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Marist Bulletin - Number 330

 

“Travellers in Hope” - A history of the founders of the four Marist branches presented simultaneously
21/02/2008

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The book Travellers in Hope has just appeared in a Spanish edition. The book’s author is Brother Frederick McMahon of the Sydney Province.
The publication arouses double interest. For one thing, the book treats the material by means of an interesting perspective; that of presenting simultaneously the lives and actions of the founders and foundresses of the four Marist congregations. The book reveals the relationships among the found-ers and, weaving their stories together, offers an account of what occurred during the founding period of the congregations. In addition, the book highlights the person of Marcellin Champagnat as to the role he played in assisting the development of the Marist branches, a fact that lead Pope Benedict XV to call Marcellin “co-founder of the Society of Mary.”
The book is not merely another entry in the Marist bibliography, but a work with unique character-istics. Written in a lively and engaging style, the book elicits the reader’s attention from the very start. The author relies on a chronological framework, while weaving into one account the mater-ials which concern the Marist pioneers, all the while keeping the historical events in relation with the nascent Society of Mary.
The book has three sections. The first reveals the principal concerns of those who had the leading roles, living as they did not far from one another and, in a certain sense, working together under the guidance of the Marist ideal. The second section highlights the personal history of the main characters. As each one followed a personal path, the communal spirit which existed originally became less clear, each group coming into greater individuated importance. The book’s third section sums up the history of the Society of Mary from 1845 to Colin’s death in l875.
The edition was sponsored by Brother Pedro Herreros, General Councillor charged with the formation of Brothers who study the patrimony of the Institute.

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Interview with Brother Frederick McMahon, author of the book


Brother Frederick McMahon lives in Sidney, in a house for old men, in the suburb of Randwick, near Marcellin College. During his Marist life he has been a teacher in high school where he taught Religion, History, English and French. In 1985 his superiors invited him to move to the Hermitage to do research on Marist origins with the aim of writing a popular biography of Champagnat. But, before arriving at the Hermitage, plans were changed and he went to stay in Rome, as he realised that the greater part of the material that he needed for his research could be found there, deposited in the general files of the Institute. During his stay in the General House, he wrote a small biography on Marcellin entitled” Stronger Mind, Gentle Heart. After that his research continued and he wrote a guide book for the pilgrims who visit the Marist places in France, the homeland of Marcellin. The title of this work was Marist Milestones.

AMEstaún. In the midst of these works of research you conceive a new idea. The material that you found inspired you with a new project.
Frederick McMahon.
Yes, I immediately had the idea of writing about the four branches of the Marist family. I found this interesting because my investigation and our pilgrimages were centred in the Hermitage, in the south of Lyon, and we had not considered the territory in the north of Lyon where the Marist Fathers and Marist Sisters were.
When I reflected on this, I undertook a special pilgrimage made up of Marist Fathers, Marist Brothers, Marist Sisters and Marist Missionary Sisters. I was asked to accompany that group during their pilgrimage for France. Starting from this experience I concluded that it would be useful to write something on the four congregations and on their development. And so, on my return to Rome, I dedicated myself to this work.

Did you find it easy to harmonize the four parallel lives? How did you manage to organize the reflection ion such diverse lives?
I organized my work by looking at periods of time of approximately five to ten years, analyzing what happened in each group during that concrete period of time and I related it. The result of this investigation is the book called Travellers in Hope, translated now into Spanish with the name of Viajeros de Esperanza. The main characters are the founders of the Marist congregations.

When you write about Father Champagnat, what feelings do you have inside?
The study of Champagnat led me to admire him. The more I investigate his life the more he leaves me enchanted. When I saw the difficulties that he faced I discovered the magnificent way he trusted in God. Also, I observed how his personality brought him problems, mainly in his relationships with the authorities. His inhibition was not only caused by his apparent lack of initial education but also by the deep respect that had for the authorities, mainly those of the Church. It could not have been easy for him to go to meetings with the authorities to discuss the most delicate questions in the congregation. I think that Marcellin did not feel at his most confident when he met with high authorities, whether ecclesiastic or civil, and even with people with a lot of formation.
I would like to make some comments about his character, about his deepest feelings. We have some famous letters that he wrote in 1826-1827 in which he reveals those characteristics. There are four letters that he wrote to the authorities (letters 3-7), in which he requested aid after the massive problems that he had with the Marist Fathers Courveille and Terraillon in the Hermitage. We also have a famous letter, 1834I believe, on which we can see the mark of the tears that Marcellin spilled while he wrote it. That is enough to show that our Founder was a person with deep feelings. And as I said before, the more I study him, the greater admiration I feel for him.

What is the documental base for your investigation? What documents did you consult?
My main sources of investigation are the four volumes of the work Origines Maristes, in which Fathers J. Cost and G. Lessard gathered and organized numerous Marist documents. These documents are fundamental. I also based it on the biographies that I read on Champagnat and on some notes that he had already made from the years 70. Those were, essentially, my sources for the production of the book.

Among the pages that you have written on the Marists undoubtedly you have picked up some striking episode, or you have especially resonated with some very particular character. What is the discovery that made the biggest impact on you?
I think that the part that most impressed me when preparing this book was Courveille. I would emphasise especially his resurrection, that is to say, the fact that this man returned to grace and that all the qualities and talents that he had as a priest, were again put to the service of others. In fact we have parish priests letters that praise the missionary work that he carried out in their parishes.

