From Today's Marists Newsletter-Fall 2015
The Marist World Prepares To Commemorate 200 Years Of Its Founding Pledge
By Fr. Ted Keating, SM
Early on the morning of July 23, 1816, a group of young men made their way up 800 steps leading to the ancient shrine of Fourvière, in Lyons, France. For more than a year, they had shared intense conversations about a major project they had been encouraging each other to bring to fruition: the foundation of a Religious Congregation totally devoted to Mary, Mother of God.
They perceived that it would be symbolically a counterpart and practically parallel to the Society of Jesus, but, as a Congregation, uniquely suited to "these times" because they were discerning that Mary was calling for this.
They were 12 in number of whom five had been ordained the day before — names familiar to our Marist world: Marcellin Champagnat, Founder of the Marist Teaching Brothers; Jean-Claude Colin who would later be the practical Founder of the Society of Mary (the Marist Fathers and Brothers); Jean-Claude Courveille whose religious experiences and inspirations were so important to the efforts; and Etienne Declas and Etienne Terraillon who would be so essential to the completion of the later project.The reason for their journey that morning was to make a pledge to persevere in this project even though the five ordained were heading off to their first assignments in the Diocese of Lyon and the others were heading off to their summer vacation before their final year in the seminary of St. Irénée.
The men would place a signed Pledge under the Corporal at a Mass celebrated by newly-ordained Fr. Courveille. They were firm in their commitment but aware of their youth and the potential accusation of idealistic dreaming, they wrote: "We do this, not childishly or lightly or for some human motive of the hope of material benefit, but seriously, maturely having taken advice, having weighed everything before God, solely for the greater glory of God and the honor of Mary, Mother of the Lord Jesus."
Indeed it was no idle dreaming on the part of these youthful idealists. They worked perseveringly over two decades to bring Mary's dream to reality — especially Marcellin Champagnat, whose slant on the dream was the founding of a Congregation of teaching Brothers on the model of the LaSalle Christian Brothers, and, also, Jean-Claude Colin who envisioned the Society of Mary as a tree with many branches. They began work almost immediately.
The Society of Mary would be approved formally by the Vatican in 1836, and the Marist Brothers of the Schools in 1863; but both were operational from 1817 in various ways.
The Third Order of Mary (1850), the Marist Sisters (SM in 1884), and the Marist Missionary Sisters (SMSM 1931) were all parts of the dream with many branches, and they fell in place over the course of many years before their final approval by the Vatican.
The Pledge also declared that these 12 young men would "accept all sufferings, trials, inconveniences and, if needs be, torture, because we can do all things in Christ Jesus who strengthens us…." They needed that depth of passion and commitment to move beyond the obstacles that came their way.
The Pledge was signed in a brief period of peace just after the Napoleonic Wars and before chaos returned to France for many more decades. Churchmen were often jealous to divert their energies in various ways. But these challenges only strengthened their resolve and their sense of mission to "these times." Secularization and secularism was rampant over the coming years fomenting in them a vision for the apostolate that makes the Marist mission and charism uniquely valuable to our own times.
The year 2016 will mark the 200th anniversary of the Pledge taken by these 12 enthusiastic and courageous young men.
We are challenged as Marists in all the branches of the Society to take up that sense of courage, passion, vision, and creative hope for our own time with its own significant challenges. However we view the diminishment of numbers in the vowed members of the Society today, we have unimaginably more resources than these early Marists who began with nothing but their dreams and their boundless faith in God under the protection of Mary.
The grace of a large and committed laity challenges our sense of creativity for the mission in our time. Their resources of personnel and organization spread across the face of the world in short order. They saw themselves as "doing her work," the "work of Mary" in a world to which she desired to bring mercy, consolation, a new energy of faith in God and in the Church. She even more deeply desired to call back so many who had turned away from faith, then and in our own time.
That desire is echoed so often in the call of Pope Francis to place mercy in the forefront of the Church's face to the world, to do the work of mercy-making that our time uniquely seems to need, and that these grounded dreamers heard in the call of Mary.
