Year of Consecrated Life: Society of Mary
Fr Mark Walls SM
In the light of Fr Jean Claude Colin’s founding insight that the charism of our order – the Society of Mary – is not just the preserve of professed religious but is giftedfor the whole world. Our focus in ministry to young people during the past 15 years has been finding and implementing ways to share and articulate that ‘Marist’ means ‘like Mary the Mother of Jesus’, and that being Marist is ‘a way of living the Gospel of Christ’.
One of the successful means we have implemented this is the networking of schools throughout Aotearoa New Zealand that have been in the teaching tradition of the Marist Fathers and Sisters. There is now significant interaction at all levels between the nine schools of the National Network of Marist Schools (NNMS), from Boards to staff to students.
The intention in forming the NNMS was to help each member school to become more authentically Catholic. This has been achieved by helping school communities articulate the Marist charism; to interpret it in the light of our reflections on Mary in the Gospel; and to apply it to life in the Church and society of the 21st century.
Our emphasis has been heavily on our ministry to students in the schools with programmes such as:
Faith Journey helps students and their parents transition from primary to secondary school, and to understand the nature and demands of a Catholic Marist school;
Young Marist Neighbours, founded in Catholic Social Teaching, takes students and staff into some of the remote and neglected communities of Northland, Te Urewera, and the East Coast. It helps them to confront first-hand the issues of systemic poverty and under-privilege; and Marist Youth Leader programme for Year 13 students challenges their notions of leadership and invites them to consider that ultimate success in life is not about their achievements, but rather about what sort of people they become.
These are some of the ways we help young people and their elders to reflect on Mary’s response at the Annunciation and at Cana; her perseverance at the foot of the Cross; and her quiet but strong and effective service in the early Church and so on.
Our charism is not one that encourages us to be highly visible or to follow particular devotions. It is about a way of life, a way of living the Gospel. So our constant encouragement of the young people we serve is summed up in the words of one of our greatest Marist educators, Fr Cormac Hoben SM. On the night before his sudden death in 1945 he had entreated his young charges to ‘become the best possible version of the person God created you to be’.
Fr Mark Walls SM is Director Marist Education Ministry.