Mission stories: The Marists

In preparation for World Mission Sunday, Oct. 19, The Pilot is featuring the stories of some of the missionary groups and orders with connections to the Archdiocese of Boston.

When Pope Francis reflected upon Mary as the woman who turned a stable into a home for Jesus, it struck a chord close to the heart of the Marists. The very special devotion to Mary is ever present among Marists as they work untiringly to elevate the spiritual as well as economic circumstances of the people in their care. As good pastors they have built thriving parishes, schools and social agencies and they continue to work closely with admirable organizations like the Society of St. Vincent de Paul in reaching out to new immigrants and the needy.

The Marists, who now number some 900 members around the world, celebrated their 150th anniversary last year. Although Marists do their work quietly, they own a well-deserved reputation for working cooperatively with bishops and diocesan clergy in building the Catholic Church around the world, as well as here at home in the archdiocese.

It was on Christmas Eve, 1836 -- 178 years ago -- that the Sons of Mary (Marist) missionaries left France for Oceana in the South Pacific where Jesus Christ and His Church were as yet unknown. It was also in 1836 that the newly ordained Marists took their vows and Father Jean-Claude Colin, S.M. was elected the Society's first Superior General, and Pope Gregory XVI first sanctioned the newly formed Society of Mary to bring Christ to one of the world's most forgotten places.

The first two Marists arrived in the United States from France in 1863 at the request of Archbishop Jean-Marie Odin of New Orleans to minister to the large number of French-Canadian immigrants who had settled along the Mississippi River. The Civil War's Battle of Vicksburg was raging just a few miles away from the place of their first assignment at St. Michael's Parish in Convent, La. As more Marists arrived over the next few years, the Louisiana mission expanded to new parishes, schools, and even a college. Then, typical of their missionary spirit, the Marists broadened out to other frontier states as they developed schools, parish ministries, prison work, and chaplaincies.

The Marists came to New England in 1882 to minister to the thousands of French-Canadian immigrants seeking work in the industrial cities of the Merrimack Valley, New Bedford, and Fall River in Massachusetts or on the farmlands in Maine, Vermont, and New Hampshire. Because Lawrence, with its miles of textile mills, was a magnet city for immigrants, St. Anne Parish became the unofficial "Mother House" from where the first of four French-speaking parishes were established in the Greater Lawrence area as well as parishes in Haverhill, Lowell and eventually throughout New England. After a century of service, several of those parishes have been turned over to the archdiocese.

Our Lady of Victories Shrine on Isabella Street opened its doors in 1886 and still holds daily confessions and celebrates a convenient Mass each week day at ten minutes past noon for business people in downtown Boston. In fact, Cardinal Richard Cushing dropped by regularly during his time as Archbishop of Boston to meet with his Marist confessor, Father Gus De Patie, S.M. Today, among many other activities, the Marists at Our Lady of Victories reach out to new immigrants and administer an English as a Second Language program for immigrants.

The Marist Fathers and Brothers can be found throughout the four corners of world in parish work, schools, social agencies bringing their Marian missionary style to the great work of evangelization.

If you are interested in knowing more about the Marists, visit their website at www.societyofmaryus.org or contact Mr. Jack Ridout, a lay Marist, at 866- 298-3715 toll free.

Frank Mazzaglia is associated with the Missionary Alliance, which is comprised of Religious Missionary Congregations of Priests, Sisters, Brothers, and Lay People whose members toil in the vineyards for Christ all over the world.

- Frank Mazzaglia is associated with the Missionary Alliance, which is comprised of religious missionary congregations of priests, sisters, brothers, and lay people in the Archdiocese of Boston whose members toil in the vineyards for Christ all over the world.