It was Jean-Claude Courveille who first “brought to light” the idea of a Society of Mary. Fr. Gabriel-Claude Mayet transmits to us Courveille’s account of the inspiration that was the basis of his action, as he remembered it about 40 years after the event.
c. December 1853. Mayet/Courveille. Narrative on the origins of the Society of Mary, based on letters of Dom Courveille of 1852. [Mayet C4, 2649-2661 = OM 718, 1-21]:
- Words of M. Courveille, found in the month of February 1853.
- At the age of 10, he caught smallpox, which damaged his eyes. He could hardly see. His mother consulted doctors who told her it was incurable. After he grew up, he had a great desire to study to become a priest, but his bad eyesight made it impossible for him to study.
- In 1809, he was very strongly inspired to make a pilgrimage to Our Lady of Le Puy, which was only five leagues away, to take oil from the lamp which burns before the statue of Our Lady and to rub his eyes with it. This he did. He no sooner had than he perceived distinctly even the smallest objects in the cathedral, and he has enjoyed excellent eyesight ever since.
- In 1810, in the same Church, before the same miraculous statue, he promised the Blessed Virgin to devote himself entirely to her, to do whatever she wanted for the glory of Our Lord, for her own honor, for the salvation of souls. His whole thought was to become a priest and, by exercising priestly zeal to accomplish this threefold vow.
- In 1812, while renewing his same promise to Mary, at the foot of the same altar, “he heard, not with his bodily ears, but with those of the heart, interiorly but very distinctly:…. Here...is what I want. I have always imitated my Divine Son in everything. I followed Him to Calvary itself, standing at the foot of the Cross when He gave His life for man’s salvation. Now in heaven, sharing His glory, I follow His path still, in the work He does for His church on earth. Of this Church, I am the Protectress. I am like a powerful army, defending and saving souls. When a fearful heresy threatened to convulse the whole of Europe, my Son raised up His servant, Ignatius, to form a Society under His name, calling itself the Society of Jesus, with members called Jesuits, to fight against the hell unleashed against His Church. In the same way in this last age of impiety and unbelief, it is my wish and the wish of my Son, that there be another Society, one consecrated to me, one which will bear my name, which will call itself the Society of Mary and whose members will call themselves Marists, to battle against hell...” (words of M. Courveille).
- Question. Was this interior word of Mary a true revelation like some that occur and which are very certain, even though nothing is heard with bodily ears, or was it just a strong inner inspiration?
- “Reply. I heard no words. It all happened inwardly, in my heart...” (M. Courveille).
- “I was astonished, dismayed... I spoke of it to no one, not even my directors. I figured it was a great illusion... The phenomenon repeated itself very often and I always disregarded it....”
- In 1813, he entered the major seminary of Le Puy, and, he says, since it is right next to the cathedral, I went almost daily to the foot of the altar to renew my promises.
- Inwardly, it seemed to him that the Blessed Virgin reproached him with all his hesitations and, as he felt great pain because of this, that she replied, inwardly also: Speak to your directors about it, disclose the matter to them, and you will see what they say.
- He spoke to two of his directors, one of whom was M. [Issartel], professor of moral doctrine, to whom he usually went to confession.
- Long enough after M. Courveille had opened his soul to them, they told him that the phenomenon seemed good, that it might well come from God, that it was not to be disregarded...
- He was on the verge of seeking out confreres who would begin the work with him, when, he says, “toward the last months of 1814, I was forced to leave the seminary of Le Puy for that of Lyons, by order of His Eminence Cardinal Fesch, archbishop of Lyons. It is to be noted that according to the new division of French dioceses, my native parish, which had belonged to Le Puy, was made part of Lyons.” (Words of M. Courveille.)
- At what period were you at the major seminary of Lyons? -- In 1815 and 1816 (Mr Courveille).
- He took as his director M. Cholleton, who was professor of moral, and he told him what he had told the directors of the major seminary of Le Puy (words of M. Courveille.)
- “I spoke to several seminarians, specifically to the younger M. Colin, who spoke to his brother, who was a pastor. The latter came to talk with me about the project at the major seminary, and he asked to be part of it.” (Words of M. Courveille).
- (Nota. M. Courveille errs here. We shall give a decisive proof of it a few lines below).
- “We were about 12. We were about 12. We spoke as often as we could about the Society of Mary. This lasted until 1816, when we all went to Our Lady of Fourvière to dedicate ourselves to the most holy Virgin. I offered the holy sacrifice alone. All the others received communion from me, those who were priests as well as those who were not. The older M. Colin had come to Lyons for the ceremony.”
- (Nota. M. Courveille errs in this case as in the preceding one. It is certain that on July 22 or 23, 1816, the older M. Colin did not even know about the pious project. He has just said so to Fr. Maîtrepierre. Written in December, 1853. — The older M. Colin was so little informed that when M. Claude Colin, his brother, our Father Founder, came with him to be his curate, he warned the pastor that there would be letters which he would not be able to show him. — My brother, you are perfectly free, his elder brother replied. I do not have to worry about the letters you may receive or send. — These errors of M. Courveille show that his narrative cannot be relied on entirely.)
- “After this ceremony, M. Courveille says, each one went to the post which had been assigned to him by ecclesiastical authority...... etc., etc.”
- Known details follow.
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