Journey five

Colin made his final visit to Rome in 1854 following the General Chapter in which his resignation as General was accepted.

In the seven years since his previous visit to Rome, many significant events had taken place which affected the life of the Society of Mary, chief among them was the Revolution of 1848.

Between 1815-1848 Catholicism seemed to undergo a revival in France.

  • Restoration missions had been preached in many parts of France with great success.
  • Crosses, still evident today, were erected to commemorate the missions.
  • Men of outstanding quality became household  names for their defence of the faith: Lacordaire, Montalembert, Dupanloup, Ravignon and Louis Veuillot argued and defended the Catholic cause with vigour.
  • Catholic institutions were supported by State funds.

The Society of Mary was not the only religious congregation to flourish. France was remarkable for the number of associations, especially missionary congregations, that sprang up in those years and the city of Lyons seemed notable for the congregations that found their origin there: and remarkably, at the shrine of Fourviere….

In 1848, however, the climate was changing. It came to a head in Paris in February 1848 in a revolutionary movement which was deceptive: both Catholic and anti-clerical parties saw the revolution as a triumph of both the dogmas of the Church and the principles of the Revolution of 1789.

However, soon rumblings of discontent were felt, particularly in Lyons among workers who felt that convents and monasteries who were weaving their own cloth were keeping prices down, and thus disadvantaging other workers and a new wave of anticlericalism rose and France found itself moving inevitably into a state of religious indifference.

These events changed the climate of thought in the Church, affecting Marists and their Founder.

In earlier years, the driving force in the Church in France was towards missionary expansion. This was also the era of the lay missionary movements and, in particular, the movement started by Pauline Jaricot: the Propagation of the Faith however in the post-revolution period saw the mood in the Church become more introverted.

These were the years of the “apostleship of prayer” with its emphasis on the spirituality of reparation, and renewed focus on devotion to the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist.

Not surprisingly, it was during this period that

  • Peter-Julian Eymard left the Society to found the Society of the Blessed Sacrament;
  • when Colin’s attention turned more towards the mystery of Mary at Nazareth
  • when he purchased the house at La Neyliere as a centre of Eucharistic worship.

This mood is well reflected in Colin’s words: “Nowadays faith and prayer alone can convince people’s minds…” (FS 161:5. See also FS 159-190).

Colin’s interest in the foreign missions also begins to be threatened by various factors, among which is the climate of the times.

The years since his last visit to Rome had also seen many significant events internal to the Society’s life.

  • Brother Blaise had been killed in New Caledonia in 1847
  • three missionaries had been killed in San Cristoval
  • Colin’s difficulties had continued with the Administration of Oceania
  • Julian Eymard had left the Society in 1853
  • Colin and Chavoin had experienced a period of difficulty and painful misunderstanding
  • Chavoin resigned in 1853
  • Colin himself had resigned the following year.

More in detail, we can examine briefly three main areas of the Society’s life which Colin carried with him on this voyage to Rome:

  • the Oceania Mission:
  • the Branches of the Society: and
  • the Eucharistic Congregation of the Society.

The Oceania Mission – the Missionaries and Pompallier (New Zealand)
Relationships between Pompallier and Colin had reached a stalemate, and the effects on the mission were unfortunate.  On 28th May 1848, two dioceses were created in New Zealand.

Pompallier was appointed Apostolic Administrator of the Diocese of Auckland, for which he would obtain his own missionaries. Philippe Viard was nominated to the Diocese of Port Nicholson and would be assisted by Marist missionaries.

The Marists left Auckland.

The Oceania Mission – Bataillon (Central Oceania)
The faith in Tonga took root more firmly from 1852.

Bataillon was intent on maintaining a mission in Fiji on account of its strategic importance for the Oceania mission which brought him into conflict with Colin who wished him to abandon a mission that had proven thankless and dangerous.

Bataillon insisted that Colin send more missionaries.

In 1849 Colin sent four men as reinforcements to those already there. Bataillon spread the new missionaries out to gain a foothold elsewhere, however from then on, Colin sent him no more missionaries.

The Oceania Mission – Douarre (New Caledonia)
While Douarre was in Europe he managed to have New Caledonia created as an independent Vicariate in 1847, however while he was still in Europe, Br Blaise was killed and the other missionaries left the Island, thus ending the first attempt to establish a mission on New Caledonia.

