Soccer game led to launch of Famille Marie-Jeunesse

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  • October 6, 2010
Jennifer Y.M. LeeSHERBROOKE, Que. - The Famille Marie-Jeunesse (FMJ) can trace its roots to a soccer game in Quebec City.

No one can pin down the exact date, but some time in the early 1980s, a Quebec City seminarian named Real Lavoie noticed a group of young people playing a game in the church yard. He joined them, treated them to trips to McDonald’s and began answering their questions about God, about how to pray and how one could get to know God personally, said Jennifer Y.M. Lee, who recently made a permanent commitment to lay consecrated life


More and more young people began to join the fun and appreciate the family ambience that soon developed, she said. Soon a group decided to rent a house together to share a growing commitment to God and community life.

In the 1990s, some of these young people began to say, “I’d like to consecrate my life,” Lee said. In 1996, the first wave of young people made temporary commitments to consecrated life; in 1999 five made permanent commitments. Since then 47 men and women have made their permanent commitments.

Famille Marie-Jeunesse — which means Family of Mary’s Youth — is dedicated to the love of Mary the Mother of God and to the love of the Eucharist. That family ambience still remains, said Lee. It combines contemplation with the mission of evangelizing youth with the Good News of Jesus Christ.

Lavoie saw four young men from his group become priests before he was ordained on May 14, 2005, the Feast of St. Matthias.

Lavoie does not take credit for the founding of FMJ, said Jean-François Pouliot, who hopes to become a priest. Instead, Lavoie has said the movement was the answer of God and Mary to the cry of young people. It is also “the answer of young people to the call of God.”  Quebec’s churches had emptied during the Quiet Revolution of the 1960s, changing the most Catholic province in Canada into the most post-Christian and secularist — with high rates of family breakdown, suicide and children born outside marriage.

FMJ serves the brothers and sisters who do not know God loves them, Pouliot said.

In 1998, FMJ moved into its present motherhouse, a former Franciscan monastery in Sherbrooke. Members credit Sherbrooke Archbishop André Gaumond’s welcome and support for the growth of the new movement.

At first, with only 13 members, the monastery seemed huge, but now FMJ has outgrown it. It remains a house of formation, but larger accommodations are being sought, with hopes that somehow the former Cistercian monastery at Oka might become the FMJs.

FMJ still maintains a residence in Quebec City. There are also FMJ houses in Isle de La Réunion (founded in 2000), an island in the Indian Ocean off the coast of Madagascar, in Ciney, Belgium (2003), and Tahiti (2006).

FMJ has come into dioceses at the invitation of the bishops, who have been like fathers and grandfathers, said Lee. Former Quebec Archbishop Cardinal Marc Ouellet also gave great support to the movement in Quebec, she added.

Thirteen FMJ men have been ordained to the priesthood. Some brothers want to remain lay members in consecrated life, along with the lay sisters. There are also about 20 extended members that include married couples with children, though they do not live in community. Those who live in community make commitments of poverty, chastity and obedience, as well as one of abandonment to God and to joy.

Members of the community pray three to four hours a day, including an hour of Eucharistic Adoration, and a slow, meditative entering into the rosary. The motherhouse also offers intense faith formation in everything from theology, Scripture study, bioethics and the Theology of the Body.

FMJ stresses teaching in accordance with the Catholic Church. 

“The same thing we are learning is the same thing the Pope thinks,” said Lee.

FMJ offers different levels of commitment. Young people often just drop by for a meal or stay the night. In a year, the Sherbrooke facility serves guests about 125,000 meals and hosts 3,000-5,000 overnighters. There are conferences to give people a taste of life in the community and FMJ also encourages people to make a one-year commitment to consecrated life.

“You do not give one year of your life,” said Pouliot. “You give all of your life for one year.”

The time in prayer has supernatural dividends. Lee said the rest of the time they might play sports or juggle or play music and God moves through them “to touch people” or heal memories.

The community has attracted many musicians and artists. They survive through selling their CDs, donations, leading missions in parishes and schools.

FMJ’s web site is www.marie-jeunesse.org.

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