Lay Marists of Note
Very little has been written about the lives of lay Marists. Yet the laity have been working with the ordained and/or vowed
branches of the Marist family since before any of them were approved by the Church.
A small booklet, “In Our Lady’s Name: Short Lives of Some Marist Tertiaries,” that contains a number of short biographies of
early lay Marists was published in Ireland in 1954. On the title page, the author, Brendan Hayes, S.M., is simply called “A
Director of the Third Order of Mary.” A footnote states: The material for them (the biographies) is mainly taken from the
Annales de Marie (Lyons), of 15th November, 1932. This little booklet offers brief glimpses of the lives of some of the first lay
Marists and how they lived the spirituality of the Marist family.
Another booklet, “Marist Laity: The Story of the Marist Third Order in the Washington Province,” provides information about a
lay Marist leader from more recent times.
Marie Elizabeth Blot
Marie Elizabeth Blot was a member of the Archconfraternity of the Holy and Immaculate Heart of Mary founded by the pastor
of Notre Dame des Victoires (Our Lady of Victory) Church in Paris. Several Marist priests were confessors at this church.
Elizabeth suffered intensely in her life, both spiritually and physically. She reported many spiritual favors to her spiritual director,
Father Silas Dauphin, S.M. Some of the experiences that she recorded in writing were forwarded to Father Jean-Claude Colin.
It is from Elizabeth’s accounts of her spiritual experiences that we have the image of the lay branch as a “bridge to souls.” In
a letter dated December 4, 1868, she writes: “And then I saw . . . how the Third Order ought to serve them (souls) as an entry
bridge and make it easier for them to reach their goal through prayer, union with God, and the interior life, so as to build the
Kingdom of God in souls.”
Father Colin used this metaphor when speaking to the priests in 1872: “You are going to be surprised; I have a great ambition
and that is to take hold of the whole world, under the wings of Mary, by means of the Third Order. . . . The Blessed Virgin has
given it (the Third Order) to you to be like a bridge (the expression is not mine) to go to souls, to sinners.” And so we see that a
lay woman gave the Marist family one of its most important symbols.
Elizabeth died February 10, 1871, after spending two years suffering from cancer.
Father Mayet carefully preserved her letters and those of her spiritual director. She has been called a visionary and a mystic.
Not many facts are known about Celina Genet who died at the age of 26 in 1869. But Father Gabriel-Claude Mayet, her
spiritual director, wrote this about her: “I consider it to be one of the great graces of my life to have witnessed the last days of
this simple and pure child of God.” She became a lay Marist during her last illness.
Celina had earned her living from an early age as a dressmaker and worked in very poor surroundings. Twice she tried to join
a religious community, but poor health forced her back to dressmaking. Her daily devotions, Mass and Communion, also
brought her to the attention of her parish priest. He too was touched by Celina and wrote: “How many sneers and jests had she
not to endure, because she was fearless in her practice of devotion and refused to take part in the dangerous pleasures of the
Father Mayet attributed Celina’s degree of holiness at such a young age to her complete abandonment of self to the will of
Captain Auguste Marceau
Captain Marceau grew up without religious training, but once convinced of the truth of Christianity, he threw himself into the
life and work of a Christian. An extremely energetic person, he expressed his love of God readily in speech and action. Captain
Marceau worked with the St. Vincent de Paul Society, the Propagation of the Faith, and established a number of centers for
Nocturnal Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament—his favorite work.
Captain Marceau consecrated his professional skill as a naval officer to God, and helped organize the shipping service that took
many early Marist missionaries to Oceania. He named his ship the “Ark of the Covenant.”
His had a deep devotion to the Blessed Virgin, and when he returned from the voyage to Oceania, he made his profession into
the Third Order in the chapel of Our Lady of Good Hope in Lyons, France, September 8, 1849. Marceau developed a great
desire to return to Oceania, not as a sea captain, but as a priest of the Society of Mary. But he died scarcely a month after
sending a letter to Father Colin asking to be admitted to the novitiate. He was in his early forties.
The links between the Marists and the Association for the Propagation of the Faith are numerous. It was the assistance given
by the Association that to a large extent made possible the first missions to Oceania. Dominique Meynis, already a professed lay
Marist, became the Association’s Secretary-General in 1834. Dominique was a member of the Tertiary Brothers of Mary,
formed in Lyons in 1832. This group of men followed a stern rule of life in accordance with their times.
Dominique had a great desire to become a priest. But when he asked to be received into the Society of Mary, Father Colin did
not accept him. Father Colin wrote that Dominique was doing more good as General Secretary of the Association than he could
in the religious life.
An immense capacity for work and a great deal of tact enabled Dominique to handle an enormous workload for an unbroken
fifty years. The weight of correspondence alone was crushing—with Church officials, with the foreign missions, with
committees of the Association throughout France and other countries.
Dominique Meynis is an example of the holiness to be found in tedious work, day after day, in a hidden and unknown way.
Felix Prenat left a comfortable home in the countryside to study in Paris and took up residence in a religious hostel where he
became a member of the Third Order of Mary. He became the leader of the fraternity, an active member of the Society of St.
Vincent de Paul, the Catholic Association of the Youth of France and other organizations interested in social questions.
He described his spiritual struggle in a poem titled “Student’s Prayer” that was published in a small literary review which he
founded with some friends. In the poem, Felix admits that he would rather sit by a clear brook and read poems, but he prays
“Today give me the grace necessary to make my work a joyous and profitable task.”
Felix died at the age of 23.
