Chapter 3

   - Missionary, Marian and Religious

The spiritual letters of the SMSM Pioneering Women
'We, Missionary Sisters of the Society of Mary. Are heirs of the pioneer sisters ..
1846-1885
Prepared by Sister Lindsay James SMSM


Chapter Three – The Spirituality of Nineteenth Century France
The spirituality of these groups was based on what Justin Taylor would describe as a sub-school of Jesuit mystical spirituality that developed from the teachings of three Jesuits - Louis Lallemant (1578-1635), Jean-Joseph Surin (1600-1665), and Francois Guillord (1615-1684). The three mystical elements that they advanced were the spirituality of all the baptized with its integral missionary dimension, the concept of Jesus as model, and the spirituality of - a term which will be discussed below. These three elements may be discovered in the letters as a universal/missionary, Marian spirituality of 'assimilation'.

A Universal, Missionary Spirituality.
The first of these three mystical elements was Lallemant's contribution. He taught that the mystical way was not to be regarded as the prerogative of a few chosen souls, usually to be found in monastic religious life. Rather, it was to be expected as the fruition of the gift of sanctifying grace received at Baptism as its effects increasingly permeated both the spiritual and natural dimensions of the person that had to develop in harmony so that the person would become more and more a perfectly tuned instrument in the hands of God for use in the apostolate. Lallemant spoke of the missionary dimension of this mystical way: 'The culminating point of the highest perfection is zeal for souls' - in keeping with Jesuit apostolic/missionary spirituality.' This understanding of mysticism for all the baptized made it possible for the Pioneers to go to the missions of Oceania as lay women at a time when religious sisters were unable to venture forth.

A Marian Spirituality.
The second element of the spirituality that was characteristic of the city of Lyon was its special reverence for Mary, Mother of God. The Christian faith tradition of Lyon reached hack to St Pothian in Lyon who was the disciple of St Polycarp of Smyrna, the disciple of John the Apostle. The Church at Fouviere was traditionally accepted as being 'the site of an old Lyonese veneration of the Mother of Christ and the people of Lyon see their city as the original source of devotion to Mary beyond the Alps' .

It is not surprising, therefore, to find that elements of the mystical Jesuit spirituality appear to have been 'taken over' in Lyon and given a Marian form. A question that emerges at this point is whether it can be said that the Marian spirituality expressed in the letters of the Pioneers arises from this French Marian spirituality, or was it inherited from the Marist inspiration and influence of the Fathers as has been the traditional understanding of the origin of the spirituality of the Pioneers?

For example, although the Marist historian, Fr. Jean Coste, wrote 'Personally I see that the Marist vocation is summarized whole and entire along the lines of 'unknown and hidden', it must not be presumed that this phrase as it stands is totally Marist in origin'.' Taylor traces the three words - 'inconnu et cache' - to the Jesuit writer, Jean Surin, as it appears in his Catechisme Spiritual. However, the concept reaches back even to The Imitation of Christ by Thomas d Kempis (1380-1471) where it is expressed as '.. you must set out to be unknown and to count for nothing' .

He then suggests that the second part of the 'Marist' phrase, 'dans le monde', may well have originated in the writings of B6rulle (1575-1629) as Colin's 'dans le monde' is closer to Berulle's 'en ce monde' in meaning than to Surin's 'au monde' . However, while Surin wrote in the singular, referring to God/Jesus as being 'unknown and hidden from the world', 'inconnu et cache au monde', Colin changed the expression to the plural and applied it to the Marist Fathers who were to be like Mary, 'unknown and hidden in the world'.

The implication of this appears to be that the expression 'unknown and hidden in the world' - 'inconnu et cache dans le monde', was already present in the spiritual tradition France - and Lyon, and was re-formed by Fr Colin to express a spiritual way for his priests that was diametrically opposed to the much more public Jesuit form. This 'hidden and unknown' approach also resonated with the element of secrecy that was a feature of the Congr6gations in Lyon. It also fitted the situation in the islands of Oceania where the Catholic missions were often situated in the middle of political and religious instability.

Furthermore it must be acknowledged that it is a fact of history that at a certain time, people may experience the same creative inspiration. In Lyon, for example, in the post-revolution period under consideration, a number of people are known to have formulated similar plans concerning the Church in a new age. One of these was the Vicar-General of Lyon, Cardinal Bouchard who published a leaflet 'Pens& Pieuse ' in the autumn of 1814. This spoke of the infant Church, of missionaries organized like the Jesuits to respond to the Church's needs in this new apocalyptic age under the protection of the Mother of God, and of diocesan priests formed to meet the Church's needs with missions, retreats, and seminary formation.'

