Jeanne Marie Chavoin and Marist Spirituality
compiled by Angela Laesch
(Member of the MFLSC)

  A while ago I was asked to pull together from various sources a summary of some of the influences and thoughts
of Jeanne Marie Chavoin (Mother St. Joseph), foundress of the Marist Sisters.  This work is limited in its scope and
is meant to be a mere sketch. In fact, I have added no original thoughts but have compiled statements from many
other sources or from Jeanne Marie, herself. I hope whoever reads this will find it interesting.

  The spirituality of the Marist Sisters can be traced to Jeanne Marie Chavoin's personal spirituality and her close
connection with Father Jean Claude Colin.   

                                                                    Some Facts
  Jeanne Marie spent the first thirty-one years of her life in the country village of Coutouvre, France.  She was
known for her common sense, generosity, insight and spirituality.  She was steadfast and faithful to her vision of
Marist spirituality and how it should be lived by the Marist sisters.

  Jeanne Marie knew she had a religious vocation, however she refused four offers to join various congregations.  
When the cardinal asked her, “What do you want to do?”  She replied, “My Lord, I will stay with my parents until I
know more clearly what God wants me to do.”  She did not see herself in the cloister and the very outdated customs
of traditional convents. (1)

  Her spiritual director, Father Jean Philibert Lefranc remarked, “You are not destined for a community already
established, but for one to be established.”  (2)

  Jeanne Marie's neighbors considered her “a religious in lay dress.”  She was very active in parish life.  She was a
sacristan and a catechist.  She visited the sick and widows and mothers sought her advice.  “All this is done with
warmth, common sense, efficiency, 'a lively grace' and a spirit of faith impossible to hide...” (3)

                                  Some key Marist values:  humility, simplicity, and poverty
  “...The essential values she intended to transmit; faith, prayer, simplicity, authentic gospel living.” (4)

  In September 1817, Jeanne Marie met the Colin brothers in Cerdon.  She eventually works as their housekeeper.  
Here they shared ideas, which Jeanne Marie had already lived out:  “humility, spirit of faith and prayers, poverty and
simplicity, work and forgetfulness of self...She joyfully accepted the formula 'unknown and hidden in the world.'” (5)
JMC's thoughts on humility or “unknown and hidden in the world.”
  They [the Marist sisters] were to do great things for God, but in a quiet and unassuming manner like Mary.  It was
not because she avoided human contact that Mary was hidden and unknown.  Complete withdrawal from the world
would have attracted the attention of those among whom Mary lived.  It was by mixing with being herself in
their midst, by being one of them that Mary hid her real personality...This fusion of the common life the Foundress
wanted for her daughters. (6)

  “For Jeanne Marie Chavoin 'hidden and unknown' was dynamic.  Opening out with empathy, compassion, mercy
and love to all in all forms of ministry irrespective of class, colour or creed...[JMC] saw this embracing mystery of
Mary in the Church as a realistic marian witness open to women as well as men.”  (7)

  “Death to self was the epitome of JMC's life and resulted in a deep spirit of humility, her secret stairway to God...”   


  Be always humble and unassuming like her [Mary] work and the hidden life.  Simplicity, the very greatest
simplicity, should be your only ornament.  A Marist sister's desire should be to resemble the little family of Nazareth –
there she will find the perfect models of poverty, simplicity and love.  Always be a bond of union between your sisters
so that all may have but one heart and one soul...(9)


  “I prefer a spendthrift to a miser.  I hate to see a person with a narrow, stingy outlook, he will have the same
attitude towards God as he has towards creatures.” (10)

  The foundress wanted common sense poverty… “Theirs is to be the everyday life style of working class families
who have to earn their living, who even find it hard at times to make ends meet.”  (11)

Evangelical poverty...reaches out to detachment from creatures that can so readily come between the soul and
God.  Detachment rooted in a deep spirit of faith, was basic to her teaching on poverty.  (12)


  “When we lose the spirit of prayer, we go astray.” (13)

  “...Her prayer-life was simple and straightforward.  It was a spontaneous and loving reaching out to a caring
Father, a style of prayer which she fostered in others.”  (14)

  “The Blessed Sacrament...was the centre of her devotion, the mainstay of her spiritual life.”  (15)

  The foundress found no dichotomy between action and prayer...She taught that action must stem from prayer, it
must nourish prayer, it must lead to prayer...She repeatedly stressed closeness with God develops hidden and
interior values which foster a way of thinking with a bearing on active apostolic witness.  (16)

  Meditation on the virtues of Mary [support] quiet yet effective marian unobtrusiveness implied in hidden and
unknown.  (17)

                                                   JMC's gifts to the Marist sisters

   JMC...”saw God's Mother as the glory of our race precisely because she is so human, so full of love for God and
compassion and concern for His people, each one individually.  It was this warmth and understanding mother, the
humble Mary of Nazareth, who knows the problems of day to day living, its human pain and frustration.” (18)

  The foundress was deeply connected with people...from all walks of life...She
understood the life of a Marist sister should be among the people.
  What mattered most:
1.        The place of Mary in our lives
2.        The virtue of simplicity
3.        Our common communion with one another  (19)

  JMC...”played an important part in freeing religious women from the fetters of an out-dated, male dominated
civilisation, thus opening the way for active religious, well formed, independent and responsible women in the
Church.”  (20)

“It is through her that the Marist sisters draw from Mary their simple family spirit, their love of prayer and their deep
concern for others.”  (21)

  The Marist mission is the mission of Mary.  JMC and Marist sisters today “in whatever ministry they find themselves
– bring for others a life of grace and at the same time, themselves [are] being brought forth to that same life of
grace.”  (22)

                                                                          End notes
1.        For a Marian Church, pg.18
2.        Ibid, pg 18
3.        Ibid, pg 17
4.        A Triumph of Failure, pg.88
5.        For a Marian Church, pg.21
6.        A Triumph of Failure, pg 99
7.        Ibid, pg. 109
8.        Ibid, pg. 102
9.        As Mary Did, pg 41
10.        A Triumph of Failure, pg 101
11.        Ibid
12.        Ibid
13.        Ibid, pg 95
14.        Ibid, pg 96
15.        Ibid
16.        Ibid, pg 111
17.        Ibid
18.        Ibid, pg 110
19.        As Mary Did , pg 41
20.        A Triumph of Failure, pg. 109
21.        By Gracious Choice, pg 16
22.        As Mary Did, pg 37  


  As Mary Did:  An Interbranch Resource Book for Marist Spirituality. Vivienne Goldstein, sm.  Publisher and date
By Gracious Choice:  The Story of Jeanne Marie Chavoin, Foundress of the Marist Sisters.  Marist Sisters,
publisher and date unknown.

  For A Marian Church:  Marist Founders and Foundresses. Antoine Forissier.  English translation, St. Paul
Publication, Slough, United Kingdom  1992.

Triumph of Failure:  Biography of Jeanne Marie Chavoin.  Jessica Leonard, sm.  St. Paul Publications, Slough,
United Kingdom, 1998.


Marist Spirituality: Jeanne Marie Chavoin

(Marist Sisters)
A Tree with Several Branches

The Society of Mary is a "tree with several
branches". It was originally envisaged as a multi-
branched congregation, a vast enterprise
embracing all kinds of people: lay people as well
as religious, brothers, sisters, and priests, all
working for the same goal. This image captured
the imagination of the first Marists, and it
continues to do so today.

Back to Spirituality Overview & More