On the 23rd July 1816, 12 seminarians and newly ordained priests came together at Fourviere, overlooking Lyons in France. There they pledged themselves to set up a religious order bearing the name of Mary. It was to be made up of priests, sisters, brothers, and lay-people. These men believed that Mary, the Mother of Mercy, wanted to gather God’s People into a communion that would be particularly attentive to the most needy and most neglected. Mary, present in the Christian community at its beginning, was to be their model – a simple, discrete and effective presence in the midst of the apostles. A parallel with the Society of Jesus meant that the Marists would have a universal mission in the Church as it tried to recover from the terror of the French Revolution.
Historical circumstances meant that this vision of one religious order embracing people from every walk of life could not be realised. However, all 4 Marist branches exist today and recognise the special family bonds uniting us in the heart of Mary.
The Marist Fathers have been in Ireland since 1861 – opening two schools within a few years – one in Dundalk the other in Dublin. Students from these schools provided many Marist missionary vocations over the decades – in Oceania, the Philippines, Peru, West Africa and elsewhere in Europe. Irish Marists also gained a name for themselves as mission and retreat preachers, from their base in Balgriffin. In 1955 they opened a 3rd school, Chanel College. From the 1970s, Marist Fathers began to work in parishes – Kinsealy, Donore Avenue, Coolock and Dundalk.
What inspired the first group of seminarians in Lyons in 1816, continues to inspire the Marist Fathers today. Wherever we find ourselves, we seek to replicate Mary’s way of being present in the heart of the first Christian community – a discrete, compassionate and maternal presence seeking to reach out to the most needy and to foster a spirit of communion in God’s People.
Fr. Paul Walsh, s.m.