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The retreat in Belley

The retreat[1] was held in the buildings of the minor seminary, the profession and the election in the Marists` own house, the Capucinière. Colin’s choice of Belley and his promise to establish the mother house in Lyon had taken the sting out of the quarrel, but the division was smouldering on, and Colin was determined not to have further discussions during the retreat, especially not with Pompallier present, who one could expect to be always ready to explain what Rome thought about it. Point one of the rules for the retreat was clear: not a word on Belley and Lyon, ne parler ni de Lyon ni de Belley.[2] Colin could also be decisive!

When it became known that Bishop Devie expected to preside, and when Colin showed himself inclined to agree, the Lyon faction objected and it fell to the charming Chanel to tell the Bishop he was not welcome.[3] Right up to the retreat Colin was not quite certain how many men would in fact turn up and take the definitive step.[4] He also made sure that only those who were decided to make their vows in the Society, would vote in the election.[5]

The newly consecrated bishop Pompallier was invited to give the retreat conferences, two each day, and another one preceding the profession and the election.[6] Years later Denis Maîtrepierre recounted that Pompallier developed his themes with unassuming modesty. He made the retreatants taste the riches of the religious vows: to consecrate one’s possessions, one’s body and one’s soul to Him through religious vows, was the best way to enter into God’s views. He invited them to approach their vows with generosity, with love and with joy. On the third day of the retreat Bishop Devie was invited to give a conference[7] and every day Colin himself explained the Constitutions. He must have used the text submitted to Rome in 1833, enriched with the intensive reworkings during March 1836, when it seemed that Rome would want to have a text in hand before granting the pontifical approbation.[8]

Seventeen years later Maîtrepierre remembered that Colin spoke poorly and with difficulty, as if unable to express his thoughts.[9] Colin had long overcome the nervous stutter of his childhood.[10] He had been a successful preacher of village missions and later on he could be quite eloquent as is clear from the many informal talks recorded by Mayet. The haltering presentation in this instance must be attibuted to the stress of the moment and to the discrepancy Colin always seems to have felt between his high Marist ideals and the literary genre of Constitutions in which he felt constrained to express them.[11]

On 24 September 1836, Jean-Claude Colin was elected by the unanimous votes of his confreres (including Pompallier) to become the first superior general of the Society of Mary. Marcellin Champagnat, in his strong and rough accent, and in his typically undiplomatic way addressed the newly elect:[12]

We have just given you a very bad present. What miseries wait for you in your administration! Your dignity lifts you up only to expose you to winds and tempests… When your sons pass before the great Judge, you will be on the carpet and, if just one is condemned through your fault, you will answer for it.

After the election Colin himself made his vows, followed by the vows of nineteen Marist priests, including the first four about to leave for Oceania.[13] Pompallier had explained his position to Fransoni:

I intend to make a solemn declaration regarding my relationship to the society. It will put my status on a par with that of a bishop who before his episcopal ordination was bound by vows of religion. According to the views of Your Eminence and those of Cardinal Sala, it would be unbecoming for me as a bishop to make vows to a mere priest, especially so after I have made a promise under oath to give immediate obedience to our Holy Father, the Pope’.

So, Jean-Baptiste-François Pompallier, bishop of Maronea and vicar apostolic of Western Oceania, solemnly declared that he belonged, with heart and soul, to the Society of Mary and that he wished to live according to its spirit and its constitutions as much as he could. It always would be a source of happiness and consolation, he said, to follow the advice of the superior general, insofar as his duty of obedience to the Pope would allow. He declared that he wished to be a member of the Society ‘until my last breath’.[14]

Pompallier's promise, then Colin's vow

Next an assistant was to be elected. When the votes began to converge on his brother Pierre, Jean-Claude intervened, making it clear that it might not be proper to have two brothers at the head of the Society. Pierre quickly withdrew and Terraillon was elected. The strong allegiance of Terraillon to the archdiocese of Lyon created a nice balance with Jean-Claude Colin, who was from Belley.[15]

The whole assembly then went to visit Bishop Devie and received his blessings and his good wishes for the Society. He congratulated them on the election of Jean-Claude Colin. They then assembled to sign the minutes and dispersed. Champagnat rushed to the Hermitage to prepare for the retreat of the Brothers, Pompallier followed him to bless the new chapel that Champagnat had just built.[16]


  1. Kerr, op. cit. gives a complete detailed summary of the retreat, pp. 293 – 309.
  2. OM I, doc. 402, 1°. Although in part written down after the first session, the minutes (doc. 403) show that Colin himself was the main author. Cf. p. 918.
  3. OM II, docs. 709 [3] & 750 [ 13].
  4. OM I, doc. 396 [1] & [5].
  5. OM I, doc. 402, 6°.
  6. OM II, doc. 752 [41].
  7. OM I, 403 [10].
  8. OM I, doc. 403 [4]. Coste, Antiquiores Textus etc. fasc. introd., pp. 15 – 17; fasc. I, pp. 65– 87. On this text Colin worked in Rome in 1833/1834 (OM I, doc. 295 [4]; doc. 296 [2]; doc. 298 [1]; doc. 299; doc. 303 [3]. He made a short summary that he left with Cardinal Castracane, cf. OM I, doc. 295 [4]; doc. 367 [2]. On one or on all of these he worked in March, 1836, cf. OM I, doc. 377 [1]. What particular version he used in his conferences and which one he gave to the parting missionaries is not clear.
  9. OM II, doc. 752 [43]. Kerr, op. cit., p. 296f.
  10. Kerr, op. cit., pp. 36 & 60.
  11. Could it not be the same frustrating experience of every implementation falling short of his vision, that withheld him so long from finishing the Constitutions of the Society? The same thing that caused the contradictions in the way he dealt with the Third Order, and that made people around him sometimes bypass him in order to get results? (cf. above, p. 5, note 10).
  12. OM I, doc. 403 [15 – 19]. Kerr, op. cit., p. 297f. Farrell, op. cit., p. 172.
  13. OM I, doc.403 [20].
  14. OM I, doc. 401. Wiltgen, op. cit., p. 128, throws doubt on the assertion that this was exactly the advice Pompallier had received in Rome.
  15. OM I, doc. 403 [20 & 21]. OM II, doc. 684 [3 & 4].
  16. OM I, doc. 403 [24], LC, doc. 69

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