Jacqueline Coutellier

consecrated sister, ccn, Palermo (Sicily)

The grace of the beginning

Called to give our lives to Christ

Jacqueline Coutellier, a young woman from Lyon who was considering religious life, was one of the seven single women who began their community life at Montée du Chemin Neuf (Lyon) in the autumn of 1973. She quickly became one of the pillars of the community. The story of the "little beginning" of Chemin Neuf gives her the opportunity to tell us about its roots.

It all began with an experience of encounter with the Holy Spirit

In November 1972, two Jesuits, Bertrand Lepesant and Laurent Fabre, asked to be baptised in the Holy Spirit at La Bâtie, a mountain chalet in Savoie. In the weeks that followed, they shared their experience with us, enabling us in turn to ask for the Holy Spirit, to offer our lives to Christ as a way of saying yes again to our Baptism.

How can I describe this grace? The feeling of a founding moment which was to transform the lives of many of us and spread to different regions of France, particularly from the Abbaye du Bec Hellouin in Normandy, like the smell of a perfume spreading, that of a “new spring” for our Church which was going through a post-’68 reappraisal (crisis of authority and institutions). Cardinal Suenens, who would later visit us at Pothières, had the image of a “river that irrigates wherever it goes”!

Since October 1973, when it started at 49, Montée du Chemin Neuf, Lyon, the prayer group has been a place of weekly welcome and a place to experiment with charisms, listening to the Word, worship, ecumenism (particularly with the Réveil, ‘Renewal’, church in Villeurbanne) and fraternal life. For us, this space has become like a spring, a place for conversion, listening and sharing experiences with people of all ages and backgrounds. It’s the first root, «mother», this space of the prayer group, to get out of ourselves, out of our comfort zone each week, and welcome those who come to the door for a time of prayer, responding to a call, like that first encounter of John the Baptist’s disciples with Jesus: “Rabbi, where are you staying?” Jesus replied: “Come and see”.

The call to work for church unity

From Pentecost 1975 in Rome to Pentecost 1977 in Lyon, then Pentecost 1982 in Strasbourg.
Pentecost 1975: Paul VI said in his homily to the members of the Charismatic Renewal at St Peter’s: “You are an opportunity for the Church!”

Pentecost 1977: we led the first national ecumenical charismatic gathering of prayer groups and new communities in Lyon, at the Gerland stadium.
Pentecost 1982: during the European charismatic and ecumenical gathering in Strasbourg, there was a kind of passing on of the baton, of this passion for unity: “Father, that they may be one so that the world may believe” (Jn 17). Pastor Thomas Roberts was for us like the Father who entrusted us with a heritage, as were Jean Daniel Fisher and Alain Schwartz, pastors of the Union of Prayer of Charme in Ardèche.

Community life

A small beginning

The house at 49, Montée du Chemin Neuf was run by Père Gounon sj, who took in young people and helped them to reintegrate into society. He wanted to leave this house. And so, on 3 October 1973, seven people were able to start community life here. In 1974, Pierre joined us; in addition, with an Egyptian Jesuit, Fadel, he was leading the prayer group on rue Henri IV with the Sisters of Adoration.

Very quickly, a network wider than the fraternity of common life was created by the fraternities of the prayer group, called first the Enlarged Community, then the Community of the Covenant and finally the Communion, like concentric circles. In the summer of 1977, we voted together and chose the same name: Chemin Neuf Community, with the joy of committing our freedom together to the work that God would show us.

The common life fraternity therefore quickly shared its points of commitment with couples living in neighbourhood or diaspora fraternities:

  • Discern your personal call.
  • Announcing the Good News (Luke 4, 16): Youth Mission and CANA…
  • Sharing with the poorest / choosing a ‘common fund’ and simplifying our way of life.
  • A passion for unity and justice.

How was the Cross planted at 49 at the beginning of the Community?

Brigitte Gautier was the youngest of us all. She was 23 when, even before arriving in Lyon, she had to undergo emergency surgery for a kidney tumour. This ordeal, experienced with her during the first year of the community at 49, forced us to slow down in order to live in trust, day by day, building fraternity, learning to be transparent, sharing tasks, the hidden life at Nazareth… At Christmas 74, we made our first community commitment with her. She fell asleep on Friday, 1 February 1975, like a grain of wheat that falls to the ground and dies, only to bear much fruit.

