A Catholic Monthly Magazine

The Bugey

in Early Society of Mary History

Part 2 of 2

Text and photos by the Editor

The Marists conducted missions in 27 parishes in the Bugey region of France between 1825 and 1829. The first three were in La Balme, Corlier and Izenave (see last month’s MM). 

In 1825, Bishop Devie moved the Marists from Cerdon to Belley. This article gives an account of five of the missions preached after the move to Belley. The first was in the village of Lacoux.

Lacoux: Parish of St Étienne


The parish register records the Marists’ presence as ‘Missionaries of the Society of Mary’, the first time that they were so described in official records. The village is about 20km north west of Belley. This mission, beginning on 25 October 1825, was a month long, and was given by Frs Jean-Claude Colin, Étienne Déclas and Antoine Jallon.

Probably they went by stagecoach from Belley to Tenay and were on foot for the rest of the way, first to Chaley on a good road, and then with a steep and difficult climb to Lacoux. They took little with them. They carried their sermons, their ‘treasures’, in black leather bags on their shoulders. The population of the village was about 300, and the parish priest was Fr Jean-Francois Martelin, who was not much more than 30 years of age at the time. It seems that the Marists’ ministry was appreciated: “the ardour with which the people abandoned their work to hear the word of God was unbelievable” (Kerr, p. 214).

It is likely that a cross was erected after the mission, as, the next year, the parish priest wrote of a procession “made from the church to ‘Calvary’,” the mission cross. In regard to the practice of placing crosses after a mission, Fr Colin said that this should not take place if there was no enthusiasm for it. “As long as the cross is planted in people’s hearts, there is no need to plant it in the ground”.

Saint-Jérôme

St Jérôme, nowadays called Boyeux-St-Jérôme, had a population of 573 in 1826. The mission took place during January and February of that year, in the depths of winter. The village is in a valley, gets very little sun during the winter, and it is easy to imagine how cold and damp it most likely was. The mission was preached by Frs Jallon and Déclas, along with a diocesan priest from Lyons, Fr Antoine Montagny. The parish was in a poor state, as the parish priest, Joachim Dubreuil, neither preached nor gave the sacraments.

One piece of information known about this mission is that people came from Châtillon to attend and receive the sacraments. They had shown no interest in the mission which had been held in their village in November 1825, and a woman close to death had refused the last sacraments.

She died when the Marists were conducting a mission near Châtillon, at Poncieux. Fr Colin returned to Châtillon to lead her funeral. He preached on the eternal truths, and treated the villagers to another burst of eloquence at the graveside, thus inspiring them to come to the mission at Saint-Jérôme.

Innimont: Parish of St Laurence

This mission took place in November 1826. Innimont is high in the Bugey mountains, 16km from Belley, in those days on a track rather than a road, with a population of 380 in 1832. The church is lovely, dating, in part, from the 12th century. When Frs Colin, Déclas and Jallon arrived, they found that the presbytery, unoccupied for 25 years, was a stone hovel with neither doors nor glass in the windows. There was not a stick of furniture and sizeable holes in the roof. They swept rubbish from the house, then went begging for food, to no great effect. They stuffed the windows with rags provided by the villagers, trying to block out the icy wind 922 metres above sea-level. They slept on straw, as there were no mattresses, and borrowed skirts from the women to act as bed-coverings. They found all of this highly amusing: “We were laughing as we went about sweeping as best we could”. 

Innimont, relic of St Laurence

Innimont, relic of St Laurence


Innimont

Innimont

By the end of the mission, the people begged them to stay. One woman embraced Fr Colin and kissed him, and some knelt in the mud and tried to kiss the Marists’ feet. To their embarrassment, the villagers shouted their appreciation, “Vive les missionaires!” as they left (OM 662:1-4).

Tenay: Parish of St Andrew

This mission took place in March 1827 and was given by Frs J-C Colin, Déclas and Jallon. It was significant for the fact that it was the only mission conducted by the Marists in an industrial town. Tenay’s population was 1,130 in 1832, it was on the main road between Belley and Lyons, and it had factories for weaving cloth. The mission programme was set in such a way that the factory workers did not have to take time off work to attend, and the numbers attending grew during the course of the mission. The mill-owners did not show up. At the end of the mission when a cross was erected, Fr Colin thanked the owners publicly for allowing the workers to attend, and excused their non-attendance because they were so busy. He said “Speak with esteem and respect of those who have not made the mission. Excuse them by attributing their absence to the pressure of business or other responsibilities” ((OM II, doc 661:2).

Tennet

Tennet

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ruffieu: Parish of St Didier

Ruffieu holy water font:

Ruffieu holy water font:“God is watching you, sinner”

This mission took place in 1829, and was the last that the Marists preached. The preachers were Frs J-C Colin and Jean-Marie Humbert. The village, the population of which was 549 in 1832, is north of Belley in an area called Valromey. It seems that this mission was very successful. Fr Humbert recalled that “the whole parish came to the sacraments”. He is recorded as saying, “On the closing day of the mission, so many people came from the neighbouring villages that, with the church full, there were still more people outside than inside. How would all these people be able to hear? At the time for the sermon, Fr Colin said to me: ‘Go up to the choir loft and put yourself by that little window and repeat to the crowd who can’t hear me some of the words that I am going to say from the pulpit’. I did the best I could, and those who were outside were as moved as those who were inside, so true is it that when God is with a man he needs very little to move hearts” (OM III, doc 879).

Ruffieu, showing the small window above the door, through which Fr Humbert spoke to the crowd outside

Ruffieu, showing the small window above the door, through which Fr Humbert spoke to the crowd outside

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

At the end of the mission Bishop Devie confirmed almost 600 candidates from Ruffieu and neighbouring parishes.

The bishop brought with him the news that the director of the minor seminary at Belley, Fr Pichat, had died. He ordered Fr Colin to go back to Belley, where he took Fr Pichat’s place. This was the end of Fr Colin’s mission days, but Fr Déclas covered all of the Bugey area between 1832 and 1862. When he died, he was well-known as ‘the Apostle of the Bugey’.  

Sources:

Alois Greiler SM, Jean-Claude Colin, Descriptive chronology of his life;

Donal Kerr SM, Jean-Claude Colin, Marist;

Craig Larkin SM, Pilgrimage – a guide book to places of Marist Origins;

Ronald Nissen SM, The Bugey Missions;

Justin Taylor SM, Jean-Claude Colin, Reluctant Founder.


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