Gathered Around the Same Table

The Vocation of Champagnats Marist Laity


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Gathered arount the same table - Marist Laity

The campus of New York’s Columbia University is the setting that Chaim Potok chooses for his novel The Promise. The book continues the tale of Reuven Malter, an inquisitive and thoughtful rabbinical student and his friend Danny Saunders, whose decisions in life thus far have alienated him from the Hasidic Jewish community of which he is a member.

As the story unfolds Potok invites his readers to make a pilgrimage with Reuven and Danny as they struggle with conflicts that inevitably arise when the traditions of their faith come face to face with the values of the world of the 1950s. Though its author never uses the word, The Promise is a tale about identity and the journey that each of us must make to achieve one.

Since the close of the Second Vatican Council many lay Catholics struggling to find a new place in our Church have found themselves making a journey not unlike that of the main characters in Potock’s book. The reasons are obvious. Prior to that historic gathering, only priests and men and women religious were thought to have what was called a “vocation;” laywomen and men were judged to have no true calling of their own. Thankfully, by the time the Council came to a close this misconception had been corrected and laypeople, at least in theory, had been restored to their proper place within the Church.

During the years since, many efforts have gone into clarifying the identity of lay men and women and also their place and role in our Church. No matter the cost, this is a task that we must see through to completion. For the documents of Vatican II are crystal clear: the call to holiness is universal; by merit of baptism each of us has responsibility for the Church’s one mission, proclaiming God’s Kingdom and its immanence.

As they sought to clarify their identity during the years subsequent to the Council, more than a few lay persons found the charism of one or other religious congregation came to feel like a home port. Men and women religious were also becoming more aware of the fact that the charisms that had guided their congregations for so long had were in fact gifts of God to the Church at large.

The book, Gathered around the same table: The Vocation of Champagnat’s Marist Laity, will I believe add greatly to the conversation underway about the vocation of laymen and women in today’s Church. More importantly, the text will help us all take a large step forward in appreciating more fully the important role that Marist laity play today in the life of the Institute and Church and the responsibility they share with brothers for living the charism and furthering the ministry that came into our Church through Saint Marcellin Champagnat.

Written by a small editorial commission, the book includes the reflections of a much wider group of Marist laity. Its content is also based on the everyday lived experience of Marist laymen and women from throughout the world. These elements give the text a rich and international flavor; the many personal testimonies placed throughout the book cannot but help the reader to identify more closely with the topics discussed.

Clearly God has raised up in our day and age Marist lay vocations. Gathered around the same table will provide its readers with a handbook for deepening their appreciation of this blessing for our Church and Institute. At the same time they will have an opportunity to explore more fully at least three elements that feature prominently in this way of living: its ministry, its spirituality, and its shared life.

I encourage you to read and study this document and to reflect on it by yourself and with others. May it be the first of many publications written by lay Marists from throughout the Institute and world. May it also be a reminder of the vitality and viability of the charism that came into our Church and world through Marcellin Champagnat and from which each of us draws our identity and brothers and lay Marists.

NotreI am grateful to the members of the editorial commission for their hard work: Annie Girka (L’Hermitage), Bernadette Ropa (Melanesia), Carlos Navajas (América Central), José María Pérez Soba (Ibérica), Sergio Schons (Rio Grande do Sul), and Brothers Afonso Murad (Brasil Centro-Norte) and Rémy Mbolipasiko (Afrique Centre-Est). Thanks, too, to Anne Dooley (Melbourne) who was a member of the Commission for most of its life and contributed significantly to its efforts and also to Noel Dabrera (South Asia) who also contributed greatly to the work but died before the document was completed.

Special thanks to Brother Pau Fornells who shepherded this project from start to finish. Without his efforts and those of the editorial commission I doubt that this document would have ever seen the light of day. They worked steadily and patiently to ensure that deadline were met, content rewritten, revisions made. Truly theirs was a labor of love.

Thanks also to Brother Pedro Herreros and the members of the Laity Commission of the General Council, and later Brothers Emili Turú, Pedro Herreros, Juan Miguel Anaya, and César Henríquez of the Commission for Mission and Laity for their advice and for steady support that they gave throughout to those working on the project. Thanks also to Brother Antonio Martínez Estaún, Director of Communications for the Institute, who recorded in pictures the work of the Commission and also designed the layout of the publication.

Reuven Malter and Danny Saunders, the two young friends around whom Chaim Potok built his novel, made a long and challenging pilgrimage as they sought to form their identity. The journey that all of us who love this Marist way of life and mission have made since Vatican II to form our own respective identities is just now bearing fruit. The document Gathered around the same table: The vocation of Champagnat’s Marist Laity is but one example of that fact. May it enrich your understanding of Marist life and mission and encourage your faith.

Blessings and affection,

Brother Seán D. Sammon, FMS – Superior General
Rome, 6th June 2009 – Saint Marcellin Champagnat


The members of the Commission are:

Lay people

  1. Anne DOOLEY (Melbourne)
  2. Annie GIRKA (Hermitage)
  3. Bernadette ROPA (District of Melanesia)
  4. Carlos NAVAJAS (América Central)
  5. José María PÉREZ SOBA (Ibérica)
  6. Noel Dabrera (Sri Lanka)
  7. Sérgio Luis SCHONS (Rio Grande do Sul)


  1. Afonso MURAD (Brasil Centro Norte)
  2. Pau FORNELLS (Director of the Laity Bureau)
  3. Rémy MBOLIPASIKO (East Central Africa)