After the first A cycle in 1975, at Valpré, with the Assumptionists, seven new members joined the community, including one family. The house at 49 was too small, so God provided for us by giving us the house at Les Pothières in the summer of 1976.

Encountering the spirituality of Charles de Foucauld

Our fraternity of common life was able to welcome families and other single people thanks to a providential encounter around 1977: the Grenay fraternity, united around the Little Brothers of the Gospel and the spirituality of Charles de Foucauld. They were a few couples and single people, and their commitment was similar to ours: community prayer, fraternal life, Bible formation and Adoration. During the first community week at Les Pothières, and after discernment, several of them joined the common life fraternity: Bob and Guislaine Guitton at 49, Jean-Pierre and Christine Nave at Les Pothières, François and Laurence Cartier at 53 Montée du Chemin Neuf! Corinne Vergnais at 49… a few years later, with Jacques, she started the Henri IV hostel and the first youth fraternities.

Third root: Ignatian spirituality

In 1976, Pierre and I went to Aix-en-Provence for a month of Spiritual Exercises with the Jesuits, accompanied by the Master of Novices, Jean Dravet. Two years later, I returned to accompany three brothers of the Community. Subsequently, Father Odilon de Varine, sj, made himself available several times to give the week’s Exercises with us at Les Pothières. Until the day when, with confidence and humour, he said to us: “You know enough” and withdrew!

We have received from St Ignatius, and from Laurent, our founder, the grace of discernment: “To seek and find the will of God” during the retreats, but above all as the days go by, through personal and community reflection; to seek where there is more, either at the level of the fraternity or with the whole community gathered together.

One of the means put in place in the Community was accompaniment and the training of accompaniers, or ‘spiritual companions’: being able to be listened to by another in order to recognise what speaks to the heart and how to resist the temptations or traps of the “enemy of human nature”.

A course of formation was also a choice from 1975 for several of us and more widely for those who attended the prayer group: three months full-time or one weekend a month over two years, cycle A, cycle B and cycle C! Pierre and Jacques then continued their training at the diocesan seminary in Lyon.

Others, like Claire Daurelle and myself, followed a training course offered by the diocese for catechesis or a theological course at the Catholic University of Lyon. A small beginning that developed later, thanks to Xavier Lacroix, Dean of the Catholic Faculty of Lyon, when we received the Abbaye des Dombes….

To feel with the Church, to have a spirit of collaboration and service. This is another dimension received from St Ignatius and inscribed in our history right from the start. Our bishops in France soon entrusted us with a variety of missions: the chaplaincy of the Pierre Garrot hospital in Lyon, the parish in a northern district of Marseille, the rue Madame hostel in Paris… each time, we let ourselves be moved by recognising a call from the Church. In Paris, Cardinal Lustiger asked us to give the month-long Exercises to the seminarians of Paris for seven consecutive years. The first foundation outside France was thanks to Bishop Ernest Kombo, who called us to Congo Brazzaville. In each foundation where the Community has been established, we can recognise this double movement, the call of the Spirit from a mission and/or the request of a bishop.

Becoming disciples: “He began to wash the disciples’ feet” (John 13:5).

To conclude, let us contemplate this gesture that Jesus performed with his disciples at the last supper, the washing of feet, and let us listen to his words: “Blessed are you if you do it”! This is one of the foundations of our commitment.

All of us, members of the community, will remain a New Way (Chemin Neuf) by recognising that He, Jesus Christ, Master and Lord, became a servant, putting on the servant’s apron in humility and poverty. He passed on to us a way of exercising responsibility as a service to the unity of the community body and the Church.

It is also a way of living fraternity by giving us spaces for reconciliation in our fraternities and in our community meetings or missions: welcoming Mercy in the sacrament of reconciliation and also asking or receiving forgiveness from a brother or sister, sharing a word of peace that restores the relationship. These moments are like a precious source for fraternal life and a witness.

J. C.

Cet article fait partie du numéro 78 de la revue FOI


septembre-octobre-novembre 2023

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