Jean-Jacques Marziac was born in Strasbourg on July 2, 1924, on the feast of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary. As he said himself, all the great stages of his life were marked by Our Lady. He was baptized on August 3.
On May 24, 1936, on the feast of Our Lady Help of Christians, he made his first communion at St. Clément College, run by the Jesuit Fathers in Metz.
He made his Scout promise, with one of his brothers, on August 17, 1941. This promise had an influence on his entire existence. He recognized it: “The great French Rover Scout Camp at Puy-en-Velay in August 1942 will mark my entire life. I was the team leader and Fr. Doncoeur, a Jesuit, gave us a sermon lasting at least half an hour on ‘that most beautiful, highest of services, of giving oneself to God as a priest.’”
“There are phrases that I still remember today: ‘Ask yourself like St. Paul, patron of the Rover Scouts: Lord, what do you want me to do?' I was moved by this sermon, and I was not the only one… ”
The following year, he answered the Master's call: “It was during the camp-school preparatory to becoming a troop or group leader, during Holy Week of 1943 that I heard, not in my ears, but in my heart, ‘Come, follow me,’ accompanied by an interior consolation, during the Stations of the Cross on Good Friday.”
"I entered the late vocations seminary of the African Missions in September 1944 to finish my high school studies, especially Latin. In September 1947, I entered the Novitiate, which at that time lasted two years.”
“I took the cassock on November 16, 1947 on the solemnity of the Jesuit St. Peter Claver, the great converter of African slaves in South America. That same day, Archbishop Lefebvre was enthroned in Dakar. It was not by chance.”
Then came five years of training at the African Missions Seminary in Lyon, and the decisive discovery of the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius. Fr. Marziac admits with simplicity:
“As I was a little turbulent, but without being bad-tempered, and moreover lacking knowledge of metaphysics, my spiritual director advised me, almost forced me to go on a retreat with the Chabeuil Fathers, as they said at the time. This retreat was overwhelming for me! For three reasons:
1 - It took place at Les Mées in the Lower Alps. On September 28, 1951, we were 55 retreatants including about fifteen priests and seminarians, officers, teachers, farmers, all professions. The same masterful teaching for all. No confession for two days.
2 - Complete silence throughout the retreat, except at the meal of the Prodigal Son where there were conversion testimonies, of exceptional enlightenment for many, while in the seminary there was recreation after meals ...
3 - During meals, the reading at the table was the Social Kingship of Our Lord Jesus Christ by Fr. Théotime de Saint-Just. It was a revelation for me, still too imbued with the official secularism of the state, with its liberalism, and insufficiently enlightened by the seminary courses...”
During his years of formation, the young Jean-Jacques Marziac had to face the doctrinal crisis which was already shaking the Church: “The Chabeuil Fathers and the men of la Cité Catholique were a little too active for the ‘new theology.’ Which was then taught at the Jesuit scholasticate of Fourvière in Lyon, especially with Fr. Henri de Lubac.”
“I myself was a seminarian at the Major Seminary of African Missions in Lyon, when the encyclical Humani generis of Pius XII appeared on August 12, 1950. As soon as the school year began in September, the professor of dogma commented on the encyclical by telling us that it was Fr. de Lubac who was targeted, as well as Maurice Blondel.”
“The works of Fr. de Lubac were prohibited. There was a stir in all the seminaries in France. In addition, seminarians from the Catholic Faculty of Lyon, former retreatants from Chabeuil, had dared to openly criticize the theories of the ‘new theology.’”
“There was then a veritable cabal against the sons of Fr. Vallet and la Cité Catholique movement. … Jean Ousset followed the Ignatian Exercises every year with the spiritual sons of Fr. Vallet, it was he who founded la Cité Catholique and the review Verbe.”
Four months after his subdiaconate, Jean-Jacques Marziac made his second Ignatian retreat on September 24, 1953. He wrote: “This retreat confirmed me in the power of the Exercises and in my desire to become a holy missionary in the midst of the difficulties to come… ”
All his hesitation vanished, above all thanks to the “meditation on the two standards,” put into practice on the ground by la Cité Catholique movement.
On February 11, 1954, on the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes, Jean-Jacques Marziac was ordained a priest. He admits to having experienced an “immense and exciting joy.” And he accurately notes that on February 13, he celebrated his second Mass at Notre-Dame de Fourvière; on February 15, his fourth Mass at the place of the martyrdom of St. Pothin; on February 16, his fifth Mass at the tomb of the holy Curé of Ars; on July 25, 1954, on the feast of St. James his second patron saint, a Mass at the grotto of Lourdes.
From August 16 to September 17, 1954, he made his first 35 Ignatian retreat at Chabeuil. He acknowledged with gratitude: “I had been ordained a few months before, it was the best retreat of my life… At the end, Fr. Barrielle, director of the retreat work in France, gave me the Souvenir de famille, a large print with 42 pages. Everything is written there to give the 30 day and 5 day Ignatian Exercises, according to the spirit and method of Fr. Vallet. But when Fr. Barrielle put it in my hands, he added: ‘Son! You are going to Africa ... Here are the Exercises to be given there ... I am in charge of you ... Courage! Keep me posted…’ Fr. Barrielle was my spiritual director for 30 years.”