History of Lay Communities

The Marianist Lay Communities were officially born on Feb. 2, 1801, under the leadership of Father William Joseph Chaminade.

In Bordeaux about one year earlier, Father Chaminade had proposed to two young men to invite a few others to start a group of Christians whose aim would be to live the Gospel in “the full exactness and vigor of its letter and spirit.”

On Feb. 2, there were 12 people, a symbolic number, ready to initiate a new life. They started to be known as the “Congregation of the Immaculate Conception.”

The growth of the Congregation was spectacular. A year later there were already 100 members, and 300 at the beginning of 1803.

In the summer of 1804, the young Adele de Batz de Tranquelleon, the future founder of the religious Marianist sisters, decided together with a female friend, to found in Agen an association of young people very similar to the one founded by Father Chaminade, which would be called “Little Society.” In 1808 this “Little Society” was united with the Bordeaux Congregation. The Congregation of the Immaculate Conception spread first through the South of France and later throughout the country.

These groups were original since their inception: their orientation was towards an intense apostolic action and they were present wherever needs were identified. They were open to all social classes, intensely concerned with the problems of the society of the time, full of courage and keen on surprising on behalf of the Christian faith. In this vein they wanted to contribute significantly to reestablishing the Christian faith in France. They regarded themselves as an instrument of Mary’s action in the world; they were animated by a great family spirit and lived in small communities that they endeavored to multiply throughout.

A group was born of this Congregation called “The State” which still exists today in various places leading different kinds of lives. Its members live in the midst of the world and their aim is “to work for the salvation of souls” in alliance with Mary. Out of these groups of the Congregation was born the Institute of the Daughters of the Immaculate Mary (FMI) (1816) for Marianist women religious, as well as the Society of Mary (SM) for Marianist men religious (1817).

These groups grew up and developed around the Marianist religious’ communities and works. They never disappeared. They were made up of young people from the male and female religious schools and parishes. In keeping with their age and character they lived out the demands of Christian life in the Marianist style.

In the aftermath of the Vatican Council a true re-foundation of the Congregation of the Immaculate Conception took place. They developed into an autonomous group of the Marianist Family, which includes male and female religious and a Secular Institute (Marian Alliance). They gradually spread through 23 countries and grew in number (at present some 6,000). They set up an organization and a structure for self-animation and government. They have shaped their spirituality according to their mission in the world and the Church.

In this process, the International Convocations have played an important role. Representatives of almost all the countries where there were communities attended the first convocation in Santiago, Chile (1993). There the first Identity Statement (statutes) for the Marianist Lay Communities all over the world was elaborated and approved as well as a governance structure. Mission was the subject of the second convocation, which took place at Lliria (Valencia, Spain) (1997); the government structure was also revised and improved.

In both Assemblies an International Team was elected and entrusted with the task of animation for a period of four years. The organization is simple and is in the service of the mission and of ensuring that Marianist spirituality is lived out both at individual and community levels.

All along these years there has been a good collaboration with the Ordinaries of the different places where there are Marianist Lay Communities.

In 1996 the World Council of the Marianist Family was established. It holds a meeting once a year attended by the General Councils of the male and female religious orders, the International Team of the MLCs and a representative of the Alliance Mariale. This Council has been responsible for the elaboration of the mission of the Marianist Family in the world as well as for joint activities and ventures. Its first president was the world leader of the MLCs, Enrique Llano.

The request of recognition as a Private Association of the Faithful under Pontifical Law is based on the current international nature of the MLCs; the existence of an International Team which, as an autonomous government body, coordinates them; and their wish to be in relationship with the Pontifical Council, and accepted as a qualified interlocutor.

Submitted by International Team with request for Pontifical Recognition, December 16, 1998