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Society of Mary (Marist Fathers)

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(Initials S.M.)

A religious order of priests, so called on account of the special devotion they profess toward the Blessed Virgin.

I. FOUNDATION (1816-1836)

The first idea of a "Society of Mary" originated (1816) in Lyons, France, with a group of seminarians, who saw in the Restoration of 1815 an opportunity for religion, but the real founder was Jean-Claude-Marie Colin, the most retiring of the group. He began, amid his pastoral cares, by drafting a tentative rule and founding at Cerdon, where he was pastor, the Sisters of the Holy Name of Mary; Marcellin Champagnat, another of the group, established at Lavalla the Little Brothers of Mary. On account of the cold attitude assumed by the ecclesiastical authorities in Lyons, the foundation of the missionary priests' branch could not be made till Cerdon, Colin's parish, passed from the jurisdiction of Lyons to that of Belley. Bishop Devie of the newly restored See of Belley authorized (1823) Colin and a few companions to resign their parochial duties and form into a missionary band for the rural districts. Their zeal and success in that arduous work moved the bishop to entrust them also with the conduct of his seminary, thus enlarging the scope of their work. However, the fact that Bishop Devie wanted a diocesan institute only, and that Fr. Colin was averse to such a limitation, came near placing the nascent order in jeopardy when Pope Gregory XVI, in quest of missionaries for Oceanica, by Brief of 29 April, 1836, approved definitively the "Priests of the Society of Mary" or Marist Fathers, as a religious institute with simple vows and under a superior general. The Little Brothers of Mary and the Sisters of the Holy Name of Mary, commonly called Marist Brothers and Marist Sisters, were reserved for separate institutes. Father Colin was elected superior general on 24 Sept., 1836, on which day occurred the first Marist profession, Blessed Pierre Chanel (q.v.), Venerable Colin, and Venerable Champagnat being among the professed.

II. DEVELOPMENT (1836-1910)

From its definitive organization to the present date (1910) the Society of Mary, under four superiors general — J.C.M. Colin (1836-54), J. Favre (1854-85), A. Martin (1885-1905), J. C. Raffin (1905-) — has developed along the various lines of its constitutions in and out of France. In France it has done work in the mission field from many missionary residences established in various centres. When educational liberty was restored to French Catholics, it also entered the field of secondary, or college education, its methods being embodied in Montfat's "Théorie et pratique de l'education chrétienne" (Paris, 1880), and moreover assumed the direction of a few diocesan seminaries together with professorships in Catholic institutes for higher education. The French houses have also supplied men for the various missions undertaken abroad by the Society of Mary.

Outside of France, the first field of labour offered the Marists (1836) was the Vicariate Apostolic of Western Oceanica, comprising New Zealand, the Friendly Islands, the Navigator Islands, the Gilbert and Marshall Islands, Fiji, New Caledonia, New Guinea, the Solomon and Caroline Islands. Under the secular bishop, Dr. Pompallier, who took up his residence in New Zealand, the Marists successively occupied Wallis (1837), soon converted by Fr. Bataillon; Futuna (1837), the place of Blessed Pierre Chanel's martyrdom ; Tonga (1842), turned by Fr. Chevron into a model Christian community; New Caledonia (1843), where Bishop Douarre, Pompallier's coadjutor, met untold difficulties and Brother Blaise was massacred; and, in spite of much Protestant opposition, Fiji (1844) and Samoa (1845). The immense area of the vicariate, together with the presence at its head of a secular bishop, soon necessitated the creation of smaller districts under Marist bishops : Central Oceanica under Bishop Bataillon (1842), Melanesia and Micronesia under Bishop Epalle (1844), New Caledonia under Bishop Douarre (1847), Wellington (New Zealand) under Bishop Viard (1848), Bishop Pompallier retaining Auckland ; the Navigator Islands (1851), long administered by the Vicar Apostolic of Central Oceanica; the Prefecture of Fiji (1863), etc. Of these, Melanesia and Micronesia had to be abandoned after the massacre of Bishop Epalle at Isabella Island and the sudden death of his successor, Bishop Colomb, the Solomon Islands alone reverting to the Marists in 1898. Those various missions have progressed steadily under the Marist Fathers who, beside their religious work, have largely contributed to make known the languages, fauna, and flora of the South Sea Islands (see Hervier, "Les missions Maristes en Océanie", Paris, 1902), and helped in their colonization (de Salinis, "Marins et Missionnaires", Paris, s. d.). The growth of New Zealand has been such as to call for a regular hierarchy, and the Marists were concentrated (1887) in the Archdiocese of Wellington and the Diocese of Christchurch , still governed by members of the order.

In the British Isles, the Marist foundations began as early as 1850 at the request of Cardinal Wiseman , but have not grown beyond three colleges and five parishes. In the United States, the Society of Mary has taken a firmer hold. From Louisiana, whither Archbishop Odin called them (1863) to take charge of a French parish and college, the Marists have passed into eleven states and even branched off into Mexico, and, although continuing to minister to a number of French speaking communities, they have not limited their action there, but gradually taken up, both in parishes and colleges, American work, their training houses being almost entirely recruited in this country and being located in Washington.


