A Catholic Monthly Magazine

Discerning Together

By Fr John Larsen SM

Paths for Marists to Walk Confidently into the Future

Part 3 of 3

Structures – international and local

There are many challenges to face so that we can walk confidently into a bright Marist future. I have spoken of a Marist as one who clearly discerns a particular vocation to hear the call of the Lord, as Mary did before us, and to share in her vocation. This needs to find expression in clearer forms of commitment within ecclesial groups. It needs to be expressed in some form of “bringing Good News to the Poor”, whether locally or abroad.

The ground-work for responding to these challenges can be undertaken during these days of Marist gatherings in Ireland. However, in a few days we all climb onto planes and go home. How can new directions for the future be sustained?

Marist Laity Conference in session, Dublin 2019


You will need to confirm or choose leaders both on an international and on a local level. There needs to be a clear leadership structure which includes all parts of the Marist world – Asia-Pacific, the Americas, Europe and Africa. There also need to be local leadership teams, all coordinating together while respecting regional and cultural differences. Without good leadership into the future there will be little to come out of these days of meeting apart from the joy of having been together.



These leadership teams need to develop formation programs that are appropriate for the local scene. Some good work has already been undertaken in this area. However, it needs to be more fully developed. There needs to be human and spiritual formation for all levels and they can be undertaken in ways that ‘work’ for this area or that.

Delegates from Australia, New Zealand and U.S.A.


Also, there need to be clear financial structures that support the work of leadership, formation and mission. For a robust financial scheme to be working, there needs to be funding that is clear and sustainable. Perhaps a fund could be established from benefactors that, with wise investments, could support the Marist Lay Movement well into the future.

All this raises questions about the relationships between the Lay Marists and the various branches of the Marist family – the Marist Sisters, the Marist Missionary Sisters, the Brothers and the Marist Fathers and Brothers. This is a difficult area and could prove a stumbling block. Could I respectfully suggest that the Lay Marist movement sees itself as semi-autonomous but closely linked to the wider Marist family. At present, the Sisters, Brothers and Priests are sometimes described as one family, much as cousins relate in one family. Perhaps this might be a helpful image for the Lay Marists.

As will be clear from what has preceded this, I personally have a passion for the creation of a movement of Lay Marist Missionaries. I believe strongly in this. I have seen it work unofficially as a mighty movement of the Spirit especially on the Thai-Burma border among migrants. However, the stirrings of the Spirit in this direction need to be channelled or they are in danger of ebbing away. I am sure in my heart that Mary is calling us to create a Lay Marist Missionary Work. Whether that would be part of the Lay Marist Movement or a separate movement – either an independent one or one dependent on one of the other branches – is a task for rather urgent discernment. The Spirit blows freely. In the Scriptures the Spirit who blows freely often blows away into nothing without sensitive ears to hear and hands to work.

Visiting Monasterboice


In writing this paper I have rejoiced in the fact that the Lay Marist vocation has so many expressions and forms. This is a blessing. However, it is also a danger. The Lay Marist vocation can be so pluriform that it really has no form at all. I am proposing that the Lay Marists gathered during these days need to clarify the specific form of your vocation – it is a particular ‘call’ in the Church, it has a special form of commitment that you need to develop, and it has a communal, ecclesial context that needs to be clearer. All of this is expressed in a challenging missionary expression to serve those on the margins – the poor, the youth and the migrant. We need structures to help this to happen. These structures will include clear leadership – both internationally and locally – clear formation and transparent and robust financial bases. There is much work of discernment to undertake over these days of gathering of so many generous committed Lay Marists here in Ireland right now.

These challenges make sense only from a deep sense of faith, hope and love. The heart of the matter is the “handmaid of the Lord” who was totally open to the Spirit and made her commitment to the Lord in Nazareth. She went out into mission in the hill-country of Judea to help her cousin. She gave flesh to the Word who, in turn, brought Good News to the Poor. She supported her Son, often unsure of where he was going and what he was up to. She stood - firmly, quietly, sadly – at the foot of the cross when all seemed to be lost. After the Resurrection she was again open to the outpouring of the Spirit and supported the Church as the wounded, fragmented community tried to find a voice in a hostile world.

Perhaps I have spoken ‘out of turn’. I am the leader of only one branch of the Society of Mary, that of the Priests and Brothers. I am suggesting that Lay Marists are another branch, independent but within the one family. Who then am I to be suggesting to you what you might be doing into the future? Well, if I have over-stepped the mark please understand my words as my poor attempt to express my profound excitement at being called to be a Marist – it is the most beautiful vocation - and in seeing new and hopeful ways of walking together with our sister and brother Lay Marists into the future. We may be independent adult members of one family. But we are united in deep bonds of family love. Sometimes a bit of plain talking ‘all within the family’ doesn’t do any harm!

Only when we walk with Mary, in the heart of the Church, full of faith, hope and love, will all the suggestions of this paper – and all the other good suggestions of this gathering of Lay Marists in Ireland – bear any fruit. At the end of the day it is Mary’s Work and we are delighted to be invited to participate. We need to make the bold practical decisions that are consequent upon our Marist Vocation to share in Mary’s life and work in our world today.

Only in this way, I believe, can Marists walk confidently into the future.

Thanks to Forum Novum and its editor, Fr Alois Greiler SM where Fr Larsen’s address to the Marist Laity Conference was first published online:


Photos: thanks to Bev McDonald

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