A Catholic Monthly Magazine

Fr Colin’s Cause – A Long and Winding Road

Part 1 of 3
Compiled by the Editor

This article, and those following in August and September, is based on the work of Fr Ronald Nissen SM in his Chronology of the Cause for Beatification of Jean-Claude Colin, and from his article in the MM in March 2018. Fr Ron writes, “I am especially grateful to Fr Gaston Lessard for his encouraging, thorough and ready assistance in producing this resource” which is online at jeanclaudecolin.org/cause/history-of-the-cause.

1875-1892

The Founder of the Society of Mary, Fr Jean-Claude Colin, died on 15 November 1875. He was buried twelve days later in the grounds of La Neylière, about 50 kilometres south-west of Lyons, and planning began for the building of a chapel in which his remains might be entombed. Marists who mourned his death gave no real consideration to his becoming a saint or to introducing his Cause, and, in fact, legislation at the time gave a period of up to thirty years for the introduction of a Cause.

Two years later, the second Superior-General of the Society, Fr Julien Favre (1812-85), began the collection of letters and other writings of the Founder. He did not want material to be lost that would be of use in the writing of a biography.

Fr Benoît Lagniet had worked with Fr Colin in his later years. He had kept all the letters he had received from him, as had Fr Eugène Ducrettet, superior of the Belley scholasticate. Fr Gabriel-Claude Mayet (1809-94), Fr Colin’s good friend and indefatigable chronicler, had amassed an immense amount of material. In 1892, fifteen years after Fr Colin died, copies had been made of all these writings.

Fr Favre died in 1885. His successor as Superior General, Fr Antoine Martin (1822-1905), a great admirer of Fr Colin, initiated research and made an effort to revive his spirituality among members of the Society. At the same time, Fr Auguste Detours (1837-95) interviewed people who had known Jean-Claude Colin, Jeanne-Marie Chavoin and Marcellin Champagnat, making extensive notes.

Frs Julien Favre, Gabriel-Claude Mayet and Claude Nicolet

The Cause is introduced
1893-1903

The Society’s General Chapter in 1893 was the first to which representatives came not only from France but also from England-Ireland, America and New Zealand. While there was strong support for the launching of the Cause for the Beatification of Fr Colin, it was not unanimous. Which suggested that some thought, in the words of Fr Nissen, “it was not opportune to introduce the Cause”.

Father Claude Nicolet (1825-1900) had successfully presented Peter Chanel’s Cause in 1887. He became Postulator-General for Fr Colin’s Cause, using Fr Jean Jeantin’s six-volume work on Fr Colin’s life. Fr Jeantin had worked with Fr Colin on the Constitutions of the Society and in his last years. The testimony of Fr Georges David, who had worked closely with Frs Colin and Jeantin, was also relevant. When Fr Jeantin died in 1895, Fr David took up the work he had been doing.

In 1899, the Cause for Beatification was initiated in the Archdiocese of Lyons. Fr Colin’s writings were gathered, copied and examined. By this time, Fr David was one of the few people alive who had known Fr Colin. So, his testimony was significant, particularly regarding the last years of the Founder’s life. When Fr Nicolet died in 1900, Fr Benoît Forestier (1821-1906) replaced him as Postulator.

Frs Benoît Forestier and Louis Copéré; Pope St Pius X

1904-1908

In 1904, an ‘Informatio’ signed by lawyers declared that there were suitable grounds for introducing Fr Colin’s Cause. Based on the work of the Censor who had examined Fr Colin’s writings, the Promoter of the Faith stated objections to the Cause. He accused Fr Colin of many transgressions, including rigorism, Jansenism, Gallicanism and lack of respect for Bishop Devie and Fr Favre.

Fr Louis Copéré became the Postulator after the General Chapter in 1905. In Rome in 1907, an examiner of the Cause raised questions about a letter dated 25 January 1822. It had been sent to Pope Pius VII from Cerdon, the town in which Frs Pierre and Jean-Claude Colin were ministering at the time. The Colin brothers and Jean-Claude Courveille s.p.g (‘Superior General’) had signed the letter. In a letter written to Marists in 1870, Fr Colin wrote, “I put Fr Courveille’s signature there by myself, without his knowledge”. So, had Fr Colin been dishonest? The possibility that he had been dishonest did not prevent the approval of the Founder’s writings in 1907.

On 9 December 1908, Pope Pius X signed a decree bringing Fr Colin’s Cause under the authority of the Holy See, and Fr Colin received the title of Venerable.


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