My dear graduates of Chaminade, Kellenberg Memorial, and St. Martin de Porres,
Life affords us many opportunities to look back and to look ahead, to take stock of where we have come from and plan ahead for where we are going.
The month of October provides the Marianists with just such an occasion – an opportunity to look back in gratitude and to look forward in hope.
Two-hundred-and-four years ago, on October 2, 1817, the Society of Mary was born in Bordeaux, France. In May of that same year, several members of Blessed Father William Joseph’s sodality expressed an interest in deepening their commitment to the mission of re-Christianizing France after the French Revolution. In October, five of them became the first Marianists, giving birth to a religious congregation that today numbers just under a thousand members serving in thirty-four countries across the globe. Perhaps by coincidence, perhaps by Divine Providence, these five Marianists made their act of commitment on the Feast of the Guardian Angels. Like the Guardian Angels, the members of this new congregation would have one eye on God in prayer and the other on the people of the world in need.
In our own little corner of the globe, the Marianists of Long Island – that is, the Province of Meribah – celebrated a much more recent anniversary. On August 22 of this year, Fr. Albert F. Bertoni, S.M. celebrated the sixtieth anniversary of his first profession of the vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience in the Society of Mary. The quotation on Fr. Albert’s sixtieth-anniversary prayer card speaks volumes about who we are: “The Society has but one object in view: the most faithful imitation of Jesus Christ, Son of God, become Son of Mary, for the salvation of mankind.” (Constitutions of 1891, article 6).
That quotation from our Constitutions echoes a favorite sentiment of Blessed Chaminade: “It is for us an infinite honor to be like Him by becoming a living example of the life He lived when He was among us. Now it is by Mary that this life is communicated to us.”
Just as we Marianists pause from time to time to commemorate the anniversaries of religious profession, so too we gather to witness our newest members take their vows. On September 12, 2021, two of our men – Bro. Patrick J. Cahill, S.M. and Bro. Andrew J. Santoriello, S.M. – made their perpetual profession of the vows of poverty, chastity, obedience, and stability. Stability is a fourth vow we Marianists take at the time of perpetual profession, as we promise to devote ourselves to the service of the Blessed Virgin Mary, for life, within the Society of Mary.
For their profession quotation, Bro. Pat and Bro. Andrew chose these words of Blessed Chaminade: “We embrace religious life in Mary’s name and for her glory. We devote ourselves to her, in all that we are and have, to make her known, loved, and served.”
Why are these celebrations – of our Society’s foundation and of individual Brothers’ vows – important for the future? I’d like to suggest three reasons: mission, witness, and sanctity.
First, mission: We Marianists are committed to the mission of Catholic education. In a day and age becoming increasingly secular – much like Blessed Chaminade’s own times in post-Revolutionary France – young Catholics need a solid, value-based, faith-centered education now more than ever. We dare to dream of generations and generations of Marianist-educated Catholics who will change the world for the good; who will bring the values of the Gospel to the public square; and who will convince their fellow men and women of Christ’s truth, doing so as all true defenders of the faith, with clarity and charity. And we dare to hope for generations and generations of future Marianists who will carry out this mission of Christ and His Blessed Mother.
Secondly, witness: The world needs not only education by instruction, but by example as well. As St. Francis of Assisi is purported to have said: “Preach the Gospel always. Use words when necessary.” That’s why we try to live community life, not just talk about it. Our aim is to imitate the communities of the fledgling Church, being “of one heart and one mind, and holding everything in common.” In contrast to the all-too-frequent self-seeking and self-promotion of our contemporary culture, we strive to live simply, humbly, prayerfully, and peacefully. As our Rule of Life puts it, “We form a new family, based on the Gospel of the Lord, in which we share in common prayer, friendship, possessions, work, successes, and difficulties. We aim to make family spirit the distinctive mark of our communities, growing in the characteristics of Mary, particularly her faith, humility, simplicity, and hospitality.” (Rule of Life, article 35)
Finally, sanctity: This does not mean that we are saints – far from it – but that we are striving to become saints. Blessed Chaminade envisioned his Society as a “spectacle of saints.” And how do we become saints? By living with others in community and, in so doing, learning how to love as Jesus loves. That means learning to love those we do not particularly like, or loving even when we have been treated poorly. It means learning to love when we don’t particularly want to. Community life is a school of love, not because its members have reached the perfection of love, but because the joys and frictions of community life gradually teach us how to truly love – generously, selflessly, and unstintingly. Again, our Rule of Life speaks eloquently on this topic: “We know that, despite our imperfections, the God who loves us and calls us to holiness can make our personal and community lives into a witness of a people of saints.” (Rule of Life, article 33)
We have deep roots in the Society of Mary – roots that we remember in a special way in the month of October. We also have the new buds of future growth. We have nurtured that new growth, and we will continue to do so, because the world needs vowed religious committed to their mission, willing to witness to Christ, and striving for sanctity. It is, after all, “an infinite honor to be like Him,” and we will cherish this honor all our days.
On behalf of all my Marianist Brothers,
Bro. Stephen Balletta, S.M.