A Catholic Monthly Magazine

Fr Colin’s Cause

A Long and Winding Road

Part 2 of 3
Monument marking Fr Colin’s birthplace, Le Barbéry, France Photo: Fr Kevin Head sm

Monument marking Fr Colin’s birthplace, Le Barbéry, France Photo: Fr Kevin Head sm

1910-1940

In 1910, the promotion of the Cause began again. The work that had been done under the jurisdiction of the Archdiocese of Lyons now had to be re-done under Vatican jurisdiction. This is called the ‘apostolic process’, which continued until 1921, and brought nothing new into the open since those who had known Fr Colin personally were all dead.

A new process began, to examine Fr Colin’s fama sanctitatis -- reputation for holiness -- and miracles resulting from his intercession. This process continued at snail’s pace for fifteen years, most likely because the Congregation of Rites’ processes moved slowly and the Society of Mary’s interest in the Cause waned.

Fr Copéré, the Postulator, left Rome in 1926. It was not until the 1928 General Chapter that Fr Jules Grimal (1867-1953) took the reins as the new Postulator. He did a great deal of work in response to objections to the Cause, particularly regarding the letter to Pius VII. In 1935, the first ‘Ante-Preparatory Congregation’ took place. The Cause was permitted to proceed, but with specific objections: the problematic relationship with Fr Favre, the problem of the Courveille ‘signature’ and the inordinate length of time taken to write the Constitutions.

Fr Grimal wrote a factual summary of the origins of the Society and the history of the Constitutions, which served to demonstrate just how complicated were the points at issue. The Consultors asked for “more enlightenment and more documents”.

And they raised a new objection: Fr Colin’s fraught interactions with the Vicars-Apostolic in Oceania. The problem of the signature on the letter to Pius VII again raised its ugly head, and the Cause was blocked. Fr Grimal worked on, repeating over and over that if Fr Colin was untruthful, it was because he had forgotten.

1941-1951

Fr Jules Grimal

In 1941, a second Preparatory Congregation took place based on Fr Grimal’s new report. The Cause was blocked again, for the same reasons as previously: the Courveille signature, the slow gestation of the Constitutions and Fr Colin’s dealings with Fr Favre and with the Oceania Vicars-Apostolic.

In 1942, it happened that a monsignor working in the Vatican archives found the letter to Pope Pius VII. Was it Fr Courveille’s signature or not? Hand-writing experts from Italy and France agreed that it was, in fact, Fr Courveille’s signature. So, the question became, was Fr Colin careless with the truth?

The Congregation then ruled that the documentation was inadequate and that it was to be reassigned to the historical section of the Congregation of Rites. The Cause now relied on written documents. Fr Grimal gathered all the materials from Marists – most of them hand-written – and handed them over to Fr Pedro Leturia S.J., Dean of History at the Gregorian University. Ten years were to pass before anything else of significance happened.

1952-61

Fr Leturia presented his report, the fruit of meticulous study, on 15 February 1952. He concentrated primarily on the problem of the Courveille signature. “Either Fr Colin had some special reason for saying he had written Fr Courveille’s signature, or else there was some other circumstance”. The upshot of Fr Leturia’s report: the Cause needed to start again from scratch, collecting all documents to do with the beginnings of the Society of Mary. The General Recorder of the Congregation’s historical section, Fr Antonelli, handed over to the Society of Mary the work of conducting the “documentary research and providing the critical publications requested by Fr Leturia in his report”.

Fr Jean Coste (1926-94) arrived in Rome in 1953 for studies at the Pontifical Biblical Institute. He already had a keen interest in Fr Colin and the history of the Constitutions. On the anniversary of the approbation of Fr Colin’s 1873 Constitutions, 28 February 1954, Fr Coste delivered a lecture to Marist students in Rome on how the Constitutions came into being. With encouragement from Fr Franz Wieschemeyer, the Vicar-General of the Society of Mary at the time, and with help from the students, Fr Coste put together ‘The Earliest Texts of the Society of Mary Constitutions’ (Antiquiores Textus Constitutionum SM). Knowing of Fr Coste’s scholastic abilities, Fr Wieschemeyer asked him to consider giving up his biblical studies so that he could focus on Fr Colin’s Cause by collecting documents into the ordered presentation asked for by Fr Leturia.

In September 1955, Fr Coste moved to the SM General House in Rome to start research on the founding documents. Fr Gaston Lessard joined him in this work later in the year.

Fr Jean Coste SM

Fr Jean Coste SM

 Franz Wieschemeyer

Fr Franz Wieschemeyer SM

Gaston Lessard

Fr Gaston Lessard SM

In 1956, Frs Coste and Lessard became assistants to the new Postulator, Fr Umberto Giannini (1906-84). Over the course of ten years, and with Fr Seán Fagan’s work for one year, they assembled all documents relating to the period 1816-36 in the four volumes of Origines Maristes. They examined the roles of Courveille and Colin and their relationship minutely, along with the vexed matter of the signature on the letter to Pope Pius VII.   

Fr Umberto Giannini

Fr Seán Fagan SM

Fr Seán Fagan SM

Half Column

This article 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


Tagged as:

Leave a Response