Fr John Larsen elected to top post in the Society of Mary


A New Zealand priest has been elected superior general of the Marist Fathers and Brothers (Society of Mary).

Fr John Larsen is a member of the Society’s district of Asia and has been on loan to its international formation programme based in Rome.

He succeeds Fr John Hannan and is the first non-European to hold the position in 24 years.

Larsen entered Mount St Mary’s Seminary, Hawkes Bay, New Zealand in 1974.

After ordination in 1981, he taught for five years at St Patrick’s College, Silverstream, during which time he volunteered for the foreign missions.

As well as the experience of mission in developing countries, Larsen has been involved in the formation of Marist priests and occupied the position of novice-master and formator  in philosophy and theology houses in the Philippines.

He is a former district superior of the Philippines and was responsible for establishing the Marist Mision in Ranong, Southern Thailand. Local people still remember him fondly many years later.

The current district superior of Asia, Fr Pat Devlin, who worked alongside Larsen, says he is delighted with the election.

“I believe he will bring energy and vision to the leadership”.

“He will be a blessing for the Society as he is a spiritual man with a broad vision combined with an interest and care for individuals, especially those in great need”, Devlin said.

Fr Frank Bird from the Marist mission says John Larsen’s influence on Burmese migrants in Ranong has been profound.

“Some HIV AIDS Patients and others still have a photo of Fr John in their homes alongside an image of Buddha.

“I think they recognise a holy man of great compassion.

“They remember his love, his breadth of vision, his personal and loving style of leadership that was also not afraid of the challenges involved in a migrant border-crossing town with its many difficulties”, said Frank Bird.

Frank Bird says he has never forgotten visiting people with John Larsen as he did his daily visits to sick HIV migrants. He recalls this story:

“Approaching one particular home, he looked around carefully to see if any police who might endanger them were following.

“He pushed open a bit of corrugated iron to reveal a dirt pathway to an abandoned building. It was an area beside and above a dirty river.

“Next, going under the building and up some stairs, we came across a number of families and children who were obviously happy to see him.

“He walked among them as a friend,” said Frank Bird.

The Society of Mary’s leader in New Zealand, Fr David Kennerley, believes the election a bold turning and an answer to prayer.

He says Larsen’s election continues the theme first highlighted by the retiring superior general – “Time to look outwards”.

Larsen is the second New Zealander to become the superior general of the Marist Fathers and Brothers. The first was Fr Bernard Ryan who was elected to the position in 1977.


The Society of Mary
Image: The Society of Mary

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