A Catholic Monthly Magazine

Reflections on Marist Spirtuality (1)


Fr Denis Mahony

Fr Denis Mahony, who died last year, presented these Reflections on Marist Spirituality at Marist Training Centre in Tutu, Fiji. They were published in Tutu - Another Way, written by Adele M.E. Jones with Michael McVerry sm, and published in 2012, and are reprinted with permission.

 Mary’s dream

Two hundred years ago Mary shared her dream, her desire, to be present again in the Church today as she was at its beginning two thousand years ago. She wanted to be present through the men and women she would choose to represent her, take her place in supporting the growth of the Church now as she did when the Church was first coming into existence.

These reflections consider some of the aspects of our life as Marists – our mission, some essential Marist characteristics and the importance of Marist lay people, because most Marists are lay people.

When Fr Colin was thinking and deciding about the Society of Mary he was never closed within himself. Rather, he was always going beyond himself looking at things from a more universal point of view. His thinking was about the Church and the world, its needs, its hungers and its pain. But he saw them through Mary: her spirit revealed to him the possibilities that God was offering to the Church and the world of his day. He believed that Mary’s spirit was the food and medicine needed at the time and it was the work of Marists to deliver these essentials of life. We, the Marists of today, are called to continue this work of Mary.

Sent on mission by Mary

So Marists are people on a mission, inspired by zeal and a missionary spirit. And according to Fr Colin it is Mary who sends us on our mission. He said, “It is Mary who gives each one his/her mission, just as the divine Son once entrusted a mission to his apostles, calling them his friends, telling them ‘Go and teach all nations,’ just so, this kind mother, at the end of time, says to us: ‘Go, proclaim my divine Son to the world. I am with you. Go, we shall still be united’.” As far as Fr Colin is concerned, Marists are sent on mission by Mary herself.

Of course, every mission undertaken in the Church is a share in the mission of Jesus. He was sent by the Father, and now He sends us forth. The work we do is Christ’s work. It is Christ’s name that we proclaim. In the passage quoted above it is to proclaim Jesus that Mary sends us forth. But Fr Colin believed that Mary has a special, personal role within the saving mission of Jesus, and that our Society was founded to carry out this special mission of Mary in our days. He insists that it was Mary’s desire to support the Church today as she had in the beginning.

A special mission

Fr Jean Claude Colin, Founder of the Society of Mary. Stained glass window in the tomb of Bishops  Vidal and Nicolas, Cawaci, Fiji.

Fr Jean Claude Colin, Founder of the Society of Mary. Stained glass window in the tomb of Bishops
Vidal and Nicolas, Cawaci, Fiji.

The Society of Mary, then, has been entrusted with a special mission, an urgent mission which has to do with God’s plan for the salvation of his people. Marists are concerned about two particular themes regarding ministry:

1. Identifying with the merciful concerns of Mary for the conversion of sinners, to be carried out with the gentle motherly touch of Mary’s quiet way.

2. Gathering everyone under Mary’s maternal protection. We are to reach out to all of God’s people in a way that might make a difference and bring them back to experience God’s love through the gentle, quiet, unassuming way of Mary.

In summary, our mission is to be the vehicle for Mary’s desire to be the support of the Church in our day as she was at its beginning. It is as if Mary is God’s gift to his Church and to all of his creation and it is our Marist mission to deliver this gift to the world.

A mission of the laity

How could this be possible? The Society of Mary is very small. How could it minister to the whole world? Fr Colin says explicitly that this will be accomplished through the lay branch of the Society. This is how Fr Colin stated it: “The general aim of the Society is to contribute to the conversion of sinners and the perseverance of the just, and to gather all under the protection of the Mother of God. For this reason, entry to the Society of Mary is open to lay people.”

This text draws together three major ideas regarding the Marist Mission:

1. The principal aims of our mission are the conversion of sinners and the perseverance of the just.

2. The main way to reach these aims is by bringing people under Mary’s protection.

3. One of the principal means for carrying out this mission is the laity.

A Bridge to SoulsMary as the model

It is important that we understand Fr Colin’s thinking in this regard. When people think of ministry they usually think about the ordained ministry. However, for Fr Colin and the early Marist priests their vocation to the Society of Mary represented something over and above their priesthood. Their Marist vocation was not tied to priesthood, but was open to all, especially to lay people. When talking about ministry, Fr Colin was speaking of the mission of the Society of Mary. The mission was the all-embracing love and concern of Mary for all her children, especially the most alienated, straying and abandoned. Fr Colin’s concern was not the importance of the priesthood in the Church (he took that for granted). His concern was the importance of Mary in the Church for the salvation of souls. It is not the power of the priesthood but the power in the name and spirit of Mary that will convert sinners and advance the work of God. Fr Colin took the person of Mary as the model of how ministry is to be done.

The mercy of God under Mary’s name

For Fr Colin, the most effective way to help the people of God to persevere and to draw to God is by offering them an experience of the mercy of God under the name and protection of Mary. The best way for people to experience Mary’s maternal care is to become members of her family. And it is through the Marist Laity that Marists can best share with others our life in Mary’s family, under her protection, after her example, and by her “gracious choice.”


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