La Capuniniere

The Capuniniere was considered by Fr Colin to be the “cradle of the Society”.

The title was justified on several scores.

  • the house was the first house owned by the Marists, having been given to them by Bishop Devie in 1832.
  • from 1834 it became a scholasticate as well as being a pensoinate.
  • the most significant fact about La Capuniniere is that it was the place where the first superior general was elected to office and
  • the first Marists made their first profession of Vows.

Preparation for the election of the first Superior General
The Papal Brief Omnium Gentius gave the Marists the right to elect a superior general and to take vows. This was not as simple as it may seem.

First of all, where should this actually take place? The prospective Marists were now in two dioceses (Lyons and Belley), both of whom wished to retain the priests.

After serious consideration and prayer, Jean-Claude Colin made a compromise; the gathering would be in Belley, but the Archbishop of Lyons would be assured that the Mother House would be in Lyons. But more difficult still was the problem of deciding who would be invited to the gathering.

The Brief gives authorisation to the “priests of the Society” to elect a superior. But who in fact were these “priests of the Society”?

Between 1816 and 1836 approximately fifty priests joined themselves in one way or another to the Marist project. However, for example, how many of the signatories of the Fourviere Pledge of 1816 had lost contact with the idea is not known.

One would expect that a priest like M. Deschapms of Belley, who had signed all the Marist consecrations up till 1836, would have bee included, but in the end he was not one of those who made the first profession vows. No doubt he was asked but he must have declined.

At the ceremony, apart from Mgr Pompallier, there were 20 priests from Belley and Lyon. Four of them were original signatories of thes Fourviere Pledge:

  • Jean-Claude Colin, Marcellin Champagnat, Etienne Declas, and Etienne Terraillon.
  • Pierre Colin joined the project in 1817 before the division of the dioceses.
  • And then there were the following: From Belley: Jallon (1825), Humbers (1826), Convers (1830), Maitrepierre (1831), Chanel (1831), Bret (1831), Antoine Seon (1832), and Baty (1834). From Lyons: Etienne Seon (1827), Bourdin (1828), Pompallier (1829), Chanut (1831), Forest (1832), Chavas (1833), and Bataillon (1836).

Of the twenty priests who took part in the election of the superior general and who were the first to make profession in the Society, eleven belonged to the diocese of Belley, and nine to the archdiocese of Lyons. Of these nine, five had been formed in Marist life by Marcellin Champagnat.

The Retreat
The meetings of the first four days of retreat took place in the physics room of the Minor Seminary. Four talks were given each day by Mgr Pompallier.

Two other sessions were given over to an explanation of the rule by Fr Colin who was already aware of the currents running among the group.

When the priests arrived, they discovered a notice waiting for them printed by Colin,

  • Speak neither of Lyons nor of Belley
  • Do not speak of the elections during the retreat, except in the confessional.
  • If anyone knows that someone has said or done some thing before or during the assembly with the intention of attracting votes for himself, that person has the obligation to make that fact known to the one acting as superior. If the fact is proven, the one responsible will be excluded permanently from being superior.

The Election
Fr Maitrepierre describes the election (OM 752):

Finally, the 24th September arrived: a day long waited and never to be forgotten. It was Saturday, and the feast of Our Lady of Mercy. At 5:30am we left the Minor Seminary for the house of the Marists. After prayer, reciting the Little Hours, assisting at Mass celebrated by the Bishop of Maronia, reciting several vocal prayers and a moment of recollection before the Blessed Sacrament, we went to one of the rooms of the house. There, we remained in silent prayer for a good quarter of an hour, and prayed to the Lord to let us know His designs for the infant Society confided to the care of Our Lady. The votes were unanimous: all were for Fr Colin.

Maitrepierre concludes:

The Society of Mary was constituted; it was no longer of the diocese of Lyon nor of the diocese of Belley; it was Catholic. The members departed with a brotherly embrace and the blessing of their superior, filled with the burning and sincere desire to work for the glory of God, the honour of Mary, and the sanctification of souls under the orders an counsels of obedience. (OM 752:52)

La Capuniniere functioned as a novitiate until the opening of the Sainte Foy house in 1860. Between 1860 and 1880 La Capuniniere was used only as a scholasticate and was never used as a General House.

Fr Colin moved from La Capuniniere 1839, and took up residence at Puylata in Lyon.

Following the expulsion of the Marists from France, La Capuniniere was used as a boarding school by a group of sisters. It became a scholasticate again between 1897 and 1902.

In 1924 the fathers of the two French Provinces used La Capuniniere as a place for their retreat. It was sold to the town of Belley in 1958, and is now a part of the town secondary school.

The inside of the building has been completely changed. Only the outside walls remain as they were, as well as the Capuchin church, where the Marists took their vows, the church is still today called “la Sainte Chapelle”.