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.