The Marist Fathers are part of a wider Marist Family of Brothers, Fathers, Laity and Sisters. Also known as the Society of Mary, they were founded in France in the early part of the nineteenth century.
The Founder of the Marist Fathers, Fr Jean-Claude Colin was reared in the atmosphere of the French Revolution in 1789 which was a time of persecution of the Church. He was ordained to the priesthood in 1816 and sent as curate to his brother, then parish priest of the country parish of Cerdon, some sixty miles northeast of Lyon. While he was living at Cerdon Fr. Colin wrote the first outline of a rule for the future Society of Mary. In 1824, Jean Claude Colin with his brother Pierre and two other priests were allowed by the bishop to form themselves into a little mission band and preach missions in the diocese of Belley. This was the beginning of the Marist Fathers.
At the same time Fr. Colin brought together a number of young women under the direction of Jeanne Marie Chavoin to start the sisters of the Congregation of Mary. The first group of ten Marist Sisters took their vows in the little parish church of Cerdon on December 8th 1842. By this time the first beginnings of the Third Order of Mary for lay people had also taken shape. Yet another group, under St. Marcellin Champagnat (the Marist brothers) was being formed for teaching.
The Marist Missionary Sisters were started by Francoise Peroton (member of the third Order) who left Lyon at the age of fifty to work as a lay volunteer in Wallis and Futuna (the island where St. Peter Chanel was martyred).
The Marist Fathers bought Church Hill House on the 22nd October 1859 and St. Mary’s College was opened on 17th September 1861 with twenty five pupils. The Marist Fathers are still working in Dundalk in Holy Family Parish and St. Mary’s Many Marist Fathers who were born in Dundalk work elsewhere in Ireland, England and on the missions in Fiji, Japan and the Philippines.