The Society of Mary (SM, Official Catholic Directory #0780), whose members are known as Marists, is distinct from another congregation of the same title, the members of which are called Marianists, although both societies began in France at about the same time.
History. The founders of the Marists were Jean Claude Courveille and Jean Claude Marie colin. The idea of the society and its initial propagation are credited to Courveille. He was born at Usson-en-Forez in the Diocese of Le Puy on May 15, 1787 and became as a child very devoted to the Blessed Virgin Mary. In 1812 he felt convinced that Mary wanted to help the Church, in great need at that time, through a congregation especially dedicated to her and bearing her name, the Society of Mary. During his last year of theology at the major seminary of Lyons, he discussed this project with other seminarians there. In 1816 seven priests, on the day after ordination, and four seminarians consecrated themselves to Mary and pledged themselves to the founding of her society. Only four of these ever became Marists. Courveille himself remained for ten years the reputed leader and filled what might be called, in modern terms, the role of a public relations expert. He finally disappeared from Marist history in 1826, and he was eventually received by the Benedictines at the Abbey of solesmes, where he died in 1866.
Colin, one of the 11 who had promised to work for the foundation of the society, was also ordained in 1816. Overcoming the hesitancy and timidity that had characterized him during his seminary days, he became a truly apostolic man while assisting his brother who was pastor of Cerdon, a small village east of Lyons. During this time he was able to put into writing the basic ideas of the constitutions for the priests, sisters, and secular third order of the society. After having written twice to Rome, he received the initial approval on March 9, 1822, which was addressed to Courveille at Cerdon. In 1836, upon Colin's acceptance of the Oceania missions, the Society of Mary was given final approval by Rome. The first missionaries left for the South Seas that same year. During his generalate (1836–54), Colin sent 74 priests to Oceania and began new establishments in France, chief among which were residences for home missionaries and educational institutions.
During the administration of Julien Favre (1854–84), the society grew to 512 members and began its foundations in the United States. Under his successor, Antoine Martin (1885–1905), the congregation established itself in Spain, Italy, and Belgium. Martin also opened houses of formation outside of France.
At first Colin had tried to obtain approval for a single, four-branched society, composed of priests, brothers, religious sisters, and a third order. A series of refusals from Rome, however, forced him to surrender this idea of one multiple family. Colin's original concept has since developed in the form of four independent congregations: the Marist Fathers (aided by Marist lay brothers), the marist brothers, the marist sisters, and the marist missionary sisters. The Marist Third Order, is also attached to the Marist Fathers. These are united by one common spirit and are appropriately designated today as the Marist Family.
Spirit and apostolate. The particular spirit that unites and characterizes the members of the society is the spirit of Mary. Through meditating upon her personality as presented in the Gospels and through a prayerful union with her now reigning with her Son, the Marists attempt to bring that spirit into their lives and works. Another point of reference for the development of this spirit is an intuition of their founder, according to which he was conscious of the obstacle to the religious life created by selfseeking and by an apostolate that is not oriented to the spreading of God's kingdom. These thoughts of the founder serve as guidelines to the society's tradition, as it tries to adapt itself to the ever new needs of the Church. The Marist constitutions recount the purpose of the congregation, the means to attain that goal, and a description of the spirit. The subsequent chapters describe the training of the religious, the works of the apostolate they engage in, the rules of government, and the virtues vital to the existence of the congregation.
The society engages in parish work, high school teaching, catechetics, youth ministries, retreats, spiritual direction, and chaplaincies. In the United States, where the society first arrived in 1863, there are three provinces: Boston (1924), Washington, D.C. (1924) and San Francisco (1962).
Bibliography: j. coste, The Spirit of the Society, tr. s. fagan (Rome 1963). j. coste and g. lessard, eds., Origines maristes, 4v. (Rome 1960—). n. weber and j. l. white, The Marists: A History (privately printed; Washington 1959).
[j. l. white/eds.]