A religious congregation of the Catholic Church
The Society of Mary is a worldwide congregation of baptized Christian men: priests and brothers, heeding the invitation of Jesus to leave all things and follow him. The members of the Society choose to live in small fraternal communities, and consecrate all that they are and have to the service of the Gospel wherever they may be sent in the name of the mission entrusted to them.
The lives of Marists are governed by their fundamental charter, the Constitutions – a rule of life approved by the Holy See as an authentic way of living the Christian life.
Marist religious are committed to the Society of Mary by their vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. The serious commitment of the vows helps Marists to live as disciples of Jesus, and give concrete witness to a new world initiated by the risen Jesus.
Marist, who strive to follow the example of Mary, have an added incentive to pray, for Mary was a woman of prayer. She pondered on life’s events in her heart and, as a member of the first Christian community joined with the apostles in prayer.
The founder, Fr Jean-Claude Colin, encouraged Marists to be “men of prayer”, learning in prayer to “taste God”.
Celebration of the Eucharist, praying the Prayer of the Church in common, daily mediation, regular spiritual reading, examination of conscience, an annual retreat, are all part of the spiritual rhythm of Marist life.
YEAR OF ST JOSEPH
As a follow up to the March Reflection from the Superior General and to respond to the call of Pope Francis to celebrate in 2021 a year of St Joseph a small booklet has been produced by the GA containing some common and Marist prayers. You can dowload this booklet here.
New Zealand confrere, Chris Skinner sm, has composed a hymn for the Year of Saint Joseph: Guardian Protector.
NOVENA FOR VOCATIONS
It is a tradition in the Society of Mary to pray a Novena for Vocations before the Feast of Saint Peter Chanel on 28 April.
Here you can find examples of prayers prepared by the provinces:
Community life is important for Marists. Their founder wanted them to start renewing the Church in and through their own communities. Their only model should be the community of first believers of Jerusalem.
The vocation is part of the mystery of the person, particularly in his relationship with God and his mission in life. We speak about a vocation when in a loving dialogue God invites us to occupy a special place in the building of God’s Kingdom.
There are a variety of ways to discover your vocation. In general, discerning a vocation involves prayer and reflection on how God has spoken to you through your experiences and the people in your life.
If you want to know more about (Marist) vocations, please make contact with a member of the Society of Mary or visit our vocations website www.maristyouthinternational.org
Identification with Mary
The key to understanding a Marist’s unique relationship with Mary is not found in any particular devotion or act of piety, even though these are important. The relationship between Mary and a Marist exists at a much deeper and more profound level. Marists identify with Mary. This reality is summed up for Marists by Jean Claude Colin in the following way: “So they must think as Mary, judge as Mary, feel and act as Mary in all things…”
Aspects of the Spirit of the Society of Mary
“Think as Mary, judge as Mary, feel and act as Mary in all things”.
In order to be effective evangelisers, Marists take Mary as their model in their way of living. They gradually think, judge, feel and act in a new way – the way of Mary. It is an approach to life.
“Hidden and Unknown in the world”
This phrase has to do with the manner in which Marists live their lives in order to bring the women and men of their time to Christ. Mary was present in the early Christian community at Jerusalem, but her presence was a quiet, unassuming one. Marists try to have the same presence. To pattern oneself on Mary in this way is not to hide away but to be engaged fully in life but in a simple, gentle, humble way.
“Instruments of Divine Mercy”
The love of God for us in Christ is at the very centre of the Christian message. When Marists are asked to become “instruments of divine mercy” they are being asked to portray this feature of God and they are to help build a Church which is perceived, not in terms of power, planning, control, administration and competitiveness, but rather in terms of community, compassion, simplicity, mercy and fellowship. For this reason, Marists are to embrace and be welcoming to all, to the exclusion of no one, and to have an open heart to all.
The Founder of the Marist Fathers, Fr. Jean-Claude Colin was born on August 7, 1790 in Saint-Bonnet-le-Troncy, a town in the Beaujolais region of France. He was reared in the atmosphere of the French revolution and during a time of persecution of the church. His father had been imprisoned for his faith, and sometimes had to go into hiding, taking great risks by sheltering priests. Young Jean Claude was only four when both his mother and father died. As he grew up the desire for the priesthood became strong in his mind, and later in the seminary along with some others he made plans for a religious congregation bearing the name of Mary.
