A legacy built on faith and courage

Dear members of the Marcellin family

St Marcellin was a prolific letter writer. As the work of the Marist Institute began to grow in France in the 1820s and 30s, Marcellin regularly wrote to communities and to individual Brothers with updates, advice and encouragement for their work. In a fascinating development in the 1830s, that was to have a lasting impact on Catholic education in Australia, a decision was made that the first place the Marists would travel to beyond France to spread their mission, was Oceania. For the Frenchmen who took on this mission, they were literally moving to the other side of the world. But it was not only geographical isolation that they had to contend with. The other side of the world was really another world – the culture, the language, the diet, the lifestyle and the spirituality were all quite different.

Marcellin himself was keen to be part of this original mission but was convinced by some of his colleagues that he could do more by continuing his role in France. As the first group headed off in 1837, Marcellin waited anxiously to hear from them. A letter he wrote on this day, 25 November, in 1837 to Br Sylvestre at the La-Côte-St-André Brothers community in France tells us that he did indeed hear from them while they were on their journey. The letter states:

We have received a letter from our missionaries en route to Oceania. We will send you a copy of it in a few days. Fr. Bret died during the crossing to Valparaiso; the others are all well and very happy in their vocation. They are very eager to reach their destination. Zeal for the salvation of the people of those islands is one of their most outstanding qualities. Let us pray, dear brothers, let us pray for their salvation and that of those who are entrusted to us.

Interestingly enough, less than a month later, Br Michel Colombon, in December 1837, became the first Marist Brother to set foot on Australian soil. This was the start of a significant commitment by the Brothers to this part of the world. Between 1836 and 1858 thirty brothers came to Australia, New Zealand, New Caledonia and the islands of Oceania to work as missionaries. Then in 1872, four Brothers arrived to set up the first Marist school and as they say, the rest is history.

Marcellin continued to correspond with the Brothers’ communities up until his death in 1840. He continued to support, encourage and pray for the work of the Institute. He would have been conscious of the significant risk the mission to Oceania posed, as indicated in his letter to Br Sylvestre above where he speaks of the death of Fr Bret. The legacy left by those first French Marists though is very significant, particularly here in Australia. It is a legacy on which a whole network of schools has been built, which of course includes our wonderful college here in Bulleen. We actually have the privilege of being one of only two schools in Australia named after the Founder.

As we move towards the end of this very challenging year where our faith and courage have never been more important, we can remember with gratitude the vision which began the Marist mission to Australia and the faith and courage of the people who made the vision a reality.

With blessings for the week ahead.

John Hickey