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The Society of Mary – the Marist Fathers (SM)

In his series about the Religious Congregations living and working in the Diocese of East Anglia, Fr Karol Porczak MS, Vicar for the Religious, introduces The Society of Mary – the Marist Fathers (SM).

The Society grew out of the initiative of a group of seminarians in the Diocese of Lyon, early in the nineteenth century, in the aftermath of the French Revolution. As the Society of Jesus emerged in response to the Reformation in the sixteenth century, it sought to bring about a society under the name of Mary to represent in the modern world Her vital role in the early days of the Church.

When a group of priests were ordained in 1816, all of them pledged to form a society of four branches – priests, brothers, sisters and lay people in Mary’s name. This division was made possible by the restoration of the Diocese of Belley in 1823, and gradually one member of the group, Fr Jean-Claude Colin (1790-1875), emerged as the Founder.

The Society gained Papal approval in 1836, having accepted responsibility for missions to the islands of the western Pacific. Half of its members were immediately dispatched to those islands; the others remained in France working in re-evangelisation and education.

From their common origin, they share a family connection and spirituality with Marist sisters, brothers, missionary sisters and groups of lay people. Fundamental to the Marist project was the conviction that it was Mary’s initiative: “Here is what I want … a Society, which will have my name, which will call itself the Society of Mary, whose members will call themselves Marists.” In order to be effective evangelisers, Marists take Mary as their model for their way of living. Like her, they want to be instruments of Divine Mercy, gradually coming to think, judge, feel and act in a new way – Mary’s way.

As well as in Europe and Oceania, Marists work in Australia, New Zealand and the Americas. In the UK they live in two communities in Hull, Yorkshire and Wells-next-the-Sea, north Norfolk.

In the Diocese of East Anglia, between 1968 and 2014, they were instrumental in the modern development of the National Catholic Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham. Now they  are in charge of the Catholic Parish of Walsingham, residing in the Parish of Our Lady Star of the Sea in Well-next-the-Sea, where Fr Keith Tulloch SM (superior), Fr Thomas Goonan SM and Fr Desmond Hanrahan SM currently serve.

Pictured above, from the left, are Fr Keith, Fr Desmond and Fr Thomas.