On July 23, 1816, Jean-Claude, with eleven other young priests and seminarians, pledged to establish a Society of Mary, in the chapel of Our Lady of Fourvière, Lyons. In the same year he was ordained and joined a country parish in Cerdon as curate. He did not seem a likely candidate to found a worldwide religious congregation, as he was shy and retiring. Yet there he began his work which eventually led him to attracting hundreds of men to his side and sending some of them across the world to die even, for the ideals he set before them. This young curate was busy putting onto paper plans for the future Society of Mary.
In 1824 Father Jean-Claude Colin with his brother Pierre and two other priests were allowed by the bishop to form themselves into a little band and to preach missions in the diocese (Marist Fathers). At the same time a number of young women started with him the Sisters of the Congregation of Mary (Marist Sisters). The first beginnings of the third Order of Mary for lay people (Marist Laity) had also taken shape. Yet another group, under Saint Marcellin Champagnat, (Marist Brothers) was being formed for teaching. The original seed sown in the group of seminarians was growing into a tree with various branches.
In 1830 Fr. Colin was elected “superior” of the group of Marist aspirants as they endeavored to attain approval for their group from Rome.
In January 1836 the Pope entrusted the missions of Western Oceania in the South Pacific to this new group of Marist Fathers and the following April Rome approved the Society of Mary, Marist Fathers. on 24th September 1836 Fr. Colin was elected as the First Superior General and the first twenty Marist Fathers made their profession. On Christmas Eve 1836, the first group of Marist missionaries left for the missions in Western Oceania in the South Pacific.
In 1854 Fr. Colin resigned as Superior General of the Marist Fathers and retired to a community house in the country outside of Lyons, La Neylière, where an atmosphere of prayer allowed him to work on the Constitutions.
Jean-Claude Colin died on November 15, 1875.
Jean-Claude Colin’s cause of beatification has been officially (re)opened with the Vatican Congregation for the Saints in 2017, in close collaboration with the diocese of Lyons.
Timeline: 200 years of history
- Birth of Jean-Claude Colin, Saint-Bonnet-Le-Troncy, central France.
- The first inspiration to found the Society of Mary given to Jean-Claude Courveille at the Marian Sanctuary of Le Puy in Velay, France..
- On July 23, in the chapel of Our Lady at Fourviere, Lyons, a pledge is made by young priests and seminarians to found a society of Mary. Jean-Claude Colin, curate to his brother in the parish of Cerdon, begins to write a rule for a Society of Mary.
- The first community of three priests is formed to preach missions in the Bugey district. This period also sees the beginnings of the Marist Sisters, Marist Brothers and lay groups.
- Fr Colin is elected the superior of the group of priests and seeks Rome’s approval for his foundation.
- In January, Pope Gregory XVI entrusts the missions of Western Oceania in the South Pacific to the new group of Marist Fathers. Pope Gregory XVI approves the Society of Mary in April. On September 24, the first twenty Marists, including Marcellin Champagnat, elect Jean-Claude Colin as the first Superior General and make their religious profession. On Christmas Eve, the first group of Marist missionaries, including Bishop Pompallier and Peter Chanel, leave for the missions in the South Pacific.
- Death of Marcellin Champagnat.
- Peter Chanel is martyred on April 28.
- Fr Colin resigns as Superior General, succeeded by Fr Julien Favre.
- First foundation in Ireland
- First foundation in USA.
- The definitive rule for the Society, written by the Founder, is approved.
- Death of Jean-Claude Colin, November 15.
- Anti-religious decrees in France lead to formation houses being set up in other parts of Europe.
- First foundation in Rome.
- Foundation in Differt.
- Beatification of Peter Chanel. Establishment of the Provinces of England & Ireland, New Zealand and America.
- Establishment of the Province of Oceania.
- First foundation in Germany.
- Expulsion of religious from France leads to the second dispersal of communities of French Marists, including the General Administration.
