly common in this villages.

She was a child during the revolution. Her father being a tailor. She was very well known in the town. She did a lot of visitation of the parishioners and visiting the sick. She was very active in the parish. As a lay person.

The interesting thing is that she did have a desire for religious life. There were sisters in the village but she was not attracted to join their congregation. She used to go on retreats to a Benedictine place. Thought of joining them. They asked her. But it was not for her. She got a lot of spiritual advice from the abbess there. Cardinal Fesch who was the uncle of Napoleon she knew him. She was advised to go and see him twice. He encouraged her to join different orders. She stood up to him. She was strong enough to say “no. That is not for me”.

She was looking and waiting. For a sense of “is this congregation for me?” She was 30 years old which was pretty old in those days when she got this letter from Pierre Colin. He had been there in the parish. There are two Colin brothers. Pierre and Jean-Claude. Jean-Claude was in that group in the seminary. Who under the inspiration of Jean-Claude Courveille started talk about a new society. 12 of them signed the pledge of Fourviere (July 23) in 1816. Pierre was not there. Pierre was ordained a couple of years before. Jean-Claude was sent to Cerdon as Pierre’s assistant.

Pierre wrote to Jeanne-Marie. About this. Apparently she came and saw. And then later came back with Jean Marie Jotillon. She had a very very good friend. They became soul mates. A real sense of helping each other spiritually. They were part of a group called “the Association of Divine Love”. This group was formed by a Curate at the time Father La Franc. She and Jean Marie Jotillon joined this association. That had a significant influence on her spiritual development. Certainly on Jean Marie Jotillon’s spiritual development.

One of the interesting things about of the Society (of Mary), was that it was sought of “secret”. The idea was not to be noticed. In what ever they did. They did a lot of charity work. They had prayers to say. Apart from that. Ordinary devotions to the parish.

They were doing God’s work without notice which really fitted in with the Marist thing. She ended up being at Cerdon. She was there for 6 years before she was able under the Bishops authority to form a community of Marist sisters which became the first “official” group of the Marists.

Andrew –
What was her call?

Sister Gail –

Her call was a life lived for God. A life of service. A life that combined this deep relationship with God. A contemplative dimension with an apostolic thrust. That was hard to find in religious women at that time. It was to find something that suited her understanding of who she wanted to be. To serve God and be with the people. She felt called to the consecrated life as a religious.

Marcellin Champagnat

Brother Tony –

Marist Father Marcellin Champagnat was born in the year of the French revolution which was very significant for his youth and growth. Born into the farmers family. They were not poor. They were not of the poor. They were reasonably well off. Not middle class by any means. A large family of 11 children all together. Several of them had died. He was the youngest surviving one. In the house. Not just mum and dad. But also, an aunt who had been a sister of Saint Joseph. But put out of the convent by the revolutionaries so she was a significant influence.

Champagnat only went to school one day in his life and it was a horrendous experience for him. He ran away from school and said “I am not going back”. So he was sent to work. He was raising lambs and made a bit of money.

At the age of 14 some priests came to visit the house. Recruiting for vocations because the priesthood had been decimated by the French revolution. When they asked the boys “do you want to become priests”. None of them did….accept….young Marcellin. Much to everybody’s surprise. We still don’t know where that came from…We can guess. We can assume, but he has written nothing about it. As far as I know. We don’t know where the inspiration came from.

He could not speak regular French. He had to learn regular French. He also had to learn Latin. He went off for one year to a brother-in-law. Who sent him home at the end of the year and said “he is think as two planks. Go back to farming”. But, his mother, persevered with him and he went off to the seminary. Where he started form scratch. Learning regular French. Learning Latin. At the age of 15 this did not certainly end well. He went down to the tavern most evenings. He was part of the “happy gang”. He failed badly in the first year of the seminary.

So he was sent home and told “not to come back”. His mother went to Father Ally Rowe and said “my husband saved your neck during the revolution. That is why you are still hear father. You owe me”. So Marcellin went back into the seminary. Which happened. Soc Champagnat goes off again and study’s very hard. He was never a brilliant student. He was not an academic. Got through the minor seminary. Goes off to the major seminary. A few years later. Is ordained to the priesthood. In 1816. He is posted to Lavalla France. Which was in the mountains. Where he came from was on the plains. It was not to far away. Mountainous country. Very very difficult to get around. Lavalla itself was a reasonably comfortably village. The people were reasonably well off. But it was hamlets round about that suffered from utter poverty. This is where Champagnat spent a good deal of his effort. Working with these people who were really poor. They were financially poor. They were ignorant people. All Catholics. All came to mass. Quiet ignorant of the teachings of the faith. He spent a lot of time with children teaching catechistics. He was a wonderful teacher. He was a natural born teacher. In spite of the one episode of the one day of school. Or maybe because of it.

He spent a lot of time visiting families. Particularly the sick and the dying. 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”.

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06 February 2021

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Father Ray Chapman, Sister Gail Reneker and Brother Tony Butler

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