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The Society approved

In the letter that Pompallier referred to, dated 28 January, Cardinal Sala writes he is sure the Archbishop knows that the earlier applications for approval of the Society had come to nothing (vota in irritum cessere) because of the intention of bringing several groups with diverse purposes together under one superior. In fact this was the first time anyone in France had heard!

As long as the Society is made up of ecclesiastics only, pontifical approval will not be a problem, the letter says. He waives the usual linkage between the approbation of a Society and the approval of its Constitutions that Castracane had insisted upon in 1833, by adding that the constitutions could be approved at a later date.

The Holy Father, concludes the letter, has given his approval to the plan to send the Marists to those far shores and the archbishop is urged to persuade the Marists with this pledge of approval, to go ahead with the mission.[1]

On 4 March Archbishop de Pins wrote to Cardinal Fransoni. He confirmed what the Cardinal would have known already from Colin and Pastre, i.e., that the Marists were prepared to send five priests with two Brothers to Oceania and that they would assure continuity. The Marists ardently desire to see their institute approved by the Holy See, and they limit their request to the Society of the priests. For the first time he graciously gives his full support to a pontifical approbation: ‘I have the pleasure to add my warm support to their request’. Shortly later he wrote a more formal letter of recommendation.[2]

The departing missionaries will be led, he adds, by ‘Monsieur Pompallier, a priest of great merit and piety, whom I warmly recommend, and who can come to Rome if required’. On receipt of Colin’s and Pastre’s letters, but before de Pins’ letter can have reached Rome, the Sacred Congregation for Bishops and Regulars met on 11 March - probably in a special meeting for this purpose - and formally asked the Pope to grant approbation to the Congregation of the Priests of the Society of Mary. The other branches of the Society, i.e., the Brothers, the Sisters, the Third Order and other groups of laity get an honourable mention, but are explicitly not included in this particular approval. The priests can make simple vows and elect a superior general. The approval is given in view of the mission in Oceania. Colin as superior of the Society of Mary, wants the Society approved before he can agree to let the five missionaries depart. Referring implicitly to the earlier refusal, the Congregation is asked to agree this time, especially since the request has been reduced to the approval of the priests only. The Sacred Congregation of Bishops and Regulars, under the presidency of Cardinal Sala, accepted the request.

The very same day an official of the Congregation submitted the decision to the Pope and with the signature of Gregory XVI the Society of Mary became a religious institute of pontifical right.[3]

Letter of Approval

The next day already, Cardinal Castracane wrote directly to Colin to tell him that the Sacred Congregation had granted the official approbation of the priests of the Society of Mary. This time Colin was the first to know.[4]

The centre of decision shifting

Colin was happy enough not to disturb the existing pattern of management that Archbishop de Pins, Vicar General Cholleton, Pastre and Pompallier had been following in Lyon. On 24 March he passed Castracane’s letter (of 12 March) to Cholleton with a few gentle suggestions of things the Archbishop might like to mention to the Cardinal, so that it would not differ from what he himself would write. He even added some other correspondence with Rome (today lost) on minor details, and asked that this be made known in Rome so that no-one would think that he did things on his own.[5]

On 28 March de Pins wrote to the Cardinals Fransoni and Sala. He now more formally recommends l`abbé Pompallier, a priest of the diocese of Lyons and most worthy (du plus grand mérite), for higher office if this is what the Holy Father judges appropriate.

Initial costs of the mission, the Bishop adds, are estimated at 40.000 francs. The Propagation of the Faith has promised 15.000 francs. How much can Rome contribute?

Then de Pins gets the messages mixed up. He promises a rapid presentation of the rules, although, knowing that Cardinal Sala had not insisted on it, Colin was happy enough to take his time, as he had written to Cholleton. De Pins adds that the Marists were in no hurry to elect a superior general. Here too he was mistaken. If there was one thing Colin had learned from bitter experience, it was that nothing could be done without a clear chain of command.[6]

Acknowledging now that the Society of Mary is in charge, the archbishop writes (in the same letter): the Marists are ready to send five priests and two Brothers. This indicates that the consultations and negotiations in Lyon, Belley and in the Hermitage were well advanced. On 11 April, Colin wrote to Champagnat to share with him all the good news. He reminds Marcellin to get on with the selection of the Brothers. ‘They must be selected with the utmost care: good men, of assured virtue, well instructed in the faith and able to do all sorts of petits travaux. The departure could be sooner than we think.’[7]

On 13 April Colin thanked Cardinal Sala for the approbation of the Society and told him that he is so busy preparing the departure for Polynesia that the final redaction of the rules will take a little longer.[8] Knowing that there was no longer a deadline, Colin was in no hurry at all. The Colinian Constitutions would in fact not be approved until 1872!

A Bishop for Oceania

On 17 April Propaganda asked Pope Gregory XVI to appoint Jean-Baptiste Pompallier to be the Vicar Apostolic of the newly erected vicariate of Western Oceania, entrusted to the “Society of the Marists” of Lyon. While calling him a member of the same Society, it states, very carefully, that Pompallier has been proposed and highly recommended for this position by the Apostolic Administrator of the Archdiocese of Lyon and by Pastre. Both recommendations are quoted in full: ‘a man of exceptional piety and merit, a man of godly science, prudence and apostolic zeal, highly regarded by the clergy in Lyon.’[9]

When shortly afterwards Fransoni notified de Pins he described the appointment carefully as an approval by the Holy Father of the archbishop’s proposal. The absence of any recommendation by Colin had evidently not escaped the attention of Propaganda! Fransoni asks de Pins to send Pompallier as soon as possible to Rome for his episcopal consecration. He wants to know how much money is available, and promises to contribute whatever is needed to reach the 40.000 francs de Pins had considered necessary. [10]

On 29 April 1836 Pope Gregory XVI signed the official document Omnium Gentium by which the Congregation of the Priests of the Society of Mary became a religious institute of pontifical right, and thus withdrawn from the authority of the bishops of Lyon and Belley.[11] The document reached Belley on 20 May and was received with great joy and solemnity.[12]


  1. OM I, doc. 365.
  2. OM I, 373 [7], n. 3.
  3. OM I, 373.
  4. OM I, 376.
  5. OM I, 377.
  6. OM I, 378 & 379.
  7. OM I, 372.
  8. OM I, 380.
  9. OM I, 382.
  10. OM I, doc. 383.
  11. OM I, doc. 384. Cf. Jean Coste, The Brief Omnium Gentium, in Forum Novum, vol.2, 1, pp. 29 – 53.
  12. OM I, p. 900, n.2. Jeantin, op. cit. I, p. 289. On the date, cf. Gaston Lessard (ed.), « Colin sup » Documents pour l’étude du généralat de Jean-Claude Colin 1836 – 1854 (CS), doc. 2, n.1.

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