The four Superior Generals of the Society in a joint letter to all membership in the various branches set out these challenges to us:
• to provoke a sense of curiosity and awe at the significance of the Fourvière Pledge for today;
• to foster an enhanced sense of Marist identity as "Marist Family";
• to boost a renewal of energy, hope, joy, motivation and commitment to the "work of Mary."
The Marist Family will be celebrating this Year of Fourvière in many different ways. The Generals hope that it could be as partners in celebration. A website of resources has been established at www.maristinter.org should you wish to join us.
At a more concrete level, the Generals make these recommendations for consideration:
- In countries where there are representatives of each or several of the Marist family congregations and Marist laity, we encourage you to collaborate on preparing special gatherings throughout the year to share on the meaning of the Fourvière Pledge in your own lives as well as to use the prayer resources mentioned above for faith sharing following your times of personal reflection. One such gathering could be a combined pilgrimage to a local Marian shrine/church.
- Plan a gathering in your respective countries for Fourvière Day, 23 July 2016, and celebrate the Bicentenary of the Fourvière Pledge as Marist Family in communion with those who will be gathered for the celebration in Lyon.
- Consider sending a representative to participate in the Fourvière Day 2016 celebrations in Lyon, France. The celebration will begin with the Eucharistic Liturgy in the basilica of Notre Dame de Fourvière at 10:30. A group of young people who will be participating in the International Marist Youth Gathering in Lyon will join in this celebration on Fourvière Day as the culminating event of their week-long session prior to World Youth Day in Poland. The Mass will be followed by a meal in a location near to the basilica.
So do not be too surprised if you receive an unannounced call from a Marist Family member inviting you to join in our worldwide celebration.
One of the most beautiful dimensions of the so-called Pledge of Fourvière is the unadorned youth of the men making this trek up the 800 steps.
We can almost imagine their conversations about what they are doing, where their hopes will take them, blissfully unaware of the millions of students their lives would touch; the distant lands of the "undiscovered" west Pacific (Oceania) reached around the daunting Cape of Good Hope; find homes in the new and bustling nations of the United States, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Mexico, and accepting "all sufferings, trials, inconveniences and, if needs be, torture, because we can do all things in Christ Jesus who strengthens us…."
The Fourvière Pledge
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
All for the greater glory of God and the greater honor of Mary, Mother of the Lord Jesus.
We the undersigned, striving to work together for the greater glory of God and the honor of Mary, Mother of the Lord Jesus, assert and declare our sincere intention and firm will of consecrating our-selves at the first opportunity to founding the pious congregation of Mariists*.
That is why by the present act and our signatures, in so far as we can, we irrevocably dedicate ourselves and all our goods to the Society of the blessed Virgin.
We do this not childishly or lightly or for some human motive or the hope of material benefit, but seriously, maturely, having taken advice, having weighed everything before God, solely for the greater glory of God and the honor of Mary, Mother of the Lord Jesus.
We pledge ourselves to accept all sufferings, trials, inconveniences and, if needs be, torture, because we can do all things in Christ Jesus who strengthens us and to whom we hereby promise fidelity in the bosom of our holy mother the Roman catholic church, cleaving with all our strength to its supreme head the Roman pontiff and to our most reverend bishop, the ordinary, that we may be good ministers of Jesus Christ, nourished with the words of faith and of the wholesome teaching which by his grace we have received.
We trust that, under the reign of our most Christian king, the friend of peace and religion, this institute will shortly come to light and we solemnly promise that we shall spend ourselves and all we have in saving souls in every way under the very august name of the Virgin Mary and with her help.
All this is subject to the wiser judgment of our superiors.
May the holy and immaculate conception of the blessed Virgin Mary be praised.
Amen.* Original name and spelling of Marists on the pledge.•
The Society of Mary
would be approved formally by the Vatican in 1836,
and the Marist Brothers
of the Schools in 1863;
but both were operational from 1817 in various ways.
[to bring mercy]
is echoed so often
in the call of
to place mercy
in the forefront
of the Church's
face to the world,
to do the work of
our time uniquely
seems to need,
and that these
heard in the
call of Mary.