How long did you take to write your book?
I am not absolutely sure. Perhaps a year and half. During the time that I was in Rome I was not always working on the book, because while I was writing I carried out other services in the General House.

Surely you found new things in the course of your investigation. Which was the biggest surprise in connection with the other Marist congregations?
One of the things that surprised me most had to be the qualities demonstrated by Colin, first on overcoming the initial difficulties by confidently depending upon Mary, making of that trust the driving force of his life. I would emphasise, also, his great organizing quality, his capacity to fix things in a correct way. We are also talking of a man with limitations. To take one example: The way that he treated Sister Jeanne-Marie Chavoin is not exemplary for us today. But that can be attributed to his formation and the mentality of that time. Colin is a great figure who had Mary as the inspiration of his life.
As for the Marist congregations in general many new things appeared for me. It is true that I had a very general knowledge of the other Marist congregations, we could almost say superficial. The investigation helped me to acquire a deep knowledge.
In global terms I was impressed by the dream of the Society of Mary just as Courveille announced it in the seminary and summed up by Colin, Champagnat, Chavoin and through an independent missionary, Marie Françoise Perroton, the arrival of the Missionary Sisters. There already existed the Society of Jesus, why not a Society of Mary?

Do you plan to write some more about Champagnat? What is your next project?
I am preparing some studies on the relationship between Champagnat and Colin, Courveille, Pompalier, Cattet and the Bishops Jean Paul Gaston de Pins and Alexandre Raymond Devie. Those studies are finished and I have the material gathered on a CD.
I would also like to write on Champagnat and Mazelier and Champagnat and Ferréol Douillet. I also hope to study the letters of Champagnat to discover his process of spiritual and human growth. But this is a project for the future.

In your opinion, do the lay people need to find out about Marist spiritual patrimony so that they can be linked more thoroughly with the life of the Institute?
Now that the Marist vocation is not only limited to being a Marist Brother, it is important that the lay people discover the qualities of Marcellin and those of other Marists as spiritual people and human beings. This study and discovery will help them to apply it in their lives and to develop their own spirituality and human qualities. Among the study topics I find that it is important to study our Marist history and the history of the Marist apostolate. This can help to give a sense to their own mission, following what they see in Marist history.

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Interview with Brother Pedro Herreros


Brother Pedro Herreros, General Councillor, has been entrusted by the General Council with the coordination of the policies of the Council with the activities of the Committee of Patrimony, which will devote its efforts, time and heart to researching our Marist Patrimony. The Directorate of Communications was given the responsibility of printing Travellers in Hope, written by Brother Frederick McMahon. The book was already published in the original English. But some Spanish –speaking Brothers, who had read it in that language, discovered the value of the contributions made by Brother McMahon. In an interesting conversation, Brother Pedro explains to us how this work has come to light in the Spanish language.

AMEstaún. How and why was the edition of the book Travellers in Hope translated into Spanish?
H. Pedro:
In Rome we usually find ourselves representing the four Marist congregations, sharing the topic of our spiritual patrimony. Each congregation presents the position of the investigations on patrimony in its own family and the efforts that are made to include, in both initial and permanent formation, reference to their charismatic origins. One of the participants in these meetings summarized his experience in this way: the knowledge of the origins of each one of our Congregations cannot be carried out appropriately without obligatory and enlightened reference to the origins of the others”.
The Committee of Patrimony of the General Council of the Marist Brothers has suggested publishing the translation of the work of Brother Frederick McMahon, written in 1994, with the aim of promoting among the readers of the Spanish language this enlightened vision of our origins in the context of a common project.

Brothers McMahon’s book came to being following a pilgrimage the author made to the Marist places, accompanying a group consisting of Marist Brothers, Fathers, Sisters and Marist Missionary Sisters. Do you believe that this work helps to fill a gap in our institutional bibliography?
It is possible to find biographies of Jean Claude Colin, of Jeanne Marie Chavoin, of Marcellin Champagnat and of the pioneer founders of the Marist Missionary Sisters. It is more difficult to find a story that gives us, in the diverse stages of realization of the founding project, the relationships with the main characters, their mutual influences, and the co-founding role played by some in relation to the others. And, also, it is constructed like a drama that weaves and unweaves before the captive readers eyes. This is the merit of Brother McMahons work, which places us in the perspective of a journey of hope, because although our founders were not able to complete their first vision, they passed on their spirit and history to those coming after.

One of the delicate moments in the transfer of ideas from one language to another is that of finding the person to whom you can entrust the translations. How did you find the appropriate person?
The well-crafted translation of Brother Carlos Martín Hinojar, to which we were accustomed even before his arrival in Rome as official translator of Spanish, allows us to enjoy this treasure in our own language. Carlos carried out this task while still dedicating himself to the day-to-day work of his service which is considerable. Thank you for this extra effort.

What future do you see for this new work among the Brothers and the lay people?
I believe that there are many Brothers and lay people who will have the opportunity of growing in the love of their Marist vocation thanks to this reading that we offer them. It will allow them to deepen their knowledge of Marcellin Champagnat as a backdrop to his journey together with the other Marist founders and the Church in France during the XIX century.

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