2021-12-27 FRANCE

Interview with the Director of the Institute’s Mother House

“Notre-Dame de l’Hermitage remains the place of foundation of the Congregation and therefore a symbol for the Brothers and Marists of Champagnat. Those who live there or are passing through find a direct link with its origin, with the founder and with what inspires them”. With these words, Caroline Martin, Director, describes the Mother House of the Institute.

The Hermitage community is an international community. It is made up of Brothers Benito Arbués, Eladi Gallego and Manel Castillo (Spain); Maurice Berquet, superior of the community; Maurice Goutagny (France) and Maurice Paul Razanandro (Madagascar). They work in collaboration with the Brothers who live in the community of La Valla.

Carolina Martin is the director of the house (from September 2021), and Virginia Chomette is the reception coordinator. A team of almost twenty volunteers, together with the service team, is making the dream of Saint Marcellin Champagnat come true in this place.

In an interview with l’Hermitage Info, from the Bulletin of the Province of the Hermitage, Caroline Martin, who has been working at Notre-Dame de l’Hermitage since 1 August 2017, speaks to us about the spiritual, religious and touristic importance of the House, her work with the brothers and the challenge of opening the doors of this Marist place to new pilgrims, not only Marists.

What does Marcellin mean to you?

“We need brothers”: this phrase is the basis of Marcellin Champagnat’s commitment and clearly shows the importance of the fraternal aspect of his mission. For me, Marcellin gave the best of himself for the good of his brothers and for the good of children and young people.

I see him as a good man, full of humanity, wilful, courageous, visionary and benevolent.

What is your relationship with the Superior and the Marist community?

We communicate constantly, to ensure the smooth running of the house. The relationship with the superior and the community is based on trust and mutual respect. We are a team with the aim of ensuring the best possible welcome for all those who come to the Hermitage.

What impact has COVID-19 had?

Globally, the tourism and hospitality sectors in general have been among those most affected by the impact of the pandemic on their economy. The Hermitage is no exception. Difficulties, including the impossibility of travel, reduced bookings to almost nothing for several months.

For our part, we at the Hermitage have done our utmost to respect health standards and to be able to welcome people in the best possible conditions. This place of serenity has also been like a haven of peace for people from the surrounding area who came to spend a moment during the day to reflect, dialogue and also enjoy the green surroundings offered by the Hermitage.

How do you plan to relaunch the services of the house in order to welcome groups from all over again?

Since 1 October 2021, we have had the opportunity to work with Virginie Chomette, who has joined us as reception coordinator. She manages the reservations, the reception of people and the commercial development of the structure. She and I work closely together.

At the beginning of 2021, a new legal structure was created, SAS L’HERMITAGE (SAS = SociĂ©tĂ© par Actions SimplifiĂ©e). It is a tool at the service of the house, which allows us to facilitate commercial development and also to open the Hermitage to other groups of people (business seminars for example, collaboration with the St-Etienne MĂ©tropole tourist office) who are likely to be interested in this site. But, of course, our main objective is to welcome groups from the Marist world as a priority.

For her part, Virginie has already reconnected with all the groups and individual clients who stayed at the Hermitage in 2017, 2018 and 2019, to remind them that the house is open, and she would be delighted to welcome them back. At the same time, Virginia has also begun communicating with the entire Marist world internationally.

Local businesses and others located in the surrounding area will also be contacted by the Hermitage very soon. You need to make yourself known and make new people wish to discover this beautiful and unique place, close to Lyon and the Parc du Pilat.

Are you planning to implement an initiative to make the Hermitage more sustainable?

In early 2021, an independent company conducted an audit at the Hermitage. The very encouraging result clearly indicates that the house has undeniable assets that favour a quality reception, and that it will be possible to extend this welcome to other types of clientele, as mentioned above. The quality refurbishment conducted in 2010 makes it possible, now more than ever, to welcome people in the best possible conditions. The facilities and the exterior are in good condition, the meeting rooms and bedrooms are functionally equipped and regularly renovated. The external environment is very encouraging and gives meaning to the different moments experienced here at the Hermitage.

What are the welcoming conditions that encourage visitors to the Hermitage to live the most enriching experience possible?

Briefly, the quality of the welcome and listening to people’s needs is the key to a successful reception. This kind of welcome also depends on the attitude of the staff towards the guests.

Over time, with the confidence acquired, people who have already been there feel the desire and the need to come back. They do not come to the Hermitage by chance. It is a place that makes sense, which respects the freedoms of all. In these places we have very subjective experiences, which sometimes go beyond us. The spiritual dimension of the site also helps to forge that spirit of serenity and peace that many people feel during their stay, and which is good for them.

The community, Virginie and I are only witnesses to the service and listening to the people who come to the Hermitage.

Any experience that you have lived with joy during the years that you have spent in this house?

Covid was “invited” to the Hermitage this summer and four brothers were infected with the virus. For some of them, the situation was very difficult, but they all came out well and that was a real relief for me, after several weeks of worry and uncertainty about their condition. During this period, the day-to-day administration of the site was done in a very simple way with the community, we were a very close-knit team and that has enriched us.

Beyond this summer episode, the very positive comments from most of the people who come to the Hermitage are also a source of joy and encouragement to continue this beautiful mission in this beautiful house. Welcome! We look forward to meeting you.

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