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The Catholic Historical Review 87.4 (2001) 755-756
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Jean-Claude Colin, Marist: A Founder in an Era of Revolution and Restoration: The Early Years, 1790-1836
Jean-Claude Colin, Marist: A Founder in an Era of Revolution and Restoration: The Early Years, 1790-1836. By Donal Kerr. (Blackrock, Co. Dublin: The Columba Press. 2000. Pp. 349. £20.00.)
Donal Kerr has written a very informative and valuable biography of a man whose life and work deserve to be more widely known, Jean-Claude Colin (1790-1875), founder of the Society of Mary, the Marists. It is a work of thorough and meticulous scholarship by a Marist professor emeritus of church history at St. Patrick's College, Maynooth. Every new biography adds to our knowledge of the events and developments of the era in which the person lived, and this work contributes much specific information about a person, really a number of persons, who experienced the post-revolutionary era in France. Unfortunately for the historian, in 1841Colin methodically burned the papers he had accumulated up to that time. Fortunately, there are abundant other sources that are available to scholars, including some 400 contemporary documents, eleven volumes of memoirs by Marist chronicler Gabriel-Claude Mayet, and about a thousand documents in the collection Origines Maristes.
Colin's father was a farmer in Haut Beaujolais about thirty miles north of Lyon, a devout man whose courageous unwillingness to comply with the dictates of anticlerical Jacobin forces in the area brought considerable hardship to the whole family. In 1804 Colin entered a minor seminary in the diocese of Lyon. Though Napoleon's concordat with Pius VII (1801) had returned a measure of relative peace and stability to Catholic life in France for a few years, his wars and attempted recruitment/harassment of seminarians, and his imprisonment of Pius (1809 to 1814) caused distress and heartache that affected Colin along with other Catholics. In 1813 he entered the major seminary of Saint Irénée in Lyon. Kerr's account includes a wealth of interesting information on these years of study, during which Colin conceived the idea of founding an apostolic society dedicated to Mary.
A group of twelve gathered around him pledged on the day after their ordination to begin the Society of Mary, considering this date of July 13, 1816, as the founding of the Marists. Being all diocesan priests, they went to parish assignments in various villages, and Colin's work in very poor parishes reinforced his sympathy for poor, humble people. The beginning of the women's branch of the Marists dates from 1817. Colin actually projected a large order of four divisions: priests, women religious, brothers, and lay members. This ambitious scope of the order was one of the factors that caused misgivings in the Roman officials who examined his proposal, but Gregory XVI at length gave formal approval (for the priests' division) on April 29, 1836. He appreciated their willingness to undertake a mission to remote Pacific islands of Oceania. The book ends with the departure in September, 1836, of the first group of inexperienced but brave Marists for the south Pacific. Only one of them ever returned. Besides a bibliography the book includes a very useful glossary of names of persons and places and three maps. This is a biography and church-historical study of great [End Page 755] merit, especially because of the very competent integration of Colin's life work with the political and ecclesial history of the time.
Richard F. Costigan, S.J.
Loyola University of Chicago