The Society of Mary began in the Chapel of Our Lady at Fourvière in Lyon, on 23 July 1816 where twelve seminarians, aged between 20 and 34, including the eventual founder, Jean Claude Colin, climbed the steep steps to the top of the Fourvière hill, and dedicated themselves to Mary.
They promised to begin a new religious order in the Church; a group called “Mary-ists” whose work in the Church would resemble that of the Jesuits, but whose approach or style would be unlike anything that existed in the Church at that time.
John-Claude Colin was born at Les Barbery, a small settlement close to the town of St Bonnet-le-Troncy.
This was the time of the French Revolution – a time of turmoil and a split between the Church and French Society.
The Revolution also divided the Church, some priests being faithful to Rome, while others pledged allegiance to the constitution.
Jean-Claude’s parents supported those loyal to Rome; his father openly supporting the parish priest.
Consequently an order of arrest was issued against his father, Jacques, who had to hide for a year in fear of his life. His house was boarded up and all his goods were sold. With all this suffering Jean-Claude’s mother, Marie died aged 37. Jacques died only three weeks later.
Jean-Claude was looked after by Marie Echallier, a person for whom religion and guilt tended to go hand in hand. Jean-Claude developed scruples.
Strongly influenced by these events, Jean-Claude Colin realised that the people had great needs. He believed that the best way to help them was to be a source of compassion, a gentle presence, hidden in the world but not hidden from the world, just as Mary had been for the early church.
Although he was a reluctant leader Jean-Claude Colin was called to develop the vision of the Society of Mary.