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Take Five

A Certain Way
There is a certain way of living the Gospel, the way Mary lived it, as understood by a group of people called Marists. This is the story of those men and women who in the 1800's committed themselves to what they called "The Work of Mary" and began a movement which is still developing today. It is also the story of what makes today's Marists think, judge and act. Over the years, many people have provided scholarly research into the origins and spirituality of the Marist project. Many have added to it. Resources such as "A Certain Way" come alive only when they are sought, searched and used. By reading this, you have already brought further life to the Marist project, but how will you let it speak?

Our Take Five will introduce you to this "Certain Way" with excerpts from the book by that title. We hope you enjoy "taking five" minutes to read and contemplate each month as we follow this wonderful path.

Life from within
The Marist project was described as "a tree of many branches". There were branches of priests, brothers, sisters, and lay people. Within a year of the death of the founder of the brothers, 421 young men had become brothers. At the death of the founder of the priests' branch, 258 priests and religious were working in France, Oceania and London. Within a year of its approval 16 young women from one small village had joined the sisters' group. What was the secret?

To read "A Certain Way" from the beginning, see Table of Contents links to the right.

The Bugey missions

On October 29, 1824 Pierre Colin wrote to his Bishop:
"My Lord, today the little Society of Mary begins...."

One may well ask why he considered that day as the foundation day. It was, after all, eight years since the little group had made a promise to begin the Society; already Marcellin Champagnat had
a group of Brothers gathered round him at La Valla. This day is
never commemorated in Marist anniversaries.

But it was the day that a third person,  Etienne Declas, joined Pierre Colin and Jean-Claude Colin at Cerdon, and a team was formed to do mission work in the outlying mountain areas of the Bugey.

Bugey is the general name for all the area between the Ain River and Gex, near to the border of Geneva. The area is mountainous and under snow for a good part of the winter. The Marist missioners could do their work only in these winter months because it was the only time of the year when they could bring the country people together.

The Bugey was a neglected area: priests didn't want to go there, and many of those who did were not up to the task. Some were described as schismatic or apostates to the faith; at least one had significant moral and personality problems. Many of the churches had been abandoned and uncared for since the Revolution: buildings and steeples that had been knocked down during the troubles had not been rebuilt. Marriages entered into unlawfully had not been rectified.

Though the land was fruitful and fertile and
the people lived reasonably well materially,
their spiritual needs were immense.

Colin spent five years in this terribly difficult work, but he looked back on those years with great affection and nostalgia.

For him, it had been a fourfold experience: of the mercy of God, of a team ministry, of the extreme poverty of their resources, and of the immense power of God at work in them. He saw this period of time as representing a key feature of Marist life, that the "place" where Marists should find themselves most at home is among the abandoned, those on the margins, those in danger of being left aside.

While Oceania represents the call to Marists to be at the very margins of the world, the missions of the Bugey represent their call to seek out and gather those in their own country who find themselves for whatever reason at the margins and beyond the margins of the Church; those who find themselves alienated from the practice of the faith; those who may be searching for the face of God, but cannot see that face in the Church as they perceive it.

The Mayet Memoirs
Father Colin said to me: "I especially want there to be in the Society some record of our beginnings, not just so that we shall be talked about... but so that in the future people will conform to our way of acting and imitate the simplicity that God blessed. Later, when the Society has grown and certain people will be tempted to discard this way of acting, the written records will show as a rallying point."

– June, 1844

Powerful instrument
Etienne Declas was the first seminarian to whom Jean-Claude Courveille revealed his dream of beginning a religious group dedicated to Mary. It was he who passed the word on to Jean- Claude Colin.

Declas remained faithful to the project, and when he joined the Colin brothers at Cerdon in 1824, this was simply the fulfillment of the promise he had made in 1816 to work at beginning the Society. Declas was of simple and rough stock, and was never anything but a bad speaker.

"At first I couldn't bear to listen to him, he made so many mistakes". said Colin. "But then I realized something else: despite Declas' mistakes in French, God blessed the preaching."

At the same time, Colin forbade Declas to preach in any of the towns, or to say Mass in public, "because he said it in a way that provoked ridicule."

Yet God blessed his work. "No one else is surrounded by so many people". Colin said.

Declas spent over 30 years preaching in the country area, and he gained the title of "Apostle of the Bugey".

Towards the end of his own life, Colin said, "Look at our first confreres, Fathers Declas, Humbert and Jallon. They were humble, straightforward and simple souls. See how the good Lord blessed them. Everything in their lives reflected poverty. We ate with peasants, we slept all together. Their preaching was utterly simple, and the people fell at their feet. We were overwhelmed in the Confessional."

Country mission
Izenave is one of the villages in the Bugey area. The Bugey is not poor and infertile. But it is isolated, difficult, and, in the time of the Marists, it had been left somewhat abandoned by the Church. The Marist missioners preached at Izenave in March of 1825.

The Bugey MissionsIn general, the Marists preferred to call themselves catechists rather than missioners.

The mission usually lasted three to four weeks. On arrival at a village where they were to preach, the first thing the Marists did was to visit the church; then they visited the Parish Priest; then they heard the children's confessions.

