|A Brief History of the Marist Laity
The precise beginnings of the Marist Laity, or Third Order, are somewhat obscure. We know that groups began to gather
in Cerdon, France--where the Founder, Jean-Claude Colin, had been assigned with his brother Pierre--as early as the
The first recognizable groups arose in the early 1830's in Belley and Lyon. In Belley it went under the title of:
"Confraternity of the Mother of God for the conversion of sinners and the perseverance of the just". Its aim was "to excite
faith among Catholics, to unite the Christian faithful by common links of love and zeal for Mary, so that they are members
a family having the Mother of God for its mother".
In 1845, Jean-Claude Colin appointed Pierre Julein Eymard as director and promoter of the Third Order. Within 5 years,
there were more than 300 members in various groups throughout France. In addition were members enrolled in the Third
Order while in the missions in Oceania--women that would eventually become the Pioneers of a new Marist
Congregation, the Missionary Sisters of the Society of Mary.
Though extremely successful in his work, Eymard's vision of the Marist Laity differed greatly from that of Colin. Eymard's
vision was one of the religious life extended into the secular world, with many of the rules and requirements of religious life
being adopted into the Third Order. Feeling called to found a society centered on Eucharistic Adoration, Eymard left the
Society of Mary in 1856 to become the founder of a separate congregation.
In 1872 Colin presented, in written form, the vision he had for the Marist Laity. The Laity was to be the most flexible
branch of the Society of Mary, relating to all the other branches and also a branch in its own right. Its members were to
be essentially active and apostolic, extending the love and mercy of Christ to people of every walk of life. Finally, the laity
organization was to be adaptable, so that it could be independent of the religious in the Society, and extend itself
It is this original vision of Colin that continues to influence the Marist Laity to this day.
Marists have been in the United States since 1863, when the first Marist Fathers came to the US from France and began
their ministry in Louisiana. The first two laity groups in the country also arose in Louisiana--in Convent in 1891 and in
Algiers in 1914. By 1930, groups had been established in Minneapolis/St. Paul, Wheeling, Washington D.C., New
Orleans, and Atlanta. The 1950's saw additional gatherings in Louisiana and Georgia, as well as Illinois, Ohio, and Florida.
All of these groups and all Lay Marists strive to live the Gospel and support the Church in the Marist Spirit, to support
and encourage each other, and to look to the future of the Society in the United States.
|In Lyon, the group was known as "The Tertiary
Brothers of the Society of Mary". Like their
counterparts in Cerdon, they were essentially an
apostolic group. Some of them lived in community
and ran a school. The rest lived in their homes,
assisting in diocesan and parochial projects,
working for orphanages and schools, visiting the
poor in their homes, attending hospitals, hospices,
and prisons, and catechizing children. Their motto
was, "be exemplary Christians in public, religious in
|Today the Marist Society in the United States is divided into two Provinces: Atlanta (formerly the Washington and the
San Francisco Provinces) and Boston. Marist Laity groups are active in both these Provinces. There are presently 48
Marist Laity groups associated with the Marist Fathers (information is currently being gathered on groups affiliated with
the other branches of the Society), as well as a number of Lay Marists not currently affiliated with a group. Of these
groups, 31 are located in the Atlanta Province and 17 are located in the Boston Province.