France: Seven youth from the East Asia Province at l’Hermitage during the Dare to Dream festival
The Marist Constitutions describe the General Conference as a consultative assembly that has two objectives: to strengthen the unity of the Institute and to study questions of general concern and to propose ways of answering them.
The custom of gathering a significant group of brothers in order to look at important matters of the Institute was one of the practices introduced by Marcellin to encourage the unity of the brothers. The origin of this structure at the service of the general government, as such as we know today, started to take shape and define its function as a form of a renewed style of government of religious institutes as called for by Vatican II.
Brother Charles Raphaël initiated this practice in 1961 and repeated it in 1965. From these initial experiences it has evolved into a convocation between General Chapters once during the mandate of the Superior General. It gives an opportunity to evaluate the implementation of the Chapter decisions and it is included in our new Constitutions in the chapter concerning Government.
The General Conference is a consultative assembly and its function differs from that of the General Chapter. The latter has full autonomy regarding the General Council and constitutes the supreme extraordinary authority of the Institute. On the contrary, the organisation of the General Conference, its programme, its daily agenda and its duration are subject to the wishes of the Superior General and his Council. The Chapters generally resolve all the affairs by voting and present documents to the Institute. In the Conferences, there is no voting on decisions, but consensus is sought on the aspects that are to be encouraged in the Provinces or in the Institute, without expressing them in documents or official statements. These differences explain why there is a different way of working, of pursuing distinct objectives and adopting other means of attaining them.