A Catholic Monthly Magazine

The City of Lyons in Early Marist History (2)

The Cathedral fo St John
the Baptist as seen from Fourvière

A number of buildings in the city of Lyons are significant in early Marist history.

The Cathedral of St John the Baptist

The Cathedral of St John the Baptist

This Cathedral is in ‘old Lyons’, directly beneath the hill of Fourvière. Building began in 1180 above the ruins of a 6th century church and was completed in 1476. It is the seat of the Archbishop of Lyons, the primatial see of Gaul. Public ceremonies were suspended there after the 1789 Revolution but were resumed with a great Confirmation ceremony on Trinity Sunday in 1803, at which Jean-Claude Colin, the eventual Founder of the Society of Mary, was confirmed.

The Church of St Nizier

The building of this church began in 1306 and was completed in 1585. During the French Revolution, it became a granary. Then it was given into the care of priests who had sworn allegiance to the Revolution, which probably saved it from greater damage.

The Cathedral of St John the Baptist

St Nizier Church, inside and out

Marie Françoise Perroton www.smsmsisters.org

It is in this church that Pauline Marie Jaricot is buried next to the altar of Our Lady of Graces. She was the founder of the Association for the Propagation of the Faith and the Living Rosary Association.

Pauline Jaricot

One of her friends and co-workers was Marie Françoise Perroton, the one ‘who gave the initial impulse’, to form the Missionary Sisters of the Society of Mary, the SMSMs. Marie Françoise was baptised in St Nizier’s and was a parishioner. She was also a member of the Third Order of Mary, who, in 1845, went to work as a lay missionary on the islands of Wallis and Futuna. With the French and local women who came to work with her, she began the movement that would eventually become the Missionary Sisters of the Society of Mary.

Pauline Jaricot was a person of deep faith and a mystic who worked tirelessly for the poor. She had a very positive influence on Fr Colin when he was feeling despondent about the lack of progress in setting up the Society of Mary. It seems that they met by chance in Lyons in 1823. Fr Colin was amazed at her ability to read his thoughts, and Pauline made it clear to him what he needed to do at that time in order to respond to God’s will. His meeting with her gave him new courage in his work for the Marist enterprise.

Pauline Jaricot’s tomb,
St Nizier church, Lyons

Pauline Jaricot’s bedroom, House of Loreto, Lyons, in which she died at the beginning of 1862

Frederic Ozanam memorial
plaque, St Nizier church, Lyons

The founder of the Society of St Vincent de Paul, Frederic Ozanam, was married in St Nizier church; and among other parishioners was the Venerable Suzanne Aubert, who founded the Sisters of Our Lady of Compassion in New Zealand.

The House of Puylata

It was from this house that Fr Colin directed the Society from 1839 until he resigned as Superior General in 1854. It is now a secondary school, Sainte-Marie Lyon, commonly known as ‘the Marists’. Since Fr Colin’s time, the structure of the building has changed to the extent that his rooms can no longer be identified.

It was at Puylata that Fr Colin laid firm foundations for the Society of Mary, founding schools, sending missionaries to Oceania and committing the Society to particular ministries.

‘Puylata’ in 2018

The original entrance to Puylata, 9 Montée des Carmes-Déchaussés

Sainte-Marie Lyon chaplain,
Fr Roger Lordong SM

When Fr Colin was elected as Superior General on 12 September 1836, the Society of Mary had 20 members. When he resigned after 18 years as Superior General, there were 258 members, of whom more than 100 had gone to the missions in Oceania. Fr Colin set up 27 Marist houses in Europe. Among them, there were 4 houses of religious formation, 12 for missionaries, 6 colleges, 3 seminaries and 2 parishes.

Ste Foy

This house at Sainte-Foy-lès-Lyon was built between 1858 and 1860, after Fr Colin’s time as Superior General. It is important in Marist history not only because it was the training place for many generations of seminarians and for about 40 novices, it was also a place where Fr Colin spent long periods, mostly during the winter months, after his resignation as General.

It was the house of the General Administration of the Society of Mary from 1880 to 1906, the site where General Chapters took place, and the place where the second and third Superiors General, Fathers Favre and Martin, died.

Ste Foy in 2018

The last time Fr Colin stayed at Ste Foy was in 1873. On the morning of 25 August, as he made his farewell to those gathered for the General Chapter of 1872-73, Father Colin said, ‘I have seen the Holy Spirit in the midst of your work. I have seen the Blessed Virgin in the midst of you, she who must lead you to the gates of Salvation.’

He left Ste Foy for La Neylière, where he died in 1875.   


Fr Alois Greiler SM, Jean-Claude Colin, Descriptive Chronology of his Life, Rome, 2014

Fr Donal Kerr SM, Jean-Claude Colin, Marist, Columba Press, Dublin, 2000

Fr Craig Larkin SM, Pilgrimage, A guide-book to places of Marist origins, Padri Maristi, Rome, 2013

Fr Craig Larkin SM, Marist Pilgrimage, unpublished, courtesy of Sister Teri O’Brien SM, Bon Repos, Belley

Fr Ronald Nissen SM, Options for Pilgrims to the Places of Marist Origins, 1, unpublished, The Marist Places

Wikipedia – Lyon; Fourvière; Cathedral of St John the Baptist, Lyon; Church of St Nizier, Lyon



Photos by the author, unless otherwise noted

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