The Community of St John was born from the desire of a small group of students, who at that time were studying Philosophy at Fribourg University in Switzerland under Pere Marie-Dominique Philippe OP, to give their lives to God and live in community. These were the years shortly after the Second Vatican Council. They sought a sound formation in philosophy as well as in theology and the spiritual life. Being inspired by the witness and wisdom of Pere Marie-Dominique Philippe, they asked if he would be prepared to accompany them in their discernment process and in their formation.
At first he was reluctant to undertake this responsibility, being close to retirement age, and himself already, since the age of 19, a member of the Dominican order. However, having sought advice and permission from his superiors, he agreed to the pressing desire of this group of young students to accompany them as spiritual director, while they sought their own vocation in the church.
The Abbot of Lerins, a Cistercian monastery on the Island of St Honorat off the coast of the South of France, kindly welcomed the small but growing group of seekers, while they continued their discernment. It was there, on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception 1975, during a retreat preached by Pere Philippe, that the members of this small group of students made a consecration to the Virgin Mary. This consecration is now considered the founding act of the Community. By a coincidence of Providence, on the same day Pope Paul VI promulgated the Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Nuntiandi, which precisely expressed the joy in evangelisation and the witness to fraternal charity that they wished to make incarnate in their lives.
The Community obtained its first canonical approbation by a decree of the Congregation for Religious, at Rome, dated 28 April 1978. This degree authorised the Father Abbot of Lerins to receive the brothers ‘ad instar oblatorum regularium‘ and the Brothers made their novitiate at Lerins for the first few years of the Community’s life, until they established their mother-house at Rimont in the diocese of Autun, and their house of formation at St Jodard, in the Diocese of Lyons. In 1982 the nucleus of those who were to become the Contemplative Sisters of St John began to live together at Notre-Dame de Rimont, making their first consecration in September 1983. A year later, in September 1984, the Apostolic Sisters of St John did likewise. They were recognized as Religious Institutes by Rome in 1987 and 1994 respectively. In addition, certain members of the lay faithful and diocesan priests expressed a desire to live the spirituality of the Community more closely, remaining in their state of life. In September 1981 the first among them engaged themselves as ‘Oblates of St John’, and their are now over 2000 Oblates of the Community worldwide.
THE COMMUNITY OF ST JOHN TODAY Go to this link for the Community’s website
The Brothers of St John today number 550 brothers of 35 nationalities of whom 270 are priests. More than 150 brothers are in formation, of whom 50 or so are novices. The brothers are dispersed in over 60 priories in over 30 countries in all five continents. The most recent foundation was in September 2010, in Christ Church, New Zealand. A map of Priories is given on the Community of St John website – you can find out more about them on this link. The Contemplative and Apostolic Sisters are likewise spread around the world in their own priories. Over 2000 Oblates support the Community worldwide by their prayer and their gifts both spiritual and temporal, living in the spirit of the Community, close to St John and to Mary, in their own state of life.