An echo of what I heard

A Certain Way

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From 1838 Mayet began to separate his personal notes from what would become his notes on the Society of Mary. The latter formed the basis of what he called his Memoirs.

At the end of the academic year of 1838-1839, Mayet’s health began to deteriorate, and the sickness which affected his speech worsened. Being unable to speak, Mayet could not involve himself in the normal apostolic work of a priest. He spent a year away from Marist houses in the hope of convalescing, but this was ineffectual, and he remained virtually unable to speak for the rest of his days. Such a personal tragedy for Mayet proved to be a blessing for Marist history.

While he was convalescing, Mayet conceived the idea of organizing his personal notes to ensure that what was personal to himself could be kept separate from what concerned the history of the Society of Mary and his personal memoirs of Jean-Claude Colin.

Colin’s place among the group of founding personalities in the Marist project was clear. He was the one who best articulated the Marist spirit, and gave to his followers an understanding of the essence of the Marist enterprise. By 1840 Mayet’s work of collecting information from Colin was becoming more and more extensive.

He turned to a priest of the diocese of Lyon, Fr Philippe Dupuy, to help him to organize the work. Mayet handed his notes to Dupuy; Dupuy copied extracts; Mayet then corrected or embellished them. The notebooks now began to show sometimes Mayet’s hand, and sometimes Dupuy’s hand with comments by Mayet in the margin.

By now Mayet had begun to develop a framework within which he would organise the massive amount of material that was coming to him. From the Memoirs we catch glimpses of a particular “spirituality” emerging from the Marist enterprise. Having trained himself to note with great accuracy and speed the things that he heard from Jean-Claude Colin, Mayet became a reliable reporter of Colin’s remarks, and an astute and accurate observer not only of his strengths, but also of his weaknesses, which he noted down with honesty and integrity, and without bias or sensationalism.

Mayet’s own sense of mission and his awareness of the importance of his work for the future of the Society of Mary helped him to realise that his silence could provide, in his own words, “an echo of what he had heard” about the origins and spirituality of the Marist way. Mayet was a “ghost writer” par-excellence, a silent scribe in the history of the Marist project.

Nine chapters

Mayet collected all sorts of material into his Memoirs. There were transcriptions of letters, reports provided by Marists, words of others taken down by Mayet or by other Marists, details Mayet had picked up about the beginnings of the Marist project, and above all the words of Jean-Claude Colin, which he took down at every opportunity.

The material he collected is divided into nine chapters.

  1. History and spirit of the Society;
  2. Spirit of the Society: respect for bishops and modesty;
  3. Spirit of the Society: humility and contempt for self;
  4. Spirit of the Society: spirit of strength and courage;
  5. Spirit of the Society: childlike and easy spirit, freedom of spirit, plainness, simplicity;
  6. Spirit of the Society: prudence;
  7. Spirit of the Society: spirit of faith, prayer, recourse to Mary;
  8. Spirit of the Society: spirit of chastity and caution;
  9. Some notes on education.

The Mayet Memoirs

Philippe Dupuy was to be the first of Mayet’s helpers as he put together his Memoirs.

In 1840 Dupuy helped Mayet to organise the material which he had collected up till then. Dupuy copied material from Mayet’s notebooks, and Mayet subsequently corrected or commented on the work in the margins of his notes. From now on Mayet’s Memoirs showed signs of several copyists.

Mayet constantly revised,verified and corrected his Memoirs, as he painstakingly gleaned more and more information. Jean Coste, the Marist historian, comments on the accuracy of these notes: “… it is a safe presumption, based on what thousands of pages tell us of his methods, that he is accurate.

Although not trained in shorthand, Father Mayet had several advantages in a permanent excuse for having a notepad in his hand, an excellent memory, and much practice in seizing upon the key words and images of a talk.”

Did he know

Given that Jean-Claude Colin lived longer than the other founding personalities, and that he articulated most clearly the spirituality of the Marist enterprise, his words are important. But did he know that Mayet was surreptitiously recording these words? Mayet himself tells us that Colin was aware of what was happening:

At that moment he [Father Colin] turned to me and gave a significant look which seemed to say, “If you sometimes note down what I say, note that.”

However, Colin was not always happy with the thought of his words being recorded and this could easily have led to Mayet’s Memoirs being destroyed forever. One of the first Marists wrote:

There was a moment when this precious collection was at great risk. Noticing that some one was taking down his words, Father Colin unleashed his anger which came from his humility, and sent the author away for a month a long way from the Mother House. Since this man had reason to fear an even worse outcome, namely that (Father Colin) would want all the notes to be handed over to him to be destroyed, he consulted Father Maitrepierre, a wise man who gave good advice, on what he should do in that case. The reply, given without hesitation, was this: in that extreme case, seeing on the one hand the importance of the notes that had been collected, and on the other what would happen to them if Father Colin were able to get hold of them, Father Mayet should take every means not to expose himself to the risk of receiving such an order.Thankfully things didn’t come to that. [Father Colin] calmed down, and even appeared to forget the matter completely.