In the Footsteps of the Founder
Marist Education Authority Schools’ Visit to La Neyliere May 2008
Since my appointment to the Marist Educational Authority in June 2007 the issues and aspirations of the authority in relation to the Ethos and founding intention of the Marist Order have been given the highest priority. In common with other religious Trustees the commitment to the schools is primarily based on the Catholic Marist nature of the schools and the continued promotion and development of that ethos into the future.
Legislation since 1998 has supported the “Characteristic spirit” of all schools and school owners and patrons have been systematically finding ways of expressing the characteristic spirit or ethos of their schools so that boards of management, teachers, students and parents can actively uphold that spirit as required.
Much work has been done with the schools and with the ethos teams that have been working in collaboration with the MEA during the year.
The frequent references to the founders and to the founding intention inevitably led to some research and discussion of the early days of the Marist in France and that led to the growing awareness that there was a need to work on the schools’ need to engage with the founding intentions and the work and aspirations of the early Marists.
This document offers an insight into that “pilgrimage” and to the possibilities that it opened for the participants and for the future.
As the director of the Marist Educational Authority I was proud to be associated with the project and with the participants who worked so hard and in such good spirits throughout the expedition.
I am grateful to all who participated, to the schools and Principals who facilitated their involvement and to the Provincialate for their generous sponsorship. When the evaluation of the project is completed we hope to reap a rich harvest in terms of ethos in the schools. We hope that this record of the visits will be helpful to the schools in promoting and developing the Marist ethos.
Kevin Jennings September 2008
During the year 2007/2008 the Marist Education authority prioritised the ethos of the schools as the most important task facing the authority and the schools. A number of meetings and projects were held and organised to highlight the significance of the Marist Order in Irish education and the need to raise awareness of the history and ethos of the Marist Order in the schools. It was agreed to sponsor a visit to the locations and sites in France associated with the founder of the Society of Mary, Fr. Jean-Claude Colin. The plans were prepared and the agreement of the schools was sought to enable a core group from each school to make the journey at the end of the school year. The Marist house in La Neyliere generously offered the accommodation and the volunteers assembled in Dublin Airport on the morning of 26th May.
“Je Suis Jimmy”
For many of the group it was the first time they met and it is a measure of their commitment to the project that the group became a team from the very beginning without any tension or rivalry. The fine qualities and agreeable disposition of the participants played a significant part in the success of the trip as the demanding schedule had the potential to test the perseverance of the most committed pilgrim.
The members of the group were:-
Kevin Jennings; Deirdre Maloney; Patricia Roberts-Byrne; Sinéad Maher; [CUS]
Fr Jimmy McIlroy S.M Liam O’Mahoney; Catherine Shaw; Bernie Deery;
[St Mary’s College Dundalk]
Fr. David Corrigan S.M Ciarán Fallon; Jacqueline Whelan; Frank Dowling
[Chanel College Coolock]
Fr. Denis Greene S.M. Fr Joe Jennings S.M.
Fiona Gallagher; Diarmaid Ó Murchú [MEA]
Final Instructions being issued
The group travelled directly to Lyons Airport where they were met by a locally based minibus which became the mode of conveyance for the MEA pilgrims for the duration of the week. The various sites are quite far apart and, consequently, the bus was a classroom, a dormitory, a common-room and a resource room for the group.
The group was based in La Neyliere, a comfortable building with a long history before it was purchased by Jean Claude Colin in 1850 as a house of prayer for priests and where he might draw up the constitution of the society of Mary. When he retired as superior he returned to live there until his death in 1875. The building houses two small museums; one which relates to the founder and the beginnings of the Society and another which shows the work of the order in Oceania, where St Peter Chanel was martyred.
Each day began with Morning Prayer along with the community in the oratory followed by breakfast.
The itinerary was planned in such a way that, each day, the group would visit at least one of the sites which were, and in some cases, still are important centres for the work of the Marist Order. Pack lunches were provided and each day Mass was celebrated for the team by one of the Marist fathers in the group. The schedule was very demanding and a typical day’s travelling took about eleven hours including the visits to the sites, lunch and coffee breaks.
Day One – Le Puy
Our first visit of the pilgrimage was to the ancient city of Le Puy, which is located in a valley and built around a volcanic cone with an enormous iron statue of Our Lady on a hill overlooking the town. It is possible to climb to the top of the statue from the inside to view the surrounding countryside. The statue was built from the melted cannon guns after the thirty years war.
It was in the cathedral of Le Puy that the idea of a Society of Mary came to a young man of 25, Jean-Claude Courveille. Three years earlier his sight had been miraculously restored after he anointed his eyes with oil from the sanctuary lamp. When he went to study for the priesthood in Lyon he spread his idea among other students. This group included Jean-Claude Colin and Marcellin Champagnat, who later founded the Marist brothers.