- Persecution of the Church in Mexico until 1914; Marists are expelled.
- Approval of the Missionary Sisters of the Society of Mary as a religious congregation.
- -1918. The first World War
- Erection of the Province of Germany
- Erection of the Provinces of Washington and Boston.
- The translation of the General Administration to Monteverde, Rome.
- First foundation in Canada.
1931. Approval of the Missionary Sisters of the Society of Mary as a religious congregationda.
- -1939. Spanish Civil War, 10 Marist fathers killed in odium fidei, as well as many other priests and religious including many Marist Brothers.
- Erection of the Province of Australia.
- -1945. The Second World War – Many Marists are killed or made prisoners of war.
- Erection of the Province of Netherlands.
- First foundation in Africa.
- First foundation in Japan.
- First foundation in Peru.
- England and Ireland become separate Provinces.
- The canonization of St Peter Chanel.
- Erection of the Province of Spain.
- Erection of the Province of Mexico.
- Erection of the Province of San Francisco.
- 1965. The Second Vatican Council takes place bringing renewal and change to the universal Church.
- In October 1965, the Second Vatican Council makes a call for renewal of religious life. Erection of the Province of Canada.
- General Chapter of Renewal, Rome.
- Formation of the one Province of France.
- Marist foundation in Pakistan (until 1983).
- Erection of the mission districts of Brazil and Philippines.
- General Chapter completes the new Constitutions of the Society of Mary.
- Approval of the new Constitutions by the Holy See.
- Erection of the mission district of Africa.
- Erection of the mission district of Peru-Venezuela.
The mission in Oceania
Fr Jean-Claude Colin, the founder of the Society of Mary, was strongly convinced that the Society was called “to do great things” and to work “in any corner of the world”.
When, in 1836, the Society of Mary received from the Holy See the responsibility of evangelising Oceania, Jean-Claude Colin, freshly elected Superior General, started sending missionaries. Between 1836 and 1849, 15 groups left France to go to the missions in Oceania: New Caledonia, Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea, Fiji Islands, Wallis and Futuna, Tonga, Vanuatu, Samoa and New Zealand.
The mission was undertaken with great spiritual conviction and human courage. Many of the Marist Missionaries recorded what they observed, they kept their logbooks, recording how they were received, detailing the difficulties they met and the works they undertook. Their vast collection of letters and logbooks are conserved in the Society’s General Archives in Rome. They have been and still are an important source for historians and anthropologists studying the cultures of the Islands in the South Pacific.
In 2009 the Society published “Lettres reçues d’Océanie”: a critical edition with annotations – 10 volumes – containing 1365 letters written by the Marist missionaries to the General Administration of the Society of Mary between 1836 and 1854.
Marist Places of Origin
“The Marist Places of Origin” refer to places in France which are significant in the story of the founding of the Society of Mary by a group of French Marists and its founder, Fr Jean-Claude Colin.
St Peter Chanel
Peter Chanel was born in Cuet, France in 1803 and ordained a priest in 1827. During his first appointment in the parish of Crozet, he became quickly known for his sincerity and holiness. In 1831, Peter Chanel joined the Society of Mary, which at that stage, was still awaiting ecclesiastical approval from Rome. As a Marist Father he was sent to the College of Belley, first as a spiritual director and then as rector.
After official approval of the congregation was given, and the Marists took vows, a small group was sent to the South Pacific to undertake the task of spreading the gospel to the peoples of that part of the world. Peter volunteered to join the pioneering band. Eventually he arrived on the tiny island of Futuna.
Peter worked with outstanding generosity and commitment among the inhabitants of Futuna for four years. Because of his love of Jesus and Mary, and his dedication to the people of Futuna, he endured extreme difficulties and hardship. The people were so impressed by Peter’s selflessness and love that they gave him the name, “the man with the good heart.”
Unfortunately, fear and jealousy led the king to take steps to get rid of the missionaries. At first, he tried to starve them. The attempts by Fr Peter and Br Marie Nizier to grow vegetables were frustrated by raids on their garden. Finally, the king gave orders for the missionaries to be murdered.