In 1848 a second attempt was made, but by the end of the following year it was obvious that the mission would not succeed. The missionaries retired, and about 100 catechumens were sent to Futuna.

Towards the end of 1850 a third attempt was made. The catechumens returned from Futuna and formed the nucleus of Christian communities, but two years later, Bishop Douarre died, exhausted by fever.

Douarre was 28 when he was consecrated bishop, and had died by the age of 32.

The Oceania Mission – Collomb (Melanesia)
The second attempt in Melanesia was soon to come to an end. Following the death of three missionaries on San Cristoval in 1847, Collomb abandoned that area. He tried to set up in New Guinea but had to content himself with a station on Rock Island.

On July 16th, 1848 he died, aged 42. His companion died four months later and in 1849 the remaining missionaries retired from there and went to Woodlark.

The Oceania Mission – The Oceania Company
The Oceania Company had also come to an unhappy ending. The 1848 Revolution caused financial panic and investments in the Company ceased. Shareholders withdrew their capital, and trade overseas was halted. This state of things was not helped by Captain Marceau’s debts of 300,000 francs. The Company was forced to go into liquidation in 1850.

The Oceania Mission – Assessments of the Missions of Oceania
A lesser man would be forgiven for feeling discouraged in the face of such difficulties and set-backs. But this was not so for Jean-Claude Colin.

The story of the Oceania mission is a story of unending courage in the face of enormous difficulties and  Colin himself was at the forefront of this. Until 1849 Colin had sent to Oceania the very best of his men: 74 priests, 26 Little Brothers of Mary, and 17 coadjutor Brothers in 15 successive groups. This represented an enormous number for a Congregation which was still in its infancy.

Of these, 21 missionaries had died before 1854 when Colin resigned as General.  The rest were spread through the mission of New Caledonia, Wallis, Futuna, New Zealand, Tonga, Fiji, Samoa, and Hunters Hill, the missionaries’ centre in Sydney.

Stan Hosie SM writes:

In the Europe of the 1840’s no name was more linked with daring and adventure and willingness to die for Christ than the Marist. If the Society of Mary experienced a mushroom growth in this period, much of the credit was due to the missionaries who surrounded it with the aura of the perilous Pacific. If it earned so quickly the respect of France, and of the political leaders of England, the Pacific mission was again high on the list of reasons. (Anonymous Apostle, p.218)

If Colin began to slow down the flow of missionaries sent to Oceania from 1845, it was because of his concern for the welfare of his men who he felt were being expected to live a heroic life which, at times, was incompatible with the demands of religious life.

On July 15th, 1849 four priests left for Oceania; they were the last that Colin sent.

Probably no decision cost him more personal anguish nor brought him more criticism. But he was adamant; and neither the Cardinals nor even the Pope could budge him on this point.

He stated in his 1854 memorandum to Propaganda: I have loved these missions. Nobody has wanted their success, their prosperity, more than I. It is not the cannibalism of the savages that has arrested the missionary impulse and numbers. The misfortune has another cause. God has allowed it, reserving undoubtedly more abundant blessings for them in the future.

Before we leave this subject it would be worth listening to Colin speaking of his affection for the missionaries. He is speaking here of the Marists who had to leave Auckland after the difficulties with Pompallier:

Gentlemen, what heroism! What magnificent abnegation! These virtuous confreres have abandoned a church founded by them through fourteen years of sweat, sufferings and privations of every description, saying, “Fiat Voluntas Dei!” and after consuming their youth, and their health, they generously go to start over again elsewhere among the natives without looking back. The letters they send me are admirable! If the history of the Society and the missions were being written, here is a beautiful page, an uncommon deed, heroic and above all praise. One does not often see such examples.

The Branches of the Society
The Marist Brothers had continued to flourish in the years since Colin’s previous visit to Rome.

Since the General Chapter of 1845, Colin had left to Brother Francois the running of the Congregation.

In 1851 the Congregation received approval from the civil authorities to exist as a teaching congregation and in 1852 they held a General Chapter – presided over by Colin – which really marks the date of the official separation of the Brothers.

The Sisters had not reacted favourably to the 1845 Chapter decision to free the Fathers from superiorship of the Sisters’ houses. In effect, this made them a diocesan congregation rather than a branch of the Marist family and was quite contrary to Chavoin’s idea of the Sisters.

