In 1832 the population of Belley was 4,286, today its population is about 6000. Belley marks the fifth stage in the development of the Society of Mary.

  1. Le Puy with the inspiration to Courveille
  2. Fourviere with the promise of 1816;
  3. Cerdon with the writing of the first draft of the Rule
  4. The Bugey where the first Marist teams went out on Marist mission and now
  5. Belley where Fr Colin took another direction in the shaping of the Society, where consolidating the Society begins.

It was in Belley that Colin began to see the value and the importance of education in the life and mission of the Society, and during his time he wrote the important “Advice to the Staff”.

In June 1825 Bishop Devie summoned the Colin brothers from Cerdon to live in Belley and on 28 June, a few days later, the Sisters left Cerdon.

It was in Belley then the seed of the Marist idea took roote for the Marist Fathers and Brothers, Sisters and also for the Marist Laity, or Third Order.

The Fathers, at this point still Diocesan priests but already spoken of as Marists, were called by Devie to form part of his plan for a diocesan missionary group. They were lodged in the minor seminary, or diocesan college and so impressed with them, in 1829 Bishop Devie appointed Jean-Claude Colin as superior of the college.

Then in 1832 the bishop gave the Marists “La Capuciniere”, a former Capuchin convent, which Fr Colin regarded as the “cradle” of the Society.

It was there that on 24th September 1836 the Marist Fathers made their profession and elected Jean-Claude Colin the first superior general.

The Sisters arrived in Belley at the same time as the Fathers. They bought from Bishop Devie a piece of enclosed but uncultivated ground they called “Bon Repos” and  from 1825 to 1891 Bon Repos became the Mother house of the Marist Sisters.

Peter Channel’s sister was a Marist Sister and we know he came to visit her here before he left for Oceania.

Belley is also of significance for the Third Order because at the beginning of Lent, 1833, ten ladies from the town attended a retreat at Bon Repos. Jeannie-Marie Chavoin also attended the retreat.

The College / Minor Seminary In 1823 this building was a minor seminary for the diocese, serving also as a day school for local boys. In 1825 Bishop Devie asked the two Colin brothers to form a Home Mission Band with two other priests, Frs Declas and Jalon. The missioners were all lodged in the college, on the top floor, and were barely tolerated by the staff of the seminary (OM 2,465).

Fr Guigard, the seminary rector, was a man of limited outlook and was antagonistic towards the team of missionaries, and this attitude communicated itself to the seminary.

Fr Declas, who was of a rough-cast mould, became a ready target for mockery and scorn. He was given to facial grimaces and arm-flinging as he warded off distractions in prayer. The students quickly picked up on the idiosyncrasies. They would stop him in the yard, and while one or two engaged him in questions, others would tie pieces of rag to the bottom of his cassock.

Jealousy and resentment towards the Marist was open. One typical jibe was;: “Here at Belley we have the second volume of the Jesuits bound in the hide of an ass.”. (OM 535:24).

At the end of his time at Belley, Fr Colin confessed: “We suffered quite a lot in this house… You could hardly call it warm, and we were not too well of up there… in the little corner we occupied… they passed my room on the way to the chapel, and when I was sleeping they woke me up. so I stopped sleeping… My brother suffered most because he was in charge of the Sisters. We were out on the mission during the Winter, but he was there all the time… Still, it was the most wonderful year of my life. We were poor, four poor priests – not famous men. They jeered at us… (OM 514:5; also 425:16)

From the minor seminary the missioners set ou to preach missions in the Bugey area: Lacoux, Chaley, Chatillon de Cornelle, Poncieux, St Jerome, Viux d’Izanave, Arnac, etc.

When Bishop Devie appointed Jean-Claude Colin as rector of the minor seminary in 1829, there was an atmosphere of great tension among the staff and pupils. Fr Colin displayed a mixture of great firmness and great understanding, but this cost him a great deal in health. Mayet records that it was during this year that Fr Colin’s hair turned white. (OM 2, 476).

At the same time he showed himself to be a remarkable educationalist.

It was in this atmosphere that the Founder developed his thinking on the education of the young. Soon the school’s tone improved considerably, and it became successful. Fr Colin chose Mary as model and superior for the college. The statue which looks down on the courtyard dates from that period. (1833.) (c.f. OM 2,707: FS 12.1).

In 1830 Fr Colin was elected central superior of the Marist groups of Lyons and Belley. While keeping the title of the superior of the college, he left the effective running of the school to his vice-superiors, among who was Peter Chanel.

In 1845 Fr Colin persuaded Bishop Devie to have the diocese resume responsibility for the college-minor seminary.

Two other statues are worth noting. In the chapel are the statues of two men who were spiritual directors of the school between 1832 and 1844: Peter Chanel and Julian Eymard. Two canonised saints in the space of twelve years is a impressive record.

The statue of Peter Chanel in the courtyard is also interesting. he is standing next to a boy, and with the palm of martyrdom already in his hand!

Did his martyrdom perhaps being at school?