There has been a shrine at Fourviere dedicated to Our Lady since 1170.
The interior of the chapel, restored in 1751, has not greatly altered since then.
The Basilica on the hill was consecrated n 1896, in fulfilment of a vow by the city of Lyon, and in thanksgiving to Our Lady for protecting the city from the ravages of the Franco-Prussian War of 1870, and Fourviere has always been a popular place of pilgrimage, as can be seen from the plaques placed round the wall of the chapel.
On 23rd July 1816 the twelve Marist aspirants, priests and seminarians, climbed the hill to the shrine of Our Lady of Fourviere. They placed their promise to found the Society of Mary under the corporal on the altar while Jean-Claude Courveille celebrated Mass.
After communion which they all received from Fr Courveille’s hand, they read out their declaration promising to devote themselves and all that they ad to the foundation of the Society of Mary.
On the left of the chancel is a plaque commemorating this event, and on the opposite side of the plaque commemorating the Marist Brothers (FMS).
In the years which followed, many Marists came to the shrine and on 29th August 1833 a Mass was celebrated there before the departure of Fathers Colin, Chanel and Bourdin for Rome.
In October 1836 before the departure of the first missionaries for Oceania, Bishop Pompallier had a novena of Masses offered here, and on the final day Fr Peter Chanel SM, hung a heart containing the names of the missionaries around the neck of the Infant Jesus, giving birth to the legend that Mary had given her mantle to the future martyr.
Among the other votive offerings are some ‘tableaux’ recalling events in the history of the Oceania missions.
Since these early times many Marist celebrations have taken place either in this chapel or in the basilica but the first time that the four branches of the Marist Family celebrated together at Fourviere was on the 150th anniversary of the Fourviere pledge, 24 July 1966.
When Jean Claude Colin heard Courveille talking of his plan, he instantly lept to the bait. Ever since his childhood he had been looking for some way of being alone with God. The seminary drew him and satisfied him, but only partly. Seminary life led to priesthood (diocesan) and that would inevitably bring him back into the world again in busy parish life, thus limiting his ability to be alone with God. But now in Courveille’s plan he could see a solution – a way of being quiet and hidden even in the midst of great activity. “as soon as M. Courveille made known the project of the Society of Mary, I told myself, ‘That suits you!’ and I joined them.” – Gaston Lessard SM
The moment at Fourviere on 23rd July 1816 flows directly from this conviction that the Marist project was for Colin and from now on, all his energies were to be spent in making this a reality; it was this decision that unified his life from now on.
But what gave Fr Colin the power to carry this decision through was not simply the fact that it corresponded to his personal wishes. It ran much deeper than that.
It flowed from his belief that Mary had said she wanted it, and that she wanted him among others to make it a reality.
When Coureville spoke about the Marist project at the major seminary, he always presented it as something that Mary had told him she wanted. And Colin tells us very clearly that Mary’s words “I supported the Church at its birth, and I will do so again at the end of time” (which are probably a summary of the Le Puy experience) inspired and guided the birth of the Society. (FS 152)
The Fourviere moment sealed his decision that he would work at the project. The Fourviere pledge became a powerful symbol for Colin, because it represented for him two realities:
- that the Marist project was where his deep desires lay; and
- that it would become real only if he made it real.
The Marist project was not something “outside” of him, which he joined. It was an interior driving force which inspired him.
For Marists today, the same is true. Fourviere represents not only a commitment to do the work of Mary, but also the commitment to make “the work of Mary” (i.e. the Society of Mary in all its branches) exist.
All for the greater glory of God and the greater honour of Mary, Mother of the Lord Jesus.
We the undersigned, striving to work together for the greater glory of God and the honour of Mary, Mother of the Lord Jesus, assert and declare our sincere intention and firm will of consecrating ourselves at the first opportunity to founding the pious congregation of Mary-ists. That is why by the present act and our signatures, in so far as we can, we irrevocably dedicate ourselves and all our goods to the Society of the blessed Virgin.
We do this not childishly or lightly or for some human motive or the hope of material benefit, but seriously, maturely, having taken advice, having weighed everything before God, solely for the greater Glory of God and the honour of Mary, Mother of the Lord Jesus.
We pledge ourselves to accept all sufferings, trials, inconveniences, and if needs be, torture, because we can do all things in Christ Jesus who strengthens us and to whom we hereby promise fidelity in the bosom of our holy mother the Roman Catholic Church, cleaving with all our strength to its supreme head the Roman Pontiff and to our most reverend bishop, the ordinary, that we may be good ministers of Jesus Christ, nourished by the words of faith and by the wholesome teaching which by his grace we have received.
We trust that under the reign of our most Christian kind, the friend of peace and religion, this institute will shortly come to light and we solemnly promise that we shall spend ourselves and all we have in saving souls in every way under the very august name of the Virgin Mary and with her help. And may the holy and immaculate conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary be praised. Amen.