Le Puy is famous as one of the designated starting points for the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostella in Northern Spain which was provided for Christians during the duration of the crusades. It has become popular recently among Irish people to complete one or more the late stages of this pilgrimage.
The patron saint of Spain is St Jacques whose symbol is the scallop shell. Pilgrims carried shells as a sign to indicate their participation in the pilgrimage.
The cathedral in Le Puy is renowned for its mosque-like architecture, its links with the pilgrimage and the fact that the Salve Regina or Hail Holy Queen was composed there. During the visit the group visited the cathedral, climbed the hill and the statue of Our Lady of Le Puy and lunched in facilities provided by a local convent.
The Salve Regina in English, Latin, German and French
The figure of the black Madonna is a feature of the churches in this part of France and she is also venerated in the cathedral in Le Puy which has been associated with a number of cures for back ailments.
Following the visit in Le Puy the next step in the journey was to the village of Marlhes, where Blessed Marcellin Champagnat, Marist priest and founder of the Marist Brothers, is remembered and honoured. On one occasion he was called to visit a seriously ill teenager. When he talked to the young man he found that he had no knowledge of Christianity or the faith. This experience convinced him that there was a need for a Catholic school system to educate the young people of the area.
Stained Glass Window in the church in Marlhes
Champagnat was motivated and inspired to found the order to help the poor and deprived people of the area who had little or no education or knowledge of the faith. It was around this area that pupils were enrolled in the early Marist schools in La Valla and Markhes.
Saint Marcellin Champagnat is honoured in the church in Marlhes
The square in Marlhes opposite the church bears his name.
Our next stop was in Rosey, the birthplace of Marcellin Champagnat, where the past pupils of Marist schools worldwide have contributed to the building of an oratory with beautiful stained glass windows honouring the work of the Marists in education. It is worth noting that the Marist Order of brothers is the third largest order of teaching brothers in the world
The oratory in Rosey which was financed by past pupils of Marist schools
Beside the church is a museum located in the family home commemorating the birth and childhood of Marcellin Champagnet.
The first day’s travelling was brought to a conclusion by visiting one of the early Marist brothers’ schools in La Valla.
A modern school is still situated beside the location of the old school which is now a fascinating museum that contains a table dating from the very beginning of the school.
The museum depicts the work of Marist education in a series of illuminated illustrations in the school which is located in a rural setting that was heavily populated in the time of Father Champagnat.
The weight of the years: A table said to have been made by Marcellin Champagnat
The pupils of the school studied a practical curriculum which included religious education and academic studies.
Following the return journey to La Neyliere the group were treated to a most enjoyable meal which was prepared by the catering staff. The local wine was much appreciated and the numerous talents of individuals provided entertainment and relaxation.
Day Two – The Birthplace of Fr. Colin
Fr Jean-Claude Colin was born on a small farm in Les Barbery, high in the hills above Lyon in the year 1790. It was the time of the French Revolution and priests who refused the revolutionary oath were persecuted. Pursuit and imprisonment for those who supported them led to an early grave for Jean-Claude’s father. His mother died shortly afterwards and so, at the age of four Jean-Claude and his brothers and sisters went to live with their eldest brother in St Bonnet. Nothing remains of the old family home but a monument marks the spot.
Our guide and commentator for today Fr Bert S.M
It is difficult to communicate the sense of peace and beauty that can be experienced in this landscape on calm summer’s day. We were reminded that in winter it can still be a demanding environment for those who live here.
The next footstep was to visit the home of Jean-claude Colin in St Bonney-le-Troncy which has now become a museum of the early Marist years and the times of Fr. Colin as a young priest
Fr Denis Greene celebrated mass in the church in St Bonnet-le-Troncy
On our return journey our guide kindly took us to see one of the famous chateaux that are situated in and on the Loire river. The Loire is famous for its numerous chateaux but this and Chenonceau, close to Blois are significant because of the fact that they bridge the river completely or in part.
It was strongly suggested that the MEA purchase it as a centre for extra-curricular activities.
On the way home, we were the guests at vespers of one of the most thriving Catholic religious orders in the modern world which is based in Saint Chamond. They live in one of the old Marist seminaries which has been adapted to accommodate both male and female members of the new order. The youth and enthusiasm of the members was impressive and conversations in the souvenir shop unearthed some contacts with Ireland [as usual] and the fact that one of the young men in the order had been a member of a German rock band.
