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November 14, 2022

For information on enrollment and registration at Notre Dame, an independent, Catholic, International Baccalaureate school, please visit the admissions section of our website here.

Special week designated by the Notre Dame Marists to remember and celebrate Fr. Jean-Claude Colin, founder of the Society of Mary (Marists).

Fr. Jean-Claude Colin, who began the Society of Mary in 1816 in France, was also its first superior general.

In a review posted recently on about Marist Father Justin Taylor's latest book, "Jean-Claude Colin: Reluctant Founder 1790-1875," Mark McNamara says, "as we read Jean-Claude Colin’s story, we know he has passed, but the reader can feel his spirit, and be inspired by his example through Justin Taylor’s genius writing style that makes theology, history and spirituality accessible to both scholars and lay people."

McNamara also writes that Taylor's book is an objective examination of Colin's life and "his profound legacy to humanity."

For those unaware of that profound legacy, Taylor's book opens in Lyons, France, in 1830, when at the age of 40, Colin accepted the call of his colleagues to take charge of the Society of Mary, or colloquially, the Marists.

Temporary superior

Colin originally joined the future project as a seminarian in Lyons in 1816, along with Marcellin Champagnat, who would eventually found the Marist teaching brothers. After Colin's ordination, he preached revival missions in rural districts of Cerdon, France, and was principal of a high school and seminary.

But a higher office was not in Colin's plans. 

In "Reluctant Founder," which was published in 2018 by ATF Press, Taylor notes that Colin insisted that he was only a temporary superior until someone more capable could take over. Yet, by the time he ultimately resigned in 1854, he had obtained papal approval of the priests' branch, established the Society firmly in France — especially in education — and sent 15 expeditions of missionary priests and brothers to the remote and scattered islands of the southwest Pacific.

Fr. Colin led the Marist Fathers into secondary education. This school at La Seyne, near Toulon in the southeast of France, was one of the early Marist schools.

In the latter years of his extraordinary life, Colin would perfect the rule and constitutions of the Marist Fathers before he eventually died in La Neylière, France, on Nov. 15, 1875.

For the Marist Fathers and Bro. Louis at Notre Dame Preparatory School and Marist Academy, and for their fellow confrères around the world, their singular focus for the next steps in Colin's journey has been his canonization.

"The international Society of Mary is working diligently to have Fr. Jean-Claude Colin, s.m., our founder, declared a saint," said Fr. Leon Olszamowski, s.m., currently the corporate president of NDPMA. "We pray for his canonization and the grace of a miracle to have him beatified soon."

Meanwhile, the Notre Dame Prep Marists have established an annual tribute week to the life and legacy of Colin as part of the effort toward sainthood. 

The greatest gift

"Founder's Week for us was a creation of the Marist community here at Notre Dame in Pontiac about a year ago," said Fr. Jim Strasz, s.m., who currently directs the Marist Way at NDPMA. "We had a number of ideas in mind, but first and foremost, we wanted to highlight Fr. Colin, of course."

Strasz said that after plenty of discussions among the Notre Dame Marist community, they concluded that the school and its constituents needed to know more about Colin and why his life is celebrated. 

Fr. Leon Olszamowski, s.m., celebrates Mass at Notre Dame Lower School.

"His influence on the school is rather profound, even though he died 147 years ago," he said. "Colin is the originator of the educational philosophy of all Marist schools worldwide, including Notre Dame Prep and Marist Academy. Another major reason for having a Founder's Week is that we wanted to put into the minds of our school community, especially our students, that being 'Marist' is a vocation — truly a calling from God."

Fr. John Larsen, s.m., leads the worldwide Marist community as superior general of the Society of Mary. He agrees that Colin's spirituality and influence should be celebrated by everyone, especially to students in the many Marist ministries around the world.

"The story [told so well by book author Taylor] about all that was achieved by Fr. Jean-Claude Colin and his companions, both men and women, was guided by a simple, profound and accessible spirituality, which looked to Mary as their guide on how to live and serve in their turbulent world," Larsen said. "That spirituality continues to be the greatest gift that Marists offer the church and the world in our time." 

Strasz said that celebrating Colin this week made perfect sense as his death was on Nov. 15, 1875. He said the hope is that if Colin should be canonized, it would be on his feast day.

Pure Fr. Colin

"But Founder's Week continues to evolve," said Strasz. "In the upper school, it's becoming a series of initiatives to celebrate the Marists in general and Fr. Colin in particular."

The upper and middle schools are planning a number of different activities for the week, including a 'great give' that is benefiting the Catholic Community Response Team, a Pontiac-based nonprofit that provides direct support and referral services to those whose basic needs are not always met.

Kim Anderson, Notre Dame Prep's principal, said Founder's Week truly is a celebration of the Marist tradition and the history of Notre Dame. 

"The students, faculty and staff get to learn a little more about the Society of Mary, the Marist Fathers and Brothers and the origins of Notre Dame Preparatory and Marist Academy," she said. "We all are learning more about what it is to be Marist by 'allowing ourselves to be possessed by joy.'"

Fr. Jim Strasz, s.m., directs the Marist Way at Notre Dame Preparatory School and Marist Academy.

In Notre Dame's lower school, students are encouraged to dress like Mary or Fr. Jean-Claude Colin, after which a "best-dressed" will be chosen.

According to Strasz, Founder's Week is important to celebrate because being Marist is what the school is all about.

"It isn't just a philosophy, but a way of living the Gospel of Jesus Christ," he said. "As a Catholic and Marist school, we are about the three aims: forming Christian people, becoming upright citizens and developing young men and women of learning in the arts and sciences. That is pure Fr. Colin."

Strasz added that their hope as Marist priests and brothers is that when one is part of the Notre Dame-Marist community, he or she learns a way to live the Gospel and Mary's Way.

"Mary's Way is the way we respect and honor the dignity showered upon each one of us because God loves and sustains us," he said. "And that love of God for us in Christ Jesus also tells us that we are to care about others, especially the most vulnerable in our midsts."

He also said that communities and societies are built by the choices of those who live in them.

"Our choices have to be informed, reasoned and discerned through knowledge and action on our part. And Founder's Week is the perfect way of highlighting our Marist heritage -- our call to share the Good News of Jesus in Mary's Way.

On 23 July, 1816, the day after Jean-Claude's priestly ordination, a group of twelve Marist aspirants climbed  the hill of Fourvière to the ancient chapel of the Blessed Virgin (now dwarfed by the basilica overlooking the city of Lyons).

The first Marist missions were preached in cold, unheated churches like the church of Innimont, with the Marists being housed in equally cold, damp and drafty presbyteries.

For information on enrollment and registration at Notre Dame, an independent, Catholic, International Baccalaureate school, please visit the admissions section of our website here.

Comments or questions?

Follow Notre Dame on Twitter at @NDPMA.

About Notre Dame Preparatory School and Marist Academy
Notre Dame Preparatory School and Marist Academy is a private, Catholic, independent, coeducational day school located in Oakland County. Notre Dame Preparatory School enrolls students in grades nine through twelve and has been named one of the nation's best 50 Catholic high schools (Acton Institute) four times since 2005. Notre Dame's middle and lower schools enroll students in pre-kindergarten through grade eight. All three schools are International Baccalaureate "World Schools." NDPMA is conducted by the Marist Fathers and Brothers and is accredited by the Independent Schools Association of the Central States and the National Association of Independent Schools. For more on Notre Dame Preparatory School and Marist Academy, visit the school’s home page at