Madame Girard was widowed at age 24 and promptly rejected by the social circles to which she had belonged. Under the
direction of Father Peter Julian Eymard,
she became devoted to Eucharistic Adoration and to the care of the sick. When she had sufficient means to do so, she took care
of cancer patients and deaf-mutes. Madame Girard took care of cases so revolting that, at times, no one else would help her
provide care for them.
She was a member of the Third Order in the city of Lyons, France. She suffered constant ill health herself. The priest who
was with her in her last illness reports that her last words were “What do sufferings matter, provided God’s Will be done?” She
in 1853. We do not know her first name or year of birth.
Louise Bouffier was a member of the Third Order of Mary in Toulon, a seaport town in southeastern France. Louise wished
to join a religious order, but the care of her mother interfered with these plans. One day Louise found the lock on the door to her
shop broken, prayed to St. Anthony that it not have to be forced, and the door opened easily. Louise kept her promise to give
some bread to the poor in honor of St. Anthony. Over time, as she read more and more about the needs of missionaries, her
shop became a center for the collection of items they needed. For many years she and her assistants sent boxes of vestments
and other articles to the foreign missions.
Louise is hardly known, but her practice of almsgiving came to be known as
“St. Anthony’s Bread” and is known worldwide. She died in 1908 after a painful illness.
After Father Peter Chanel was martyred in Oceania, a woman convert from the Islands wrote to the Marists in Lyons,
France: “If you love us, send us some devoted women to instruct the women of Uvea.”
For many years, Marie Francoise Perroton had assisted the Society for the Propagation of the Faith, an organization that
supported the efforts of foreign missionaries. She immediately took this plea to heart. After consulting with several people
including Father Julian Eymard, who encouraged her, she found transport with Captain Marceau. She departed on November
15, 1845, with other Marist missionaries bound for Oceania. The journey took ten months, and letters reveal the many
difficulties and illnesses they endured.
Within a month after Francoise sailed, Father Eymard was appointed director of a group of lay Marists. He wrote to
Francoise that he had received her into the Third Order shortly after her departure. In her long letter in response to this news,
dated August 1846, she thanks Father Eymard for this favor, describes the journey and asks for prayers.
Upon arriving at Wallis Island, Francoise began instructing the natives at once. She also helped them with her knowledge of
medicine. After eight years on Wallis, she moved on to the island of Futuna. She suffered from poor and dangerous conditions,
loneliness and illnesses for 12 years before more women came from Lyons. These first women pioneers formed the Third
Order Regular of Mary, which received approval from the Church as the Missionary Sisters of the Society of Mary in 1931.
Francoise died at the age of 77 in 1875. She had lived in Oceania for 30 years.
Eileen Donovan Hall
Eileen Hall is a lay Marist leader from more recent times. She joined the Third Order of Mary in Atlanta after Father Valentine
Becker, S.M., gave her a manual to read.
Many years later in a letter to Father Becker, Eileen mentions this moment in her life:
You know who was the original instrument in sending me along the Marist way. . . . back in January 1938! I’ll always treasure
that little black book (The Manual of the Third Order of Mary) which you put in my hands, with the words, ‘I think I have
something for you.’ And neither of us had any idea just what that ‘something’ would prove to be.
That something became membership in the Third Order of Mary in the Atlanta area for a long time. And it became not only
membership for Eileen, but leadership performed in a quiet manner and using her skills as a journalist. Eileen had written for a
number of publications including the Atlanta Journal and Constitution Magazine. She used these skills in writing frequent letters,
called the “Atlanta Letters,” to many fraternities in the Washington Province. Her letters were used for instructional purposes by
a number of lay groups. She was instrumental in founding or revitalizing many fraternities including one in Canada.
After living for many years in Atlanta, Eileen relocated to Melbourne, Florida, where she accepted another challenge. She
founded the library at the Melbourne Campus of the Florida Institute of Technology, literally from nothing, and worked there for
22 years. A plaque in the library pays tribute to her years of service. Always a Marist, Eileen introduced another employee of the
library, Rosemary Kean, to the Marist spirituality, and it is Rosemary who gives us the following account.
Melbourne was far from any Marist parish or school, but Eileen obtained permission from Bishop Thomas Grady of the Diocese
of Orlando, Florida, to found a Marist fraternity at Our Lady of Lourdes parish in 1980. The group started with six women, and
now has 45 professed members, 32 of whom are still active. The fraternity encompasses members from five parishes and meets
monthly. Its members are very active in a wide variety of ministries. Rosemary states, “Eileen in her gentle, quiet way
introduced me to the Marist spirituality which has become a major part of my life.”
Eileen is also the author of a section of the booklet, “Marist Laity: The Story of the Marist Third Order in the Washington
Province.” Using materials from the archives of the Marist Fathers, Eileen compiled a history of the lay fraternities in the
Province from the very early 1900s through the mid-1980s. She was already suffering from cancer when she finished this work
in early 1987. A short biography of Eileen Hall was included in the booklet when it was printed in 1989. Her work continues to
be fruitful, as it has been used extensively as a source for the article in Section VI titled, “History of the Marist Lay Movement in
the Atlanta Province of the Marist Fathers and Brothers.”
Eileen’s life was marked with personal sorrows. She lost a daughter at a young age and a son who had a large family. Both
her husband and mother suffered from Alzheimer’s disease. Eileen died October 1, 1987, after a painful illness with cancer.
Eileen Donovan Hall is remembered fondly by those who knew her. Rosemary Kean writes, “Eileen was a very simple,
gentle woman, who loved her family and was a fine example of the spirit of Mary. She really lived and breathed Mary’s spirit.
She made an impression on all our fraternity members who were blessed to learn under her direction and leadership.”