Day Three - Cerdon and Bellay
This was the most picturesque journey in the area around Cerdon and the Swiss border with spectacular views of the mountains and valleys. Even today, one can see that it has been a region that has been mainly agricultural and not particularly wealthy.
It was in Cerdon that Pierre Colin and his younger brother Jean-Claude were pastor and curate, respectively.
It was also in Cerdon that two young women from Coutouvre, Jeanne-Marie chavoin and Marie Jotillon founded the Marist sisters or The Congregation of the Blessed Virgin “which must have its own spirit which is one of poverty, of simplicity and love of work”
The rear of the church in Cerdon with cemetery on the left
The sisters’ headquarters was moved to Bon Repos in Bellay in 1825 which became the powerhouse of their work as the Mother House of the Congregation. There were many Marist Sisters schools all over the world with one in Sligo in Ireland.
The most spectacular view of the church an village of Cerdon can be seen from above on a vantage point on the N84 to Nantua. It gives a fuller understanding of the terrain through which the early Marists had to work with a poor, uneducated rural community that was scattered over a wide range of countryside with roads that are still difficult to traverse.
Fr David Corrigan celebrates Mass in Cedron
Cedron from above
The church can be seen just below the green hill to the right and in the centre of the picture.
After our visit to Cedron where we had lunch in the presbytery, which is now empty and used for art classes, we took the mountain roads to Bellay to visit Bon-Repos. This is now a retirement home for the Sisters.
We were welcomed most graciously in Belley and Sr. brought us through the building including the chapel where the where the remains of Mother St Joseph [Jeanne-Marie Chavoin] foundress of the Marist Sisters, lie.
The convent in Bellay expanded in numbers and was developed by Mother St. Joseph. Frequent visitors to celebrate Mass and to give retreats included Fr Jean-Claude Colin and Fr. Peter Chanel.
The visit was so successful that many of the group exchanged addresses with the Sisters so that contact could be maintained between the schools in Ireland and other Marist schools internationally.
On our return, Fr. John Hannan had arrived on his way to be inaugurated as the first European Provincial of the Marist Fathers. Even after a short absence from Ireland it was nice to meet with an old friend and to wish him every success and blessing in his new demanding role.
The ceremony of inauguration was scheduled to take place in Lyons on the following Sunday and choirs from local Marist schools were prepared to celebrate the liturgy on this special occasion.
Lyons is particularly significant in the history of the Marist order and it was to be the final step in this most interesting, yet demanding, journey.
That night we were again treated to a most enjoyable meal and entertained by local talented musician Fr. As well as our own troubadours.
Day Four – Lyons & Return Journey
As we have said before Lyons is particularly significant in the history of the Marist Fathers. We must remember that many of the founders were ordained priests or seminarians before they founded the Society of Mary. There has been a shrine dedicated to Our Lady in Fourviere since 1170 and it has always been a popular place of pilgrimage. Nowadays, the Basilique Notre Dame de Fourviere is a most impressive building on a hilltop that dominates the town of Lyons.
It was here, on July 23rd 1816, that twelve aspirants of the Society of Mary priests and seminarians climbed the hill to the shrine to attend the first Mass of Jean-Claude Courveille. They read out a declaration promising to devote themselves to the foundation of the Society of Mary, a declaration that marks the birth of the Society of Mary.
The gilded Madonna has been lowered to the ground for refurbishment and repairs
In the chancel of the church two identical plaques commemorate the founding of both the Marist Fathers and also the Marist brothers
The final visit before the group left for the airport to 12th Century Cathedral of St. John in Lyons.
The hill on which the Basilique is situated is so steep that we descended by funicular
A short walk from the bottom of the hill is the Cathedral which is famous for its rose window and clock.
No photograph could do justice to the window but it is included as a reminder of the wonderful colour and atmosphere within the Cathedral
When the project was first proposed by the MEA it was difficult to set aims and objectives and criteria for evaluating its success or otherwise. It had not been done before and there was no yardstick for previous visits with which it could be compared.
The development and maintenance of the Marist ethos in MEA schools implies that schools and those who work and study in them have a knowledge and familiarity with the foundation and history of the order as well as the fundamental core values of the Trustees/Patron.
The response of the group in individual informal feedback suggested that participants were glad that they had gone there and found it to be an enriching and informative experience. The daily schedule was demanding and tiring but commonsense and good humour kept the group together and motivated. Everyone deserves to be congratulated for the success of the trip.
The MEA is deeply grateful to all the participants, to the Marist order in Ireland and in France who contributed so much so generously to the project.
The mission for all is to develop the experience of “In the footsteps of the Founder” for the benefit of the Marist schools in Ireland and to ensure that the ideals that inspired the founders will be upheld.