Journey one

In the 17 years between the Fourvière Promise in 1816 and Colin’s first visit to Rome in 1833 a number of important developments happened.

The Dispersal
Despite their initial fervour, in the years following the promise made in the chapel of Fourvière most of the aspirants did not in fact persevere with the Marist project.

Among those who did persevere were Courveille, Champagnat, Colin, Terraillon and Déclas.

These three—Courveille, Champagnat, and Colin―could hardly have been separated further in the first years after their ordination.

Courveille was appointed to a parish at the western extreme of the Diocese; Champagnat at the southern extreme; and Colin at the north-east extreme.

Champagnat arrived in the parish of  La Valla in 1816. It was here that he was called to the bedside of a dying boy who had no knowledge of God or of the faith. The experience confirmed Champagnat’s long-held conviction about the need for teaching Brothers: “Il faut des frères! – We must have Brothers!” Almost immediately he gathered around him the first group of Brothers. Then, in rapid succession, he set up schools in Marlhes (1818), Le Bessat (1819), Saint-Sauveur (1820), Tarentaise (1821) and Bourg-Argental (1822).

Courveille was sent to Verrières in 1816 but soon after was transferred to Rive-de-Gier (1817), and then to Epercieux (1819).

His efforts to attract women from existing religious associations to the Marist project caused division in the parishes and brought the disfavour of the Vicar General, Bochard.

Colin was appointed to the parish of Cerdon in 1816 where his brother Pierre was parish priest. They were joined by Jeanne-Marie Chavoin and Marie Jotillon in 1817.

Things developed  slowly in Cerdon, but eventually a lay group emerged.

Jeanne-Marie Chavoin wrote:

“Had they [the brothers Colin] remained there, the whole parish would soon have been like a religious community: already a fervent group of 30 men used to meet in the presbytery.” (Recorded Narratives Doc.101)

During these early years Courveille was still regarded as the centre of the group. Those who remained part of the project, however, did not see him as the religious superior; nor, certainly did the diocesan authorities.

The group had hoped to establish itself at Le Puy. At this time, however, the diocesan authorities of Lyons had promulgated an automatic suspension for any cleric who left the diocese without permission. Since such permission was virtually impossible to obtain, the only recourse open to the Marist aspirants was to appeal to a higher authority. Thus, a letter was sent to Pope Pius VII in February 1819 but it received no reply.

In November of the same year, another letter was sent to Rome, this time to Cardinal Macchi.

A further letter was sent on 25 January 1822 and a reply came on 9 March 1822 inviting the aspirants to visit the Papal Nuncio in Paris.

Jean Claude Colin travelled to Paris where he visited Mgr Macchi, Mgr de Quelen (Archbishop of Paris), Mgr Frayssinous (Chancellor of the University), Fr Duclaux (Superior General of the Suplicians) and showed them the Rule he had drawn up.

Colin returned to Paris in the spring.

The Suplicians had examined the Rule and judged that it was “made for angels rather than men”.

The Branches of the Marist Project
In 1822 the vast diocese of Lyons was divided thus creating the new diocese of Belley. As a consequence the group of Marist aspirants was now not only separated by distance but also by ecclesiastical boundaries; Colin in the diocese of Belley, and the others in the diocese of Lyons.

The future of the Marist project looked bleak since the Marist dossier had been given to the new bishop of Belley, Mgr Devie.

Desiring to revive the faith in this new diocese, Devie had good reason for wanting to contain the group and to restrict its ministry to his own diocese.

It is with this background that the branches of the Marist Project developed until the time of Colin’s visit to Rome in 1833.

Bishop Devie warmly approved the plan to form a group of Sisters in the diocese of Belley and The Congregation of Mary was begun in Cerdon on 8 September 1823.

Three months later, on 8 December 1824, nine women took the habit and Jeanne-Marie Chavoin was elected Superior.

When the priests left Cerdon in 1825 the Marist Sisters moved to Belley where they took their first vows on 6 September 1826.

In Lyons, the Archbishop’s Council encouraged Champagnat’s work with the Brothers. In 1824 Courveille joined Champagnat at the Hermitage, and a year later they were joined by Teraillon.

The first crisis took place when Courveille attempted to establish himself as leader.

The following year Courveille morally compromised himself with a postulant brother and subsequently left the community.

Father Terraillon departed in March 1826, leaving Champagnat in a critical situation. Etienne Séon was sent to join Champagnat, who was working very hard to keep the group alive in the Lyons diocese and in 1828, Father Bourdin entered the Hermitage, followed in 1829 by Father Pompallier.

By 1828 there were 96 Brothers, 16 novices, and 14 schools directed by the Brothers.

The Fathers progress was much slower in the Belley diocese.

So far, the priests’ branch had not been able to get permission to form community. Colin, who was already emerging as leader in the group, worked hard during 1824 to be able to gather the priests in one place, preferably in the Belley diocese.

In October 1824, Déclas joined the Colin brothers at Cerdon, and Pierre Colin wrote to the Bishop: “Today the little Society of Mary begins…” The group began their missions in the Bugey, an apostolate that was to continue for 5 years, and with the disappearance of Courveille in 1826, Colin began to emerge more and more as the focal point of the Marist group.

Meanwhile, in 1825, another group began to form around Champagnat at the Hermitage.

The group from the Belley diocese were now living in Belley itself, and in 1829 Colin was appointed as Superior of the Minor Seminary.

The Society’s second phase, education, was about to begin.

When Colin presented his “Summarium” to Rome in 1833, the Third Order was already clearly a part of the project in his own mind.

Paradoxically, the only concrete outcome from this visit to Rome was three Briefs of Approval for the Third Order!

The precise details about the beginning of the lay groups are not very clear, but there is evidence that a group of lay people began to gather in Belley sometime after 1826. Colin wrote from Rome to the Marist Sisters: “Look after the members of the Third Order…”  And Chavoin writes that “At the beginning of Lent, 1833, Fr Colin and Fr Convers gave a Retreat in our chapel to 10 ladies of the town. I made my Retreat with them.”

So, in Belley we see a group of laity forming round the Marists. Their first meetings are in the house of the Marist Sisters during which Champagnat reveals that Colin is working on ideas for the laity in the Society. The project is thus recognised and owned by all the branches of the Society.

In Lyons the group of laymen known as the Tertiary Brothers of Mary were beginning to form themselves into a cohesive body; Pompallier was helping them as their chaplain. In the spring of 1833 they had rented the round tower house at Fourvière meaning this was the meeting place for the first real Third Order group in Lyons.

By 1830—14 years after the Fourviere Promise—it was clear that the project needed a centre of unity, someone with the moral authority to co-ordinate the various groups. In September 1830 the Lyons group travelled to Belley, where Jean-Claude Colin was elected as central superior.

It was also decided to have a provincial superior for the Lyons group, and Champagnat was elected to this position.

The two groups kept united by common retreats and so, by the time of Colin’s first trip to Rome, the group of brothers, sisters, priests and also laity in Lyons and Belley had not only an internal structure but also a real spiritual unity.

Colin was at the centre, holding the various branches together and, in 1833, he obtained permission from the bishops of Lyons and Belley to travel to Rome to present the case for the Marist project.

Colin was presenting not simply a plan or project but a working reality.