The Society of Mary is now divided into six provinces: 2 in France, 1 in the British Isles, 1 in the United States 1 in New Zealand, and 1 in Oceanica.

The French provinces (Lyons and Paris ) counted at the time of the Association Act (1901) 9 institutes for the training of aspirants or of young religious, 15 missionary residences with chapels, 9 colleges for secondary education, and three diocesan seminaries, with a total of 340 priests, 100 novices, and 34 lay-brothers. The Association Act of 1901, by dissolving religious communities and confiscating their property, told heavily on these establishments: the training-houses had to be transferred to foreign parts (Belgium, Italy, and Spain ); the diocesan seminaries were taken from the religious; the residences were confiscated and their inmates compelled either to go into exile or to live separately in rented quarters; the colleges alone survived in part by becoming diocesan establishments. To the French provinces are attached in Germany, an apostolic seminary for the German Missions in Oceanica, and, in Italy and Spain, various chaplaincies and houses of retreat for the aged or the exiled fathers.

The Anglo-Irish province, erected in 1889, comprises 5 parishes (3 in London, 1 in Devonshire, and 1 in Yorkshire) and three colleges (1 in Dublin, 1 in Dundalk, and 1 in Middlesborough) with 46 priests, 8 novices, and 6 lay-brothers.

The New Zealand province, erected in 1889, comprises, in the Archdiocese of Wellington and the Diocese of Christchurch, 1 novitiate-scholasticate, 1 second novitiate, 1 college, 20 parishes among the whites, 6 missions among the Maoris and one missionary band, with 1 archbishop, 1 bishop, 70 priests, 17 novices, 15 lay-brothers, ministering to a Catholic population of about 30,000.

The Province of Oceanica, erected in 1898, comprises, besides a procurator house at Sydney and three missions in Australia, five vicariates (Central Oceanica with 15 stations; the Navigator Islands or Samoa with 15 stations; New Caledonia with 36 stations; Fiji with 17 stations; New Hebrides with 22 stations) and two prefectures (the Southern Solomon Islands with 8 stations and the Northern Solomon Islands with 5 stations). It counts: 5 vicars Apostolic, 2 prefects Apostolic, 200 priests, 25 lay-brothers (all Marists), assisted by 115 Little Brothers of Mary , 566 native catechists, and a large number of sisters, both European and native, of the Third Order Regular of Mary and of Our Lady of the Missions, founded by the Marists. The Catholic population is about 41,885.

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The province of the United States , erected in 1889, comprises two training houses in Washington, District of Columbia, 4 colleges (Jefferson College, Louisiana ; All Hallows' College, Utah ; St. Mary's College, Maine ; Marist College, Georgia), 18 parishes in various states, and missions in West Virginia and Idaho. Its membership consists of 1 archbishop, 105 priests, 75 novices, and 5 lay-brothers. There are about 600 boys in the colleges and 70,000 Catholics in the parishes and missions. From this province has been detached (1905) the Vice-province of Mexico which counts 26 priests working in 1 college with 350 pupils and 6 parishes with a large number of parishioners, French, American, German, and Mexican.


According to their constitutions, approved by papal Decree of 8 March, 1873, the Marists profess, besides the three simple and perpetual vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience, common to all similar institutes, a spirit of special devotion to Mary, absolute loyalty to the Holy See, reverence for the hierarchy, and the love of the hidden life, conformably to their motto: Ignoti et quasi occulti in hoc mundo (see G. Goyau, "Le rôle de l'humilité dans la fondation d'un Ordre", Paris, 1910). The work of the order includes missions, both domestic and foreign; colleges for the education of youth, and, in a less degree, seminaries for the training of clerics. Its members are either priests or lay-brothers. The candidates for the priesthood are prepared, once their classical course is over, by one year of novitiate, two years of philosophy, four years of theology, additional opportunities being given to those especially gifted. After ten years of profession and after the age of thirty-five, the priests are allowed to take the vow of stability, which renders them eligible for the chapters and the high offices of the society. The lay-brothers after a long probation take the same vows as the priests, and devote themselves to the care of temporalities. Its government is in the hands of general officers and of chapters. The general officers, whose official residence is in Rome, are the superior general, his four assistants, the general procurator, the procurator apud Sanctam Sedem, all elected by the chapter general — the first for life, the others till the following chapter. The provincial and local superiors are appointed by the superior general and his counsel. The general chapters, wherein all the provinces are represented in proportion to their membership, meet regularly every seven years, and, besides electing the general officers, issue statutes for the good of the whole order. Provincial chapters are convened every three years for the purpose of electing representatives to the chapters general, auditing the finances, and ensuring the discipline of each province. As the general statutes take effect only after due approbation by the Holy See, so the provincial statutes are in vigour only when and as approved by the superior council. By Apostolic Brief of 8 Sept., 1850, a Third Order of Mary for persons living in the world was canonically established and has a large membership wherever the Marists are found.

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