A Catholic Monthly Magazine

Marist Laity Anniversary

Bev 2014

By Bev McDonald

Marists celebrate a very special anniversary this month. It’s 180 years since official approval of Laity in the Marist project. Three Papal briefs with indulgences were granted by Pope Gregory XVI on August 12 and 14, 1834. In a quirky set of circumstances laity were granted this approval even though Cardinal Castracane had specifically asked that there be no indulgences at all for this Lay confraternity and it would be another two years before the priests and brothers of the Society of Mary received official approbation in 1836. I like to imagine this as an almost playful intervention of grace and Mary’s commitment to be in charge of her society open to everyone.  As Jean Coste SM has stated, this approval was a cause of great joy for Fr Colin who wrote “yesterday I received three Briefs from the Holy Father for the erection of the Confraternity that we will call the Third Order of the Society.”

The three Briefs with indulgences ‘valid for all future time forever’ were for the Association or Confraternity of Christ’s faithful of both sexes under the auspices of the Blessed Virgin Mary for the conversion of sinners and the perseverance of the just. The name is astoundingly inclusive. Mary’s gracious choice and invitation to bear her name was to be open to everyone. Mary wants to embrace everyone without exception and draw them into the family of God and her Marist family are instruments of that plan.

Fr Colin always saw laity as integral to the work of Mary and the plan of mercy she wanted realised. The great needs of people in every state of life were to be answered in the manner of Mary. Laity were not to be like satellites orbiting around the religious, nor encumbered with extensive pious practices but called to grow in holiness and mission in their everyday life, to be genuinely Marist in their own unique vocation in the world. Since Vatican II we speak of the age of the Laity and in that sense the Marist vision and dream was deeply prophetic. Perhaps we now live in the time best suited for it to bear abundant fruit.

This anniversary gives us an opportunity to rekindle the dream and wide-eyed vision of Colin for laity. The Third Order of Mary‘s impact on the landscape of the church in New Zealand and Oceania is considerable. In my role as facilitator of Marist Laity I have been humbled to discover the quiet hidden works of mercy and service being done in Mary’s name. The number of priests and religious vocations from within Third Order families is just one indicator of the holiness and faithfulness that Mary develops in Laity who bear her name. Most Third Order members are visiting the sick, living as instruments of mercy in their community and fulfilling Lay pastoral and catechetical roles in their parishes. Their gentle missionary impact on the faith and lives of those they live and work amongst is immeasurable. Their stories form a rich tapestry of ordinary faithfulness and holiness lived in Mary’s way over 180 years.

The more distant history also carries many rich stories of importance for Aotearoa NZ. Suzanne Aubert started her mission to New Zealand as a Lay woman in the Third Order of Mary and went on to found the Daughters of Our Lady of Compassion, the only New Zealand founded Religious congregation. Francois Perroton came to Oceania as a Lay woman in 1845. She spent 12 hard lonely years on Wallis and Futuna before 10 other pioneer lay women committed themselves to mission with her as the Third Order Regular of Mary. They became the Missionary Sisters of the Society of Mary (SMSM) in 1931.

Jean Francois Yver’s grave Mount Street Cemetery Wellington

Jean Francois Yvert arrived in New Zealand at Kororareka, on 15th June 1841 to work as printer in the Marist Catholic Maori Mission as a lay man. He went to Wellington in 1850 with Bishop Viard and worked as a school teacher and assistant to the Bishop. Fr Poupinel spoke of him as “Marist in heart and sentiment”. He died in 1867. Captain Auguste Marceau consecrated his professional skill as a naval officer to God and helped organise the shipping service that brought many early Marist missionaries, including Francois Perroton, to Oceania. He named his ship the “Ark of the Covenant” and was enrolled in the Third Order of the Blessed Virgin Mary in 1849. He also worked with the St Vincent de Paul Society, the Propagation of the Faith, and established a number of centres for nocturnal adoration of the Blessed Sacrament.

Captain Marceau Lay Marist

Captain Marceau, Lay Marist

Marie Elizabeth Blot, a lay woman, wrote to Fr Colin in 1868 explaining that she saw the Third Order of Mary as a ‘bridge to souls, to sinners’ and so it was a lay woman who gave the Marist family one of its most important symbols.

So what becomes of this 180th anniversary? We can let it slide as just another date or dare to embrace all it recalls and shares with us for the future.  I dream that every Marist community will honour this anniversary in some way. I dare to dream that we may deeply reflect together on our Colinian legacy of Laity integral to the Marist project and seek to honour and learn from the past with deep trust in Mary and hope for the future under her guidance. This anniversary year offers us an invitation as Mary’s family to ponder how we are being called to carry out Mary’s desire to gather everyone into God’s family today. What does it mean for Laity to answer Mary’s gracious choice and to intentionally bear her name, to try to live her way of discipleship like a bridge to the world, going out beyond our comfort zones in mercy as missionaries of prayer and missionaries of action in everyday life?

Pope Francis has called for a Marian style of Church.

In Evangelii Gaudium Pope Francis has called for a Marian style of Church. For Marists the resonances and the call are clear. Can we dare to believe that perhaps the time has come to fully embrace and live Colin’s dream; this Marist project that the church affirmed for Marist Laity in the Association of Mary 180 years ago?   

Bev McDonald is a Lay Marist in the Association of Mary. She is married, holds a theology degree, supports the NZ Catholic Bishops in their commitment to ecumenism, is a spiritual director and the Facilitator of Marist Laity, the Association of Mary and Marian Mothers for the Society of Mary, New Zealand. www.maristlaitynz.org


Tagged as:

Comments are closed.