Following in the Footsteps: La Neylière 2015
Day 1: Thursday, 14th May
The 8th annual MEA schools’ trip to La Neylière began at a cool and rather inclement Dublin Airport. The strength of the MEA’s commitment in making connections between the four schools meant that this preliminary ‘meet and greet’ was more a catch up with friends than a round of strained introductions. The smooth flight to Lyon was followed by our transfer to La Neylière. La Neylière, the final retreat and resting place of Jean Claude Colin, was to be our home for the week. A mild summer’s evening meant some took the opportunity to explore the tranquil gardens and walk to the village of Pomey above. Others sought more traditional hospitality in the village of Saint-Symphorien-sur-Coise below.
Day 2: Friday, 15th May
Following breakfast, morning reflection was led by Fr. David in the oratory. Kevin (multi-tasking for the week as our guide, mentor, administrator, sage and entertainer) gave a brief outline of the day’s main event, a trip to the historical town of Le Puy, an hour’s drive west. Le Puy is dominated by religious imagery; the imposing Notre Dame Cathedral, the smaller but striking Chapel Saint Michel and the enormous iron statue of Our Lady, all dominate the town skyline. We were met on the steps of Notre Dame by Sister Maria who gave the group an overview of the cathedral’s origins and an interesting explanation of the symbolism that adorns its walls and doors. While the cathedral is a traditional starting point for one of the pilgrim ‘Camino’ routes, it is of special importance to Marists as the place where the young Jean-Claude Courveille had his intimation from Mary for the establishment of an order to carry her name.
Following Sr. Maria’s tour the group was given free time to explore the town. Most took the opportunity to visit Chapel Saint Michel, dramatically built on top of a volcanic vault. A late lunch, followed by a return to La Neylière completed activities for the day, if not for the night! A delightful fish supper, served with some local wine, followed (eventually!) by an Irish sing-song, sent a contented party to their beds.
Day 3: Saturday, 16th May
Another early start saw the group set off for L’ Hermitage, the mother house of the Marist Brothers. The house was established in 1824 by Marcellin Champagnat, one of the original 12 Marist aspirants, as a centre for the novitiate brothers of his fledgling congregation. Brother Allan from the Philippines acted as our guide on an interactive tour that highlighted the early history of the house. The tour produced a number of poignant moments, none more so that when Br. Allan opened the window of Champagnat’s bedroom to allow us listen to the sounds of the Gier River, exactly as Marcellin himself requested while on his deathbed almost 200 years earlier.
Following lunch, Br. Allan brought the group higher into the surrounding countryside to Valla-en-Gier to visit the first presbytery and school established by Br. Marcellin on 2nd January 1817. The rudimentary materials of his school (including the original table used by the early brothers), although a far cry from the modern classroom, still resonated deeply with the teachers in the room.
The day was rounded off back at the oratory with a short reflection by Sr. Patricia (S.M.S.M.), a missionary sister from Tonga who was leading a retreat at La Neylière. She gave the group a fascinating insight into her own experiences but also the life of Françoise Perreton (the founder of the S.M.S.M.) and her determination to join the perilous Marist missions in Oceania.
Day 4: Sunday, 17th May
The brighter weather allowed for an early outdoor reflection, again led by Fr. David. Then it was back on the bus for the trip to Cerdon, the place of Jean Claude Colin’s first priestly appointment. Kevin’s interjections and wikipedic knowledge of the French Revolution continued to entertain the group and helped shorten the 2 hour journey considerably. We were met by Sister Terry O’Neill, a Marist sister based in the region and a guide on previous tours. Sr. O’Neill brought us high into the mountains above Cerdon to a small church in the hills of Bugey where early Marists led ‘Missions’ in the winter months. The hardships endured by these priests to reach such rural outposts and the paucity of resources available to them could be readily imagined in the desolate beauty of the surrounding hills. The small headstones and crosses in the graveyard that signalled the past deaths of so many young children were also deeply affecting.
The tour moved back to Cerdon and the small church where Fr. Colin served as parish priest in 1816. An intimate mass, led by Fr. John, was celebrated by the entire group. A picnic followed outside. The bus journey home was broken by a trip to Caveau Lingot Martin, a local winery. The justification for this stop offered by Fr. John, that the Marists in New Zealand have a long tradition of wine production, was readily accepted by all!
Day 5: Monday, 18th May
While the trip may have begun in damp rain, it was to end in glorious sunshine. Fr. David led the final reflection in 22 degrees of heat and then it was back on the bus for the final tour to Lyon and the church at Fourviére. Fourviére holds a special place in the hearts of all Marists, as it was in this small church overlooking Lyon that the original 12 Marist aspirants pledged their lives to Mary on the morning after their ordination (a shrine dedicated to Our Lady has existed on the site for almost a millennium). The cases of brass lockets that flank the altar walls remain as a moving reminder of the generations of Marist priests who made their final pledges here before setting off on their missions overseas.
The group had some free time before heading for the airport and home. Most took the opportunity to explore old town Lyon, followed by a leisurely lunch. Dublin unfortunately was as damp on our return as when we left. However, the warmth of the experience of the previous 5 days more than compensated for the typical early ‘summer’ Irish weather.
La Neylière 2015: 14-18th May.
Fr. Edwin McCallion (Provincial) S.M., Fr. David Corrigan S.M, Fr. John O’Gara S.M.
Kevin Jennings (Director, M.E.A.)
St. Mary’s College, Dundalk: Linda Bailey, Alan Craven, Anne Mulligan, Shane Quinn.
C.U.S.: Roisin Buckley, Aoife Curtis, Michael O Sullivan, Sarah Murphy.
Chanel College, Coolock: Lorcan Deely, Kieran Greene, Leanne Harding, Joan McDonnell.
St. Mary’s College, Blackburn: Frank Dixon, Elissa Best , Christine McCauley.
St. Mary’s College, Dundalk.