A congregation founded in France, the Marist enterprise was to be a missionary, even for those who stayed in France!
When Jean Claude Colin wrote his letter to Pope Pius VII, outlining his plans for the Society of Mary, he was clear about its aims: for each Marist to seek to care for their own salvation and others “through missions to non-believers and believers alike, in any part of the world.”
The story of the Oceania mission is one of unending courage in the face of enormous difficulty. Between 1836 and 1849 the Society sent 74 priests and 17 brothers to the mission in Oceania. So hard was this mission that 21 of these we dead by 1854 when Fr Colin resigned as Superior General.
Today the Province of Oceania is numerically the biggest province and has the lowest average age structure of any province in the Society of Mary. 40% of all Marists in formation are from Oceania. The province includes six independent nations and two French territories. It covers an area as big as Western Europe.
This vast province embraces a great political and cultural diversity. Languages too are diverse, and while not universally typical in Papua New Guinea alone there are more than 600 languages and over 1000 dialects. Most other countries have their own languages, however more and more people have a lingua franca of either Pidgin (or Bislama), English or French.
Language differences are one aspect of the diversity in cultures in Oceania, and just one of the challenges to all who follow in the footsteps of the first Marists and continue the spread of the Gospel in Oceania.