Our Lady of the Hermitage
A Project without Frontiers
(courtesy of “Presence Mariste” a quarterly magazine published by the Marist Brothers of the Hermitage province, no. 264, July 2010, p 26)
I came for the first time to Our Lady of the Hermitage in 1975 for a gathering of the Brothers of Catalonia (1). At that time there was a large community there, made up of some elderly Brothers, the local house community, and the Provincial administration team. All were involved in their everyday tasks, and sometimes with the groups of visitors who turned up. Three unforgettable Brothers had the task of accompanying the groups of pilgrims.
A Short Historical Summary
When the Brothers of La Valla (2) came to the Hermitage in the spring of 1825, that place became the mother house of the Institute, the “family home”, the centre for formation of the Brothers, for spiritual renewal and rest. It was also the place where Fr Champagnat lived until his death. (3)
The 33 years spent at the Hermitage by Fr Champagnat and Brother Francois (4) as directors of the Institute, represent an intense period of our history, a time which helped to shape our charism and develop our esprit de corps.
This story has not come to an end and, like a grain of mustard seed, it goes on developing.
Up till 1990, the Hermitage was a centre for pilgrimage and spiritual renewal, almost exclusively reserved for the Brothers. But following the canonisation of Fr Champagnat in 1999, there has been a growth in the numbers of young people, lay teachers, and families from the five continents who have come to live an experience of God, and an encounter with the Virgin Mary.
A New Project
The new Hermitage project has been made possible thanks to the financial involvement of the whole Marist Institute and a few sympathisers.
At first sight such an undertaking can be surprising, especially if you take into account the age of the brothers in France and the scarcity of vocations in Europe. Certainly it is not a money-making project able to be paid off, but it is intended for serving the values of Christian education. The material renovation of the house has a cost, but the greatest cost is the people dedicated to getting the new project going.
March 1st 2010 saw the beginning of a new international community of thirteen people – eight Brothers,
a Marist Father (5) (and four lay-people, men and women) coming from nine countries and five continents.
The Superior General has given this community a double responsibility: first of all, to live and radiate the Marist charism and spirit by the witness of unity in diversity and the complementarity of the vocations involved.
The second responsibility is to accompany the pilgrims to the Hermitage, who will be, mainly, lay – people coming from various countries.
The international nature and the complementarity of the Christian vocations are two visible characteristics of the “new Hermitage” community, which remains rooted in the diocese of St Etienne, and with which the members of the community feel themselves to be in communion, and ready to collaborate with. The house and the worship of the community are open to any men and women who want to share them.
In the past, many people came to pray before Father Champagnat’s reliquary and Brother Francois’ s grave. We continue to welcome them.
Notes by the translator:
(1) Catalonia, in northeast Spain, is part of the Marist Brothers’ province of the Hermitage, which, having 327 members, is the largest of their provinces in the world. It has members in 6 countries: France, Catalonia, Switzerland, Hungary, Greece and Algeria, and these men speak 5 different languages.
(2) La Valla was the rural parish, not far from the Hermitage, where Fr Marcellin Champagnat s.m. began to gather and form young men to be the first Marist teaching Brothers (then called Little Brothers of Mary).
(3) On June 6th, 1840.
(4) Brother Francois (Gabriel Rivat) was elected superior – general of the Marist Brothers on October 12th, 1839, after Fr Marcellin resigned the same day.
(5) The Marist from New Zealand is Fr John Craddock, s.m.