St Bonnet-le-Troncy

Jean-Claude Colin was born on 7th August 1790 at Les Barbery, which is about 2 kms away from St Bonnet-le-Troncy.

The house where Colin was born no longer exists, but a cross was erected in 1936 to mark the site of the house.

In 1804 the population of Les Barbery was 60 and from the register of the parish we learn that the marriage between Jacques Colin and Marie Gonnet, Jean-Claude’s parents, took place on 26th November 1771.

Jacques was 24 years old, Marie was not yet fourteen.

“Marie Gonnet was thirty-two years old when she gave birth to Jean-Claude. He was the eighth child she brought into the world. Claudine was the eldest; at fourteen she was chosen to be the godmother (to Jean-Claude); Jean, the twelve year old, was to be the godfather. Hence the name Jean-Claude for the new born baby.

“Then came Mariette, ten years old; Sebastian, eight; Jean-Marie, six; Pierre, not quite four. A seventh, baptised Anne-Marie, died at birth, two years before Jean-Claude was born. Marie Colin was to give birth to Joseph in 1793, before she died two years later.

“The Colin household also included the paternal grandfather, seventy seven, a widower for nine years. There is no reason to think that the home in which Jean-Claude was born in 1790 was any different from the ordinary homes of Saint-Bonnet: hard-working parents, children growing up normally.” – G Lessard sm “7th August 1790, in Saint-Bonnet”, Forum Novum, Dec 1989, p 10.

And so, Jean-Claude was the second youngest in a family of eight surviving children.

His parents owned and cultivated a piece of land, and during the winter turned to weaving to supplement their income.

Both Jean-Claude’s mother and father died within 20 days of each other, and¬†orphaned at the age of four, possibly due to the rigours suffered by his parents for having harboured priests who refused to support the Revolutionary Constitution, ¬†Jean-Claude was put under the care of a paternal uncle, Sebastian, and a housekeeper, Marie Echallier.

At 10 years of age, Jean-Claude lived in the town of St Bonnet, where he began schooling under the care of a kindly Soeur Marthe.

The surroundings of Les Barbery however would have had a formative influence on Jean Claude.

Above the site of the house is the mountain of Le Crest, where he loved to walk and it is easy to suppose that this countryside helped to develop his deep longing to be “alone with God alone”.

Jean-Claude’s uncle was a bachelor, and the children came to live in his house at St Bonnet. (This is the large square house to the right of the church, now the Jean-Claude Colin Museum).

Until recently this house served as a presbytery, but in Jean-Claude’s time the presbytery was the house directly opposite the door of the church.

Being a bachelor, Sebastian Colin employed a house-keeper to look after the domestic arrangements. This lady was a deeply religious woman, but one of those who seemed to suffer tensions and become irritable every time she went to confession. This all seems to have had the effect of creating in Jean-Claude a scrupulosity which gave him much trouble, and a deep longing to hide in the woods and become a hermit.

At the same time, in later life this experience was to make him sensitive and merciful to troubled souls.

In 1790 the population of St Bonnet-le-Troncy was 1125. Today it is 600.

The church, in which all the Colins except Auguste-Frederique were baptised, dates from the 16th century.

It was rebuilt on the same spot in 1821, the bell tower being added in 1826.

When the Book of Complaints was drawn up for the Estates General in 1789, more than half of the parish was listed as belonging to the nobility of the privileged”. The document showed little sympathy for the possessions of the clergy, and this resentment found expression in the religious struggles of the revolutionary period.

The spiritual state of the parish was summed up by the parish priest in a response to Cardinal Fesch: “all the inhabitants are Catholic. Most of them frequent the Sacraments. They are more or less fervent in attending services. Catechism held fairly often… There is no school properly speaking. A good lass does her best to teach the youngsters… Most of the parishioners have some knowledge.”

In the Autumn of 1804, Jean-Claude left St Bonnet for the minor seminary of St Jodard. He returned only for holidays, and when he was gravely ill in April 1809.

It was when gravely ill and it seemed to be that he was on his deathbed that he was shocked to learn of the greed of his family and their talk and concern only about what would come to them in his will, that horrified him.

According to Jean-Claude, “everyone tought only of his own interests.”

The doctor prescribed medicine which he hoped would effect a cure, however one of his family members who had vested interest in Jean-Claude’s property tried to dissuade him from taking the medicine, telling him that it had been poisoned, and it was only the tears of his brother made him change his mind and take the medicine. Jean-Claude recovered. (c.f. OM 2, 508)

This experience perhaps explains something of the subsequent attitude of Jean-Claude towards his family: “Relatives? I never think of them. I don’t even know if I have any.”

Colin certainly returned to St Bonnet after his ordination, around 1819, but his visits thereafter were rare.

During Lent 1843 Fr Maitrepierre and Fr Poupinel preached a mission and stayed in the house of Jean Colin, the founder’s grandfather. Pierre Colin also went back to St Bonnet on Easter Monday of that same year.

It is at St Bonnet Marists are in touch with some of the most formative experiences of Jean-Claude’s personality and subsequent spirituality. In particular the shock of losing both his parents during the Revolution, and the experience of his family’s greed where to have lasting effects on him.

Marist historian Jean Coste writes:

“And if we ask ourselves how could such a boy look at the world? What could the world be for a boy like that? We can say that the world is something which is against us. The world has killed the good Christian King. It has killed God who is no longer in the Church. The God who has been hidden. It has killed my parents. It has taken everything away from me.

We add to this the fact of his temperament, and his love for solitude, and these will explain the shyness and introversion of Jean-Claude Colin. The real values for him will be those which nobody will be able to take away from him. Nobody will take away from him what is interior – a profound sense of what we call “the interior life”, in the best sense of the word.”