A Catholic Monthly Magazine

Fr Jean-Claude Colin at La Neylière

Text and photos by the editor

La Neylière itself

La Neylière is 40 km south-west of Lyons in the Lyonnais Mountains, between the village of Pomeys and the town of Saint-Symphorien-sur-Coise. Fr Jean-Claude Colin, the Founder of the Society of Mary, purchased the property on 16 July 1850 when he was Superior General. Frs Colin and Claude Raccurt signed the contract. Immediately, Fr Colin placed in the house a Miraculous Medal that he was wearing to “take possession of it in the name of the Virgin Mary, Superior of the Society, in whose name he had bought it”.1 The money, 48,000 francs, came from a former lawyer, Fr Jean Viennot.

View approaching La Neylière from St-Symphorien-sur-Coise

View approaching La Neylière from St-Symphorien-sur-Coise

The estate had belonged to several noble families since the mid-1600s. While the building had deteriorated by the time Fr Colin purchased it, it kept something of its past splendour in its grand staircase and parquet floors. He remodelled the interior to suit religious and built the chapel of Our Lady of Compassion, which he blessed on 24 July 1853. Fr Jean-Marie Humbert, the bursar-general, supervised the Brothers and hired workers who carried out the necessary work. Fr Colin spent a great deal of time at La Neylière “supervising the alterations. ... he liked to be involved in building and renovation and apparently had an opinion of his abilities as an amateur architect that few others were prepared to share”. 2

La Neylière tower

La Neylière tower

La Neylière staircase

La Neylière staircase

A place for prayer and reflection

As far back as 1842 Fr Colin had mentioned such a place to his confrères. It was to be a place where Marists could be refreshed and readied for whatever was to come next in their ministry, and he longed to establish it. He told Mother Marie-Thérèse Dubouché, Foundress of the Sisters of Reparative Adoration, that La Neylière was “the favourite work for me. I desire nothing so much as to end my days at the foot of the holy altars”.3  He was confident that those who visited the place would find tranquillity of soul and hope for their future.

Fr Colin intended the house to be the home of a contemplative branch of the Society of Mary, a place of retreat and Eucharistic devotion. Fr Julien Favre, the second Superior General, did not fancy this idea, so the plan for a house of Eucharistic devotion came to nothing.

Fr Colin moved to La Neylière in 1854 after he resigned as Superior General. He delighted in living there. In 1859, when his nephew, Fr Eugène Colin, visited him, he found him in good spirits. Eugène wrote to Fr Victor Poupinel, “Thanks to the care of Fr Rigotier (the superior), at La Neylière he regains his youthfulness and is charming and cheerful. All the young fathers who have spent a few days at La Neylière during the holiday period have been enchanted by his good spirits”. 4

La Neylière and Oceania

Fr Colin’s study desk

Fr Colin’s study desk

Map of Oceania  on Fr Colin's study desk

The Oceania Museum at La Neylière reflects Fr Colin’s particular concern for the missionaries he sent to the Pacific and his interest in the people to whom they ministered. In a letter to the secretary of Propaganda Fide in 1854, Fr Colin wrote, “I had loved these missions; no one more than I has desired their success and prosperity; no sacrifice on our part had been neglected”. 5

Between 1836 and 1849, Fr Colin appointed 119 men to the Pacific, close to 35% of the Society of Mary’s priests and brothers at the time, and thirty-nine men to New Zealand alone. In choosing those who would go to the missions, he picked men of calibre, keeping “the high standards of generosity and commitment that he considered essential”. 6 By 1854, when Fr Colin’s time as Superior General ended, ninety of those who had gone to the missions, made up of sixty priests and thirty brothers, were working in New Zealand, New Caledonia, Wallis, Futuna, Tonga, Fiji, Samoa and at Villa Maria, in Hunters’ Hill, Sydney. 7

Fr Colin's deathbed

The place where Fr Colin died

On 18 October 1875, Fr Colin expressed the wish that when he died, his remains stay at La Neylière. On 19 October, 8 Fr Colin said his farewells to his long-time and faithful attendant, Br Jean-Marie: “I am leaving, taking with me the love of the Blessed Virgin and the love of the Society”.

 tomb: ‘Father, pray for your children’

Fr Colin's tomb: ‘Father, pray for your children’

On Sunday 24 October Fr Colin said Mass for the last time. On 31 October, he made his confession and received viaticum. He received the sacrament of anointing on 11 November but was unable to receive Communion, as he had great difficulty swallowing.

Jean- Claude Colin died at 7.45 am on 15 November, 85 years and 3 months old.

With the mayor’s permission for burial on private property, a simple funeral took place in the garden of La Neylière on 27 November. 9

The short text above his original tomb at La Neylière read, “Here lies the body of the Venerable Jean Claude Colin, who lived in this house for 21 years”.

From 1854 to 1875, Fr Colin had spent most of each year at La Neylière, but he also loved travelling. Fr Craig Larkin wrote that “it would be stretching one’s pious imagination to think that he was there for 21 continuous years of solitary retreat”. 10

On 5 November 1876, in a circular letter, Fr Favre wrote about the Founder’s funeral almost a year ago, and about the construction of a suitable place for the Founder’s remains. The chapel built as a shrine was blessed in October 1879.

A special place

Nowadays, La Neylière is a multi-purpose venue. It not only hosts retreats and renewal programs. It also provides a location for such events as artists’ workshops, school study groups, and cultural activities such as art exhibitions, music recitals and choral performances, which are organised by the Association of the Friends of La Neylière.

A choral performance in the chapel at La Neylière

A choral performance in the chapel at La Neylière

For more than 50 years, La Neylière was the novitiate for Brothers and Fathers of the Society of Mary. Members of the congregation throughout the world view La Neylière as special. It is a house that the Founder loved, where he lived for many years and died, and where they can pray at his tomb.   

1  Justin Taylor SM, Jean-Claude Colin, Reluctant Founder, p 806

2  ibid, p 845

3  ibid, p 854

4  ibid, p 932

 ibid, p 888

6  Jan Snijders SM, A Mission Too Far, p 157

7  Stanley Hosie SM, Anonymous Apostle, p 217

8  Taylor, op. cit., p 1062

9  Alois Greiler SM, Jean-Claude Colin, Descriptive chronology of his life, p 305

10 Craig Larkin SM, Marist Pilgrimage (unpublished), p 94

 


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