Fr Jean-Claude Courveille expressed a similar inspiration which he claimed had been given to him as a revelation from the Blessed Virgin at the Cathedral of Our Lady of Puy on 15 August 1812.' Fr Jean-Claude Colin SM, who in his later years 'claimed that he had the idea of a Marist project before ever Corveille spoke to him', nevertheless incorporated this basic inspiration of Courveille into his own reflections and built on this foundation his understanding of the Marist spirituality and Society.' This vision of a new age in the Church also belonged to the group of Marist priests who signed the Fourviere Pledge on July 23, 1816, the day after their ordination, as a solemn expression of their commitment to work for the establishment of the Society of Mary and the implementation of its aims.' Quite apart from these priests in Lyon, a Fr Chaminade in Bordeaux, another of these centres of resistance in post-Revolution France, had conceived a very similar concept of a Society of Mary whose members would be called Marianists.'

If, then, this spiritual approach surfaced among so many men, is it not possible that women, especially women from a faith centre such as Lyon and similar areas, could also be attuned to it?' Certainly such a concept as 'hidden and unknown' was a daily reality in the lives of these pioneer women in Oceania and as such was integral to their spirituality. Separated from France by half a world, Sr Marie de la Croix wrote about working for God 'far from the world and its applause, ignored, known only to God' She also warned those women who thought of volunteering for the missions of Oceania to 'Come blindly, don't dream of martyrdom, by the blow of the axe, that is not for us, that is too glorious .. Our sufferings like [Mary] are hidden'.'

Such an approach to mission appears contrary to that of the Marist Fathers who, coming from the anti-clerical persecution of the revolution that had continued into post-revolution France, understood that their priesthood could well lead to their death in France. They appear to have carried a similar mindset with them to Oceania, to the extent of ignoring advice about safety and the local political situations of the islands where they determined to set up missions.'

A Spirituality of 'Assimilation'.
The revival of Catholicism in Lyon was very much a lay movement. Therefore the spirituality of the laity had to be one suited to their state and not the monastic life. Again the Jesuit mystical tradition provided it. Francois Guillore, writing to his fellow Jesuits, stated 'that it can be said of us that we behave as Jesus, that we speak as Jesus, that we see and that we act as Jesus; and so that our life is the same as the life of this admirable saviour'.' Taylor suggests that Fr Colin transposed the name of Mary for Jesus in his Constitutions of 1842 when he wrote that the Marist Fathers were to 'think as Mary, judge as Mary, feel and act as Mary'.'

What is important here is that both Guillore and Cohn are expressing a spirituality of 'assimilation', not Imitation'.' The importance of this distinction is that 'imitation' produces an ascetical spirituality more suited to a monastic/enclosed life in which a person, under the influence of grace and through his/her own efforts at ascetical practices, tries to attain holiness.' 'Assimilation', on the other hand, is a mystical spirituality in the sense that the sanctifying grace of baptism comes to fruition and fullness as the person's involvement with God and with other people deepens. This is essentially an apostolic spirituality.'described herself as '.. an enormous milestone in the middle of the road''. She wrote to Fr Eymard 'You tell me that {the Tertiaries].. try to imitate the hidden life of the blessed Virgin.... my life is not really a hidden one. I realize that with the stir I have caused I can never hope to come near to a model as perfect as Mary.''

There is of course a difference between apostolic work and apostolic spirituality. All the baptized are called to the work of the apostolate in some way, while only some (such as the Pioneers) will be called to serve God through 'involvement with the world and the transformation of history'.' For '[wilier, a particular spirituality adopts the vocabulary of involvement and transformation in its expressions of the authentic and unauthentic in its statement of wisdom, then it exemplifies the essential marks of the apostolic model'.' It says 'yes' to both the world and to history as did the Pioneers.

Another point of interest is that 'assimilation' is the natural spirituality arising from the concept of Mary as Mother - a common expression in the letters of the Pioneers. A true mother does not want to clone herself in her child. Rather she would wish for her childto become fully the person she/he is meant by God to be. Her love, affirmation, and compassion all influence and support the child, but the child is not the mother and efforts to imitate her may well lead to a distortion of itself and of the mother. If one's spirituality is Marian, then 'assimilation', not 'imitation' is required - particularly in the apostolic setting of nineteenth century Oceania.

The answer to the first question raised above as to where the spirituality of the Pioneers originated and the nature of it may now be answered. It would appear that the three spiritual characteristics outlined above - the mystical spirituality of all the baptized with its integral missionary dimension, the Jesuit/Marian element, the spirituality of 'assimilation', together with the role of the laity and of women in Church leadership mentioned in Chapter Two, together formed the religious matrix out of which came the inspiration and the spirituality of the eleven Pioneers. The following section will examine how this French-Lyonnais spirituality developed in Oceania and determined the form of religious life for those women - both European and Oceanian, who would come after them to continue their work.

Chapter two – The formative Years in Ninetieth Century France

Chapter 4 – Religious Life for Oceania



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Date
02 December 2022

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Sister Lindsay James SMSM

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Chapter two – The formative Years in Ninetieth Century France

Chapter 4 – Religious Life for Oceania

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