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The Society of Mary – the Marists Sisters (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 Sisters (SM).

The Congregation, similarly to the Marists, was founded by a group of seminarians in Lyon, France, in 1816, as a society for religious sisters, one of the four branches of Marists which were developed at this time.

A young woman, Jeanne Marie Chavoin (29 August 1786 – 30 June 1858), a close friend of Fr Jean-Claude Colin, the founder of the Marists, felt that God was calling her to found a congregation of religious sisters, wished to be part of this project.

After a period of discernment, and in collaboration with Fr Colin, the first community of Marist Sisters came to live together in Cerdon, in the Ain region of eastern France, in 1823.

Miss Marie Jotilon (1791-1838), a close companion of Jeanne Marie Chavoin, formed part of this first group. The Community grew from strength to strength, and soon moved to larger accommodation in Belley, about 20 miles from Lyon, where the Sisters worked in the formation of children and young women.

The dream of Jeanne Marie, the Foundress, was to live the spirit of Mary wherever the Community was and in whatever ministry it adopted.

It was not long till they spread to Ireland and England and gradually to other parts of the world, namely Australia, New Zealand, Fiji, North America, Canada and Africa.

In the 1960s, responding to the call of the Second Vatican Council to ‘make an option to serve the poor’, the Community extended its mission to Latin America. By this time, the number of Marist Sisters had grown to over 700; living the simple charism, striving to be the presence of Mary in the Church and the world, engaged in teaching, nursing, parish ministry and social work.

Today, even though greatly reduced in numbers, they have communities in all five continents.

Here in the UK, there are three sisters in Walsingham, Norfolk: Sr Beate Heutger SM, Sr Marina Brady SM (Leader of the Community) and Sr Pauline O’Neill SM, where they are engaged in parish ministry and the care of the elderly.

Pictured above, from the left, are Sr Beate, Sr Marina and Sr Pauline.