Early in the morning of 28th April, 1841, Peter was awakened from sleep and clubbed to death. The blows split his skull. Peter became the first martyr of the fledgling Society of Mary and the one of the first martyrs of the Pacific region. He was only 38 years old when he died.
Only after his death was the true value of Peter’s work seen. Within the next two years, the Society of Mary was again taking care of the people of Futuna and in a short time the whole island, including those who murdered Peter Chanel, became Christian.
On 12th June, 1954 Pope Pius XII declared St Peter Chanel, S.M. to be a saint of the Church of God. His feast day is celebrated on 28th April.
St Marcellin Champagnat
Marcellin Champagnat was born at Marlhes, in France in 1789 during the turbulent time of the French Revolution. His father held an important position in local politics and he introduced Marcellin to many practical skills.
In 1803 he was asked if he would like to be a priest. He gave the matter deep consideration and committed himself to the task with outstanding dedication. Despite his own lack of sound, formal education, he worked hard at his studies. He always valued the role of education and it is not surprising that providing a good education for children and the young became a very important passion during his life.
In the seminary of St Irenaeus in Lyon, France, Marcellin met many who were inspired with an idea of founding a religious congregation dedicated to the work of Mary. During the academic year of 1815 – 1816 the “Marist aspirants” discussed their hopes and made their plans for the founding of the Society of Mary. They envisaged a congregation of three branches: priests, sisters, and a third order of lay people, all of whom would undertake the ‘work of Mary.’ At the suggestion and insistence of Marcellin (“We need brothers!”), a branch of teaching brothers was added.
Following his ordination in 1816, Marcellin was appointed to the parish of La Valla, where he began immediately the work of founding the “Little Brothers of Mary”. With outstanding commitment and great personal charisma, he gathered a community around him and attended to the urgent need of providing Christian education to many of the young people of his region. Soon many others were attracted to his work and schools flourished at first throughout France and later, to places all over the world.
Marcellin also shared responsibility for the foundation of the priests’ branch of the congregation. He worked tirelessly in the area of Lyon to promote the beginnings of the Society of Mary and, following formal ecclesiastical approval in 1836, took his vows along with the first Marists.
Marcellin died on 6th June, 1840 at the age of 51 years. On the 18th April, 1999 Pope John Paul II proclaimed Marcellin Joseph Benoit Champagnat, S.M. a saint of the Church of God. His feast day is celebrated on the 6th June.
The cause of the Spanish Martyrs
In 2010 the Society of Mary introduced the cause for beatification of nine Spanish Marist confreres who were martyred during the 1936 religious’ persecution in Spain. The diocese of Alcalà de Henares has decided to present one group of 43 diocesan priests, religious and lay people, killed and buried in the common grave in Paracuellos del Jarama, including some of our confreres: Frs Antonio de Santiago, Fausto Muñoz, Romualdo Sáenz, Timoteo Uriondo and Zacarías Feijóo.
The cause of Antoine Marie Garin
In 2016 in New Zealand the cause of beatification of Marist Father Antoine Marie Garin was launched.
After making his profession as a member of the Society of Mary, in 1840 Garin was assigned to New Zealand, where he arrived with 10 other members of the society on the Mary Grey at the Bay of Islands on 14 June 1841. He was provincial of the Marists in New Zealand from 1841 to 1843 and, despite Pompallier’s growing antagonism to the society, he was nominated several times to Rome as a possible bishop.
In 1850 he was assigned to Nelson where he remained for the next 40 years. He had the pastoral care of 200 – 300 Catholics scattered over the huge area of Nelson, Buller, Marlborough and the northern part of the region that became Westland. He journeyed constantly to visit his people, on both foot and horseback, often inflicting great privations on his not over robust constitution. He was responsible for education early in Nelson’s history and opened orphanages for both boys and girls as early as 1872. In 1876 he gave lectures to the citizens of Nelson for a fee to raise funds to purchase land for a boy’s orphanage. The sum collected was thirteen pounds.
Garin died on the 14th April 1889.
When Garin was exhumed 18 months after his death, to be reinterred in the crypt below this chapel his body was found to be incorrupt despite the coffin found filled with water which was the quickest way for a body to decompose.