She kept insisting that Colin write a Rule for the Sisters. Colin refused, and thus the two entered into a time of disagreement and unpleasant misunderstanding over the aims, apostolates, style of life and mission of the Sisters.

At the insistence of Bishop Devie’s successor the Sisters held a Chapter at Belley in 1852 and all the points that Colin had insisted on over the years were carried unanimously:

  • the Sisters were no longer called Marist;
  • they were to have no Superior General but be subject to the Local Ordinary;
  • Office was to be sung in Choir;
  • semi-enclosure was strictly enforced.

For the sake of unity, Mother St Joseph accepted these decisions even though they were contrary to her ideas of the Society and in 1853 another Chapter was held at which Mother St Joseph resigned.

The Marist Sisters began a phase of life which was to mark their features up till modern times.

Though all of the provisions of the 1852 Chapter were subsequently abrogated, this phase of confusion has marked the development of the Sisters who are now beginning to re-discover the breadth of vision of Jeanne-Marie Chavoin and the closeness which they enjoy to the ideals of the original Cerdon Marist project.

The Third Order had also begun to develop fast – too fast for Colin – under Eymard’s direction. Appointed as director in 1845 Eymard had organised the groups and given them an approach that reflected his own spiritual outlook, but one which did not correspond with Colin’s ideas.

Eymard had obtained an approbation for the Third Order in 1850, without Colin’s knowledge.

Colin, who was already somewhat uneasy about the “style” and spirituality of the movement, was angry at Eymard’s action. He removed Eymard from the position of director.

Shortly after this, Eymard had some significant spiritual experiences which led him to feel drawn to founding a congregation dedicated to Eucharistic devotion but did not leave the Society till 1856 and before then had begun work on the Manual of the Third Order.

But meanwhile, there was a growing sense that Colin and Eymard were not in accord regarding the Third Order and at the Chapter of 1854, Colin was asked to clarify the matter.

What he said clarified in one sense, but it is what he left unsaid that kept the confusion alive:

People have thought that I was opposed to the Third Order. No, never!…. Only, at the beginning I found we were going too quickly… I always fear that in the long run we may stir up the clergy against us.

The confusion was not resolved at the Chapter, or indeed ever afterwards.

The Missionary Sisters do not specifically enter into this review, but it is worth making reference to Francoise Perroton, who had departed as a laywoman for Oceania in 1845. After her departure, Eymard had enrolled her as a member of the Third Order.

She landed on the island of Wallis on 25th October 1846. Eight years later, when Colin was making his visit to Rome was still on the Island and still alone. She would have no companions until 1857 when the first of the Pioneers would join her.

Thus, as Colin was making his final journey to Rome in 1854, the original multi-branched Society of Mary had become three distinct Congregations and it would soon blossom into more.  And already Colin was thinking of yet another branch to the Society.

The Eucharistic Congregation
In the years between 1848 and 1854 Colin’s thoughts had turned more and more to the mystery of Nazareth and the Eucharist as central points for Marist spirituality, and he began looking for a house, centred on Eucharistic devotion, and containing all the essential characteristics of the house of Nazareth. In his Retreat conference of 1853 he had said: Our spirit, the spirit of the Society, do you know where to find it? For me, it is entirely in the house of Nazareth.  (FS 188:12)

Between 1845 and 1850 he had focussed the Society’s energy towards education and foreign missions, now he began experimenting with a new orientation, a fifth branch, a house of prayer and Eucharistic devotion.

For this he bought the house at La Neyliere in 1850.

But the chief influence in the eucharistic project was a nun, Theodehinde Dubouche, who came to Lyons at the end of 1850 to establish a community of Sisters for Atoning Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament.

In 1849 she had had a “vision” while adoring the Blessed Sacrament and during this ecstasy she had seen priests and brothers of the Blessed Sacrament issuing from the stock of the Society of Mary. This vision astonished the Marist priest who heard of it, because it corresponded exactly with what he understood of Colin’s plans.

Colin and Dubouche met, and became close spiritual companions.

At the 1854 Chapter Colin presented his resignation, a request which was accepted by the Chapter. Colin, not quite 64 but felt a huge burden fall from his shoulders.

He wrote to Theodehinde:

The happiness I feel in being relieved of a burden I could no longer bear, is such that I would ask you to join me in thanking the Lord. From now on I can follow my attraction for the retired life, for the eucharistic work, and prepare for death in the shadow of the altar.