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French-Speaking Marists were Essential to Development of the Northeast Dioceses

Following decades of violent anti-Church oppression, during Napoleon Bonaparte's reign in France, the gathering roots of the Society of Mary took shape in Lyons, amid the burned embers of the French Revolution.

Father Jean-Claude Colin, S.M.
Founder, Society of Mary
Fr. Jean-Claude Colin, SM

Under the direction of founder, Fr. Jean-Claude Colin, S.M., the Marists exercised their ministry at forming and sending missionary bands throughout France to help rebuild its shattered and broken Church. This method of seeking and serving those least capable of helping themselves became a Marist trait that came to help characterize the Society as it grew into a global missionary force centered in Marian spirituality.

By the 1880s, so many Marists had arrived in the United States that Pope Leo XIII gave the Society permission to establish an American Province in 1889.  This happened to coincide with a steady influx of French-Canadian immigrants into the New England states, who had come to farm the land, mostly in Maine, Vermont and New Hampshire, and to earn wages in the thriving mills and factories throughout the region, with strong presences in Massachusetts, within the Merrimack Valley (Lowell and Lawrence) and south coast (Fall River and New Bedford). 

French Marists responded in droves to help serve the burgeoning francophone body of faithful who were settling into New England; some Marists came from their first U.S. missions in Louisiana, others from Canada and France. The French identity within the New England Marist ministries became so strong at one point that there were only two Marist foundations in New England where Marists who knew little or no French could render effective service (St. Mary's College in Van Buren, Maine, and the Immaculate Conception Parish in Westerly, Rhode Island).  Over time, Marist service to French-speaking Catholics blossomed throughout New England, from the far reaches of northern Maine, in Van Buren, where many vowed Marists were born and raised, to Providence, Rhode Island, from where several future Marists hailed.

Father Jean-Claude Colin, S.M.
St. Anne's Church, Lawrence, MA

It is generally agreed that St. Anne's Parish in Lawrence was the "Mother Parish" of all Marist-operated parishes in New England.

Founded in 1882, some 40 years after the City of Lawrence was planned, St. Anne's was followed by the establishment of Marist-run missions that became four French-speaking parishes in the Greater Lawrence area: Sacred Heart (Marist-operated for 101 years), St. Joseph (85 years); and in Methuen, Our Lady of Mount Carmel (78 years) and St. Theresa (61 years).

Outside these key centers, the Marists served in and established several strong French-speaking parishes throughout New England. In some cases, they built and maintained these parishes for over a century before passing them over to the New England (arch)dioceses. St. Anne's in Lawrence closed in 1991.

On January 3, 2016 the Feast of the Epiphany, the Archbishop of Boston, Cardinal Sean O'Malley, suppressed the parish of Our Lady of Victories after years of discernment by the leadership of the Marist in the U.S. Province.

There were over 200 parishioners and friends of the Marist parish and community present who participated in a well prepared final Liturgy and a Bittersweet Farewell. Bitter in that it is a death in the province and Sweet because it is a mission completed after 130 years of Marist presence and ministry in downtown Boston. Provincial Paul Frechette presided, Father Al DiIanni preached and Father Joe McLaughlin, the outgoing pastor, concelebrated along with eight other Marists. There were ten Marist Missionary Sisters and many Lay Marists present as well and staff. A lovely reception followed in the parish center.

Father DiIanni's remarks captured the spirit of the day and these past 130 years. He recalled the many years that the rectory served as the office of the Provincial of the Boston/Northeast province. The rectory also served as a home for many Marist seminarians, priests and others pursuing studies in various Boston universities as well as a welcoming place for Marists visiting from around the world. The Mexican sisters were recognized with a special note of thanks as 'the most beloved group in this parish and rectory.'

Father DiIanni concluded:

"I extend a very special word of thanks to Fr. Joseph McLaughlin and Fr. Philip Parent who have been the final Marist pastor and parochial vicar at Our Lady of Victories. In your name, I thank them and the members of their parish council for all they have done in these latter years to make this parish a spiritual oasis in the middle of the city of Boston. And finally, most sincerely, in the name of the Marist Fathers and Brothers I extend our heartfelt thanks to all of you, the parishioners and visitors at this Shrine, for your constant support – prayerful, spiritual and financial.

As Cardinal John Henry Newman once said: 'The Church without the laity would look ridiculous.' You are the ones who make things go and we have been happy to serve you. Let me end this last official Marist sermon at Our Lady of Victories Church on the feast of the Epiphany with these words: Mary, Our Lady of Victories, it has been our privilege to serve you at this your shrine parish since 1884. We thank you kindly for your gracious assistance during these many years. Deign to be our guide and font of hope as we move forward toward a new future."