The original dream for the Marist Family consisted of one religious congregation and a lay branch. However, that dream was unrealizable. Today, when people speak of the “Marist Family”, they are referring to four separate religious congregations and the lay branch:
– Marist Fathers and Brothers (SM),
– Marist Brothers (FMS),
– Marist Sisters (SM),
– Missionary Sisters of the Society of Mary (SMSM)
– Marist Laity.
The Marist Brothers began in 1817 as a response to the spiritual, educational and physical needs of the young and the poor. The founder, a young French Marist Father, Marcellin Champagnat, catered for these needs by training young men to be teachers.
“We do our best to remain faithful to the Spirit of the Risen Saviour, who gives us, as he did the first Christians, the grace to live “one in mind and heart”. (Marist Brothers Constitutions)
The Marist Sisters branch of the Marist project was due to the insight and zeal of Jeanne Marie Chavoin, from the town of Coutouvre in the South-East of France. With two others she began the first community of Marist Sisters in September 1823.
“Our congregation is characterised by the desire to make the mystery of Mary in the church the daily inspiration of its life and action, and not by any special work nor by the promotion of any particular form of Marian devotion….” (Marist Sisters Constitutions)
Marist Missionary Sisters
The Missionary Sisters of the Society of Mary were founded by Francoise Perroton a French lay woman who traveled to the island of Wallis in Oceania not long after the first Marist Fathers arrived there. She lived as a member of the Third Order of Mary and ministered especially to the women and children of the island. In 1931 the Missionary Sisters of the Society of Mary were approved as a religious congregation.
“We wish to respond to the calls of today with the daring and zeal of the pioneers. We want to keep alive this daring – simple, joyful and prudent – based solely on the love and power of God in order to announce the Gospel in its force and integrity, learning to adapt ourselves to different cultures and conditions of life. “ (Missionary Sisters Constitutions)
The original vision for the Marist project saw ‘the whole world Marist’, through the lives of countless lay people taking on the spirit of Mary and sending ripples of Gospel vigour throughout the secular world. Lay involvement in the Marist Family first took the shape of a Third Order of the Society of Mary under Saint Julian Eymard. It has since developed into a wide variety of Marist Lay groups, formal and informal in different parts of the world.
The Superior General of the Society of Mary is Fr John Larsen sm. He was elected during the General Chapter in 2017 for a mandate of 8 years.
Fr John Larsen, a member of the Marist District of Asia, was born in 1955 and entered the Society of Mary in New Zealand in 1976.
He taught for five years at St. Patrick’s College, Silverstream, before volunteering for the wider mission of the Society.
In 1985 he began his ministry in the Philippines and later worked in Myanmar and Thailand. He has been involved in parish ministry, prison chaplaincy, retreat work, formal and non-formal education programs, health care for HIV/Aids, migrant ministry and in leadership and formation.
He has many years of experience as novice master and as formator in the Philippines. Before his election as Superior General he was the Superior of the Marist International Theologate in Rome.
The members of the General Council are:
- Fr John Harhager (US)
- Fr Bernard McKenna (Australia)
- Fr Christian Abongbung (Cameroun)
- Fr Juan Carlos Piña (Mexico)
The Secretary General is Fr Pat Devlin (New Zealand)
Frs Ben McKenna, Juan Carlos Piña, Albert Kabala, John Larsen, Pat Devlin and John Harhager
The Society of Mary is present in all continents.
Local units are:
- New Zealand
- South America
- United States of America
The Society of Mary, now and always, is missioned to bring the Good News and signs of God’s Kingdom into a broken world. We are especially tasked to serve the young, the vulnerable and those neglected by society. In light of this calling, we are committed to promote a safeguarding culture in our houses, ministries; wherever we work and live.
Each unit of the Society has appropriate protocols to promote a safeguarding environment, methodology for responding to complaints of abuse, and a system of ongoing education in safeguarding for its membership. The units are expected to review and revise these protocols on a regular basis. And most importantly the protocols are to be adhered to faithfully and without exception.
Safeguarding issues in the Society are handled by the responsible authorities in the local Unit, namely the Province or District.