The first instruction to the people was a friendly invitation to come to the mission. The sermons in the first week were on the mercy of God, and other subjects calculated to win the confidence of the faithful.

Later, they preached on the commandments, and when most of the confessions were over they preached on sin.

It was the goodness of the priest, Colin claimed, not the fear he engendered, that brought people to Christ. So he insisted that there should be no diatribes against those who were failing in their obligations or refusing to come to the mission.

"Speak with esteem and respect of those who have not made the mission," he said. "Excuse them by attributing their absence to the pressure of business or other responsibilities."

The guiding principle of the missioners was: "We must win souls by submitting to them."

Hard times
There were many stories told of those hard times in the Bugey missions. Most of the travelling was done on foot through snow and mud.

The living conditions were extremely difficult.

Often the Marists had to sleep in the local inn, and this brought its own problems of vermin and poor food and limited accommodation. Sometimes the three priests had to be content with two small beds.

On one occasion, the only bedroom belonged to the land lady, and the shy priests discovered that she planned to share it with them!

Looking back on those days, Colin told Mayet: "Never were we so happy. Never did we laugh with such good heart. I have always been nostalgic fort hose days. They were good times…. Often we had to get our own meals. Once, we arrived in a parish where there had been no priest since the Revolution. The presbytery was uninhabited. We set to to sweep it, as best we could, laughing all the time. There were no windows, the ceiling was open, the cracks were stuffed with hay. We went to bed. We were really cold, but we laughed about it."

Marist Fathers' Constitutions
Marist tradition can continue to be a living reality on if it offers an experience of the Gospel similar to that of Jean-Claude Colin and his companions…

In the mountains of the Bugey
the first Marist missioners
experienced the joy of
proclaiming the Good News
to forgotten people.

– Constitutions 50 and 54



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The first Marists were
men and women of rock,
and the origins of
Marist spirituality were hewn, almost literally, out of rock.

But what those pioneers found
was fresh for their times.

And for ours.

...in Mary the woman  we can see a reflection  in human terms of  the maternal qualities  of God, especially  the qualities of mercy and compassion.

In Mary, act and
spirituality are one.


A Certain Way
Table of Contents


Chapter One Introduction:
Consider the rock

Chapter One, Section 1: Silent voice

Chapter One, Section 2:
An echo of what I heard

Chapter One, Section 3:
Six thousand pages

Chapter One, Section 4:
Such is the first step

Chapter One, Section 5:
I heard interiorly

Chapter One, Section 6:
The Dispersal

Chapter One, Section 7:
Jeanne-Marie Chavoin

Chapter One, Section 8:
Marcellin Champagnat

Chapter One, Section 9:
Jean-Claude Colin

Chapter One, Section 10:
The Project came from God

Chapter One, Section 11:
Unheard of... a monster

Chapter One, Section 12:
The finger of God

Chapter One, Section 13:
Consider the rock

Life from within

Chapter Two, Introduction:
Something new for our times

Chapter Two, Section 1:
It makes a difference

Chapter Two, Section 2:
Something never
thought of

Chapter Two, Section 3:
The end times

Chapter Two, Section 4:
New world-new church

Chapter Two, Section 5:
The work of Mary

Chapter Two, Section 6:
In this World

Chapter Two, Section 7:
Instruments of divine mercy

Chapter Two, Section 8:
Useful instruments

Chapter Two, Section 9: The great No's

Chapter Two, Section 10:
The only way to do good

Chapter Two, Section 11:
Flesh to the Word

Chapter Three, Life from Within Intro: Life Force

Chapter Three, Section 1: Icons

Chapter Three, Section 2: Least Marian yet most Marian

Chapter Three, Section 3: Woman, mother and disciple

Chapter Three, Section 4: Most hidden

Chapter Three, Section 5: Most present

Chapter Three, Section 6:
I am watchful

Chapter Three, Section 7:
A parent's care

Chapter Three, Section 8:
Care for the people of God

Chapter Three, Section 9:
A Marian Church

Chapter Three, Section 10:
Silence gives you perfect sound

Chapter Four, Intro:
Fire and rose

Chapter Four, Section 1:
A place to stand

Chapter Four, Section 2:
A place of the heart

Chapter Four, Section 3:
Pentecostal fire

Chapter Four, Section 4:
One in mind and heart

Chapter Four, Section 5:
A bridge to souls

Chapter Four, Section 6:
Losing itself in the church

Chapter Four, Section 7:
Power bursting forth

Chapter Four, Section 8:
Caught up

Chapter Four, Section 9:
Life from within

On mission

Chapter Five, Introduction:
Setting out

Chapter Five, Section 1:
Any part of the world

Chapter Five, Section 2:
An uncommon deed

Chapter Five, Section 3:
A woman of great virtue

Chapter Five, Section 4:
The pioneers

Chapter Five, Section 5:
Set out in haste

Chapter Five, Section 6:
Buried in the rich soil

Chapter Five, Section 7:
New language

Chapter Five, Section 8:
Free people

Chapter Five, Section 9:
Setting out again

Chapter Six, Introduction:
On the fringe