A community seeking to respond to Christ’s mission to “present the patrimony of the faith to men of our time… in an understandable and persuasive fashion” (Evangelii Nuntiandi, 3).
If you were to ask why the Community of Saint John was founded we might respond: You would have to ask the Holy Spirit!
From our beginning, the characteristics of the Community appear quite distinctly: insistence on the search for the truth through philosophical and theological work; a life consecrated to God, emphasizing silent prayer in community and the Eucharist; the importance of communal life in intense fraternal charity.
Yet it is impossible to live all this without the discovery of a personal bond with the Virgin Mary whom we receive as our Mother, following the example of Saint John (Jn. 19:27): “And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they may also be consecrated in truth” (John 17:19).
1975: Birth of the Community of Saint John: Seven students of the University of Fribourg in Switzerland asked Fr. Marie-Dominique Philippe, a Dominican philosopher and theologian, to be their spiritual father and to give them a solid theological formation. On December 8th, the solemnity of the Immaculate Conception the first brothers consecrated themselves to the Blessed Virgin Mary and thus was born the Community of Saint John.
1978: First Canonical Recognition: The growing group of students was associated with the Cistercian Abbey of Lérins, which rooted the brothers’ life in a monastic spirit
1982: The Contemplative Sisters of Saint John were founded.
1984: The Apostolic Sisters of Saint John were founded.
1986: Recognition as a Religious Congregation of Diocesan Right by the Bishop of Autun (Burgundy, France).
1986: First priory in the United States (Laredo, Texas).
1986-1992: First foundations in Africa (Senegal), Asia (Taiwan) and South America (Brazil).
1995: The Community is structured into Vicariates. (Regions of Government covering several countries).
2000: Foundation of our English Speaking Novitiate in Princeville, Illinois.
2001: Our founder passed on his role as prior general to the first elected Brother to succeed him.
2006: Foundation of our priory in Orange, New Jersey.
2006: Our founder, Father Marie-Dominique Philippe, dies on August 26th.
2010: First foundation in Oceania: (New Zealand).
2015: Our latest priory in the USA opens its doors in September in Denver, Colorado.
To go a bit further:
How did the Community of Saint John begin? (excerpts from an interview with a Brother).
“It all began at the University of Fribourg in Switzerland, where several students were studying with a Dominican, Father Marie-Dominique Philippe, a professor of philosophy. Some of these students, wanting to consecrate their lives totally to Christ, asked Father Philippe to be their spiritual director. Among the five students there was also a priest from the diocese of Versailles, France. He was one of Father Philippe’s former students and had been authorized by his bishop to return to Fribourg to undertake studies toward a doctorate in theology. We began to live a common life with a rather extraordinary schedule for students; rising at 5:30 am, one hour of silent prayer in Community, morning office, then mass…It was a good start to the day!”
How did Father Marie-Dominique Philippe become the founder of the Community of Saint John?
“At first Father Philippe was very busy with his teaching responsibilities, and he only came to see the group of students once a week for spiritual direction. He was also a bit hesitant to become associated with the “brothers.” He did not consider himself to be mandated by the Church to take responsibility for a nascent religious community. His official duty was limited to teaching philosophy, which explains the care he had taken thus far in sending the young people who came to him back to their bishops or to various religious congregations.
What was Martha Robin’s role in the beginnings of the Community of Saint John?
Martha Robin’s intervention was decisive in Father Philippe’s decision to go forward with accompanying the growing group of students. Father Philippe had known her since 1946 and had often preached retreats at Châteauneuf de Galaure. He presented his “dilemma” to her: some of his students wanted to form a little community and were seeking his help. Martha replied quite simply that he could not refuse their request; he couldn’t abandon them. Father Philippe accepted us, but there was no question as yet of founding a new religious community. Father Philippe initiated inquiries as to which religious order could accept us to that we might find a place in the Church. Thus began a year-long search. Fortunately, everything had been entrusted to God’s providence. To make this desire for surrender concrete we consecrated ourselves to Mary on December 8th, 1975 at the end of a retreat preached by Father Philippe at the Abbey of Lérins. This is our ‘date of birth’ you might say.”
Who was Venerable Martha Robin?
Born in 1902, returned to the Father on February 6th, 1981 at Châteauneuf de Galaure, France. On October 25th, 1925 Martha consecrated her entire life to God in an “act of surrender to the love and the will of God”; “Lord, my God, you have asked everything of your lowly servant, take, then, and receive everything. On this day, I give myself to you without reserve and without return.” In the following years, Martha, stricken with paralysis of her legs, then her arms, was forced to remain in bed. She no longer ate nor drank, and slept very little. In 1930, she received the stigmata and began to relive the passion of Christ each week. In 1936, Father Finet, after meeting Martha, founded the Foyers of Charity in Châteauneuf, where he preached the first retreat in September. In 1940, Martha was struck blind, having offered up her eyes for France. Until 1981, Martha welcomed into her room thousands and thousands of visitors who came seeking encouragement and advice. The fruits of her life of sacrifice can be measured as well by the increase in the number of Foyers of Charity in the World (76 today). “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” (John 12:24).