Teachers from our European network of Marist schools have in recent years been offered the opportunity to spend a few tranquil and spiritually nourishing days in La Neylière at the end of the school year. Why therefore, would our students not get an opportunity also to visit the home of Fr John Claude Colin?The idea to do a similar “In the footsteps of the founder” pilgrimage was conceived in October and hence, a group of thirteen students and two teachers Aoife Mullen and Catherine Kirk from St Mary’s College set off on the trail in April 2019.
On day one we arrived in La Neylière around 5pm having been warmly welcomed by Fr Jimmy Mc Elroy in Part Dieu. Students and teachers were delighted to take a stroll around the garden before a magnificent three course dinner in the dining room of La Neylière.Our group quickly adopted a routine of appearing for morning prayer in the beautiful little church before breakfast. Each morning our day’s journey started by getting a lift into the neighbouring town of Saint Symphorien sur Coise from the Marist Fathers. From there we took a most enjoyable bus ride daily into the centre of Lyon. Our journey through Les Monts du Lyonnais was, itself something of a pilgrimage, affording us as it did the mostpanoramic vistas imaginable of rolling countryside and quaint sleepy looking villages.The starting point for our Ethos discovery trail was the majestic Basilica of La Fourvière looking down over the City of Lyon like a Mother looking over on her brood of children.
Thankfully we had our own personal guide in Fr Jimmy Mc Elroy who after many years of teaching and chaplaincy knows exactly the right amount of information to dispense to teenagers.
We saw the chapel where in 1816 twelve newly ordained Priests including Fr Jean-Claude Colin pledged to dedicate an order with the name of Mary-“Sub Mariae Nomine” The magnificent interior of the Basilica caught the imagination of our young pilgrims as did the views of the city and it’s two resplendent rivers the Rhône and the Saone. The old funicular train was a popular attraction also.
Not too far from LaFourvière in the wooded grounds of an old château we enjoyed our picnic lunch in the late spring sunshine. Lunch was followed by the eagerly anticipated “accrobranche” which for those of you unfamiliar with this demanding pastime consists of Tarzan like crossings from one tree to another in the safety of a harness. The students were euphoric about this challenging activity with Fr Jimmy Ms Mullen and Ms Kirk demurring for fear of being even fitter than their charges!
After dinner we availed of the opportunity to visit the EspaceColin where the students learned about the life of the founder and marvelled at the simplicity of his room and admired the beautiful painting of Mary out on the high seas.
Our second day in Lyon was as enjoyable as the first with the “bus touristique” revealing the many jewels in Lyon’s crown, architecture, Roman remains, magnificent river walks and bridges. The Cathedral of St Jean where the young Jean Claude was confirmed had a unique aura of holiness.
Mr Bouchacourt the Principal of the Marist Lycée Sainte-Marie in Lyon kindly agreed to show us around what must be one of the most avant garde and progressive schools in Europe if not further afield. The mix of classical and modern greatly appealed and the library with the oak trees protruding right into the room to awaken the senses of the students was a great showstopper for our students from Dundalk, who, even though we have a brand new state of the art building couldn’t help but feel they had been a little short changed in comparison to wow factor created by the renowned architect Georges Adillon and continued by his daughter. The yards some of which are three stories high were of great interest as we mused about our adventurous students at home! This wonderful place was one of the highlights of our trip and we are forever grateful to Mr Bouchacourt for the time and kindness he afforded us from his very hectic schedule.Dinner was followed by a tour of the Océania Museum in La Neylière and the students marvelled at the treasures brought back from so far and the stories of the brave young men and women who ventured into unknown territories to spread the Faith and help the inhabitants. Several of them including Saint Peter Chanel were martyred for their evangelisation.
There was a hint of sadness on the last morning at prayers and it seemed that the students had enjoyed this ritual and had certainly participated fully every morning. However, there was one great pleasure left for our young students-shopping! The Part Dieu shopping centre boasts the most shops of any shopping centre in Europe and our students did their best to keep the centre afloat getting around the shops at lightning speed.The question needs to be asked if this trip achieved what we set out to create? Certainly, our students returned with a very good idea of what the city of Lyon has to offer. Moreover, they found the house, grounds and countryside of La Neylière to be truly enchanting and peaceful. Did they come away with a lasting sense of the positivity of the contemplation of what a “faithful” and dedicated life can bring? I hope so.Jean Claude Colin is said to have hoped that all who came to La Neylière could find peace, strength, and encouragement for their future. He saw it as a place where the young Fathers could come and pauseand refresh themselves for the next phase of their formation. We came, we reflected and as teachers we renewed our belief in our Faith and in the young people entrusted to our care. I suspect that our students experienced something very similar to us.