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Marist Bulletin - Number 59

 

An article and an interview by Frédérique Meichler
27.03.2003

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NOT YOUR TYPICAL MARIST COMMUNITY
Its members tell their story


In Mulhouse, France, there is a community that anticipated the recommendation in the Message of our 20th General Chapter (44.9): “Give a favorable welcome to the establishment of some communities including lay people, with a view to responding to the needs of young people, particularly the most neglected.”
This edition of our Marist Bulletin presents an article and an interview by Frédérique Meichler, first published in Mulhouse, the daily newspaper in Alsace. We hope you’ll find both the information and the interview revealing and inspiring.


FAMILY SPIRIT

For the past six years, a unique religious community has developed at 67 bis rue de Verdun. The “La Valla” community is comprised of a married couple, two Marist Brothers, and a young adult. Their objective: to foster family spirit and to guide young people during their journey into adulthood.

Making up the community are husband and wife Pierre and Catherine Demougin, engineers by profession, whose four children have grown into young adults. With the exception of Luc, the youngest, all of their children are pursuing careers away from home. Also comprising the community are André Dury and André Brun, members of a Roman Catholic Congregation, the Marist Brothers. One has retired from the teaching profession and the other is a former teacher. The youngest member of the community is Florient who is 21 years of age. Such is the composition of the membership of this religious community, founded in 1996 and called “La Valla” in order to evoke the name of that little village along the Loire where the first community of the Marist Brothers was established in the 19th Century. The spirit of La Valla continues in the home of the Demougin family located on rue de Verdun in Mulhouse. Although the Marist Brothers now occupy rooms vacated by the grown children, circumstances have evolved to such an extent that this year, the community has rented a nearby building in order to accommodate all of the young people and their activities. In addition to the community, there also exists the La Valla Association under the direction of Nadia who is twenty years of age. The door is always open. Here, young people can always find the sympathetic ear of one of their peers or of an adult who is willing and able to be significantly present to them and to assist them in their various undertakings. Usually, people come by word of mouth. After having spent some time with the community as a patron, Nadia now dedicates a great deal of her time to welcoming new members to the community and organizing various activities for the Association.

Solidarity through readiness to serve

The young people involved at “La Valla” work as a team with adult members of the staff on a variety of projects. They tutor some 20 academically challenged children attending the local primary school, l’école Freinet. “The children who come to us are generally from the first, second and third years of primary school and are referred to us by their teachers” states Catherine Demougin. Tutorial sessions are held on Mondays and Wednesdays. These children also come to the annex to play games and enjoy lighter moments.
Other activities taking place: being significantly present to the residents of “les Capucines”, a retirement facility that once housed a clinic on rue du Bourg.
Finally, during school vacations, the young people undertake various work projects. As volunteers, they dedicate three days of their vacation to renovating and redecorating apartments of people who can no longer manage to do so by themselves. At the present time, the “La Valla” team is refurbishing the apartment of Jean-Pierre, a handicapped adult, who lives on rue Waldner.
In addition to being involved in these various projects, the young people often come together by themselves. They regularly meet with adult staff members for times of discernment.
Some background: “At the present time, there are 11 teams of 4-6 young people that are in place. In the presence of two adult members, they spend two hours sharing about their personal lives: their every day experiences, the difficulties they encounter, the questions they ask themselves…” The teams meet on a monthly basis and at times on a bi-monthly basis, depending upon the age of those involved and the demands of their academic or professional lives.
Like all other activities taking place in the community, everything begins and ends with a meal. “It is a valuable time for relaxing and for sharing. When we meet, the young people come with something to eat and we supplement what they bring with soup, fruit and cheese…”

A RENEWABLE THREE YEAR AGREEMENT
How did the “La Valla” Community come about?
How does it function on a daily basis? Let’s hear from those involved


The religious community of “La Valla” is unique in France. Nowhere, at least not in the mainstream of the Marist Brothers’ Congregation, is there a community experience bringing religious and laypeople together under the same roof.

How did this community begin?
Catherine Demougin:
At the time, all four of our children lived at home and their friends and acquaintances felt at home with us. On Saturday afternoons, the house was always full of young people. We helped them with their various endeavors and this developed to such an extent that we needed some help. We knew of the Marist Brothers living here in Mulhouse on rue des Franciscains. Their main objective is to assist young people. We shared our concerns with them and our relationship with them developed from there.

How did the idea of creating a religious community on rue de Verdun come about?
André Dury:
The project developed little by little. As for myself, I was reaching the age of retirement, as was my teaching colleague. I wanted to continue to stay in touch with young people and my Congregation suggested that, with the Bishop’s approval, I help create a mixed community made up of lay people and of Brothers. We were to have as our mission to welcome and to guide young people. We are now beginning our 7th year. At the present time, nearly one hundred young people come through our doors every month, and they come from everywhere.

How does your Community function on a daily basis?
Catherine Demougin:
We live like a family. Everyone shares in the household tasks such as shopping, preparing meals, housecleaning, doing the laundry… We each do our share.

Given the openness of this community, how do you manage as a couple?
Catherine Demougin:
We have a private area to ourselves so that we can continue to live as a married couple. It’s a spacious area that includes our bedroom, our offices, and a small living room. All in all, this has been an extremely rewarding experience for us. It has had a soothing effect on our lives. First of all, it has helped us to cope with the absence of our children. We were not suddenly cut off from the world of the young. On the contrary, this community has been a marvelous gift to us. The arrival of the Marist Brothers helped ease our situation. Greeting all the young people who came was beginning to become difficult for us. Furthermore their presence helped us to expand our horizon in our mission of assisting young people.

Do you ever have a chance to be alone, just the two of you?
Catherine Demougin:
Rarely, but at the end of every school term, we manage to get away for a week, just the two of us.

As a Marist Brother, in what way has this unique community experience contributed to your personal growth?
André Dury:
Spiritually, it has forced me to re-think everything that has gone into my formation as a Brother. Previously, routine was a significant part of my Marist life. Living with laypersons has helped deepen my way of life. I have been greatly enriched by this experience. Furthermore, it has opened a door on the workaday world that was not there before. I now find that when I was carrying out my duties as a teacher in a private school, my sphere of influence was considerably more restricted.

Is your commitment to this new lifestyle a permanent one?
Catherine Demougin:
No! We signed up for a three-year commitment. We have given ourselves the option of renewing our agreement on a regular basis. We hardly hesitated when we recently renewed our agreement for the third time. I’d say it took us about five minutes to decide!

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