Marmion is born April 1, 1858, in Dublin, the seventh of nine children of William Marmion and Herminie Marmion (née Cordier). He attends St. Laurence O’Toole’s, a primary school run by the Augustinian Fathers of John’s Lane. On January 11, 1869, he transfers to Belvedere College, where he receives an excellent grounding in Greek and Latin from the Jesuit Fathers. From there, he proceeded in January 1874 to Clonliffe College, where he remains until December 1879, when the new Archbishop of Dublin, Dr. Edward MacCabe, selects him for further theological studies in Rome.
Marmion is in Rome at the Pontifical Irish College, studying theology at the Propaganda College, for eighteen months (December 1879 – July 1881). Although invited by the authorities at Propaganda to present himself for the doctorate degree, he turns down the offer for health reasons, on account of the necessary extra year in Rome which this would entail. On returning to Dublin he spends the first year as curate in Dundrum parish. This is followed by four years (1882–86) as professor of philosophy at Clonliffe. On October 25, 1886, he receives from the newly appointed Archbishop of Dublin, Dr. William Walsh, his dimissorial letters, granting him permission to join the Benedictine order. On November 21, 1886, he enters the newly founded Belgian Maredsous Abbey, with which, by virtue of the Benedictine vow of stability, he is to be associated for the rest of his life.
The first thirteen years of his monastic life (1886–99) are spent at Maredsous Abbey itself. After an unsuccessful start in the abbey school as a kind of housemaster to the junior boys, he finds his feet within the community through congenial work, notably the teaching of Thomistic philosophy to the junior monks. He also gradually builds up a reputation as a spiritual guide through the exercise of ministry on a small scale in the surrounding area. The next decade (1899–1909) finds him in Louvain as prior and professor of dogmatic theology at Mont César Abbey, which is founded and staffed by Maredsous. This decade provides a wide outlet for his matured spiritual doctrine through his lectures on dogmatic theology in Mont César, his retreats to priests and religious, and his private correspondence. The third and final phase of his monastic life begins when the chapter of Maredsous elects him as its third abbot in 1909.
An invitation is received from the Belgian government from December 1909 to April 1910 to undertake a Benedictine foundation in Katanga, part of the Belgian Congo. In spite of pressure from government quarters the chapter of Maredsous refuses the offer, and Marmion accepts this negative decision. In 1913 the entire community of Anglican Benedictines of Caldey Island, Wales, transfer their allegiance from Canterbury to Rome. Marmion becomes deeply involved in the spiritual and canonical process of the reception of the community into the Catholic church.
The outbreak of World War I ushers in four years of grave anxiety for Marmion. Belgium is not completely occupied, but retains sovereignty over an area extending inland about twenty miles to the Ypres Salient. This enables the young monks of Maredsous, for whom Marmion had found a temporary home in Edermine, County Wexford, to travel to and from the Western Front, where they are being called up to serve as stretcher bearers in the Belgian army. He does his utmost to maintain the unity of his community between those who had remained in Maredsous and the Edermine group.
The first of Marmion’s great spiritual books, Christ, the Life of the Soul, appears in 1916, and its phenomenal success has been described as a silent plebiscite. This is followed by Christ in His Mysteries (1919), Christ the Ideal of the Monk (1922), and Sponsa Verbi (1923). The books are able to appear in rapid succession since they are compiled from his existing conference notes.
One final piece of important monastic and ecclesiastical and even political business absorbs much of Marmion’s energies, although strictly speaking it is not of his remit. His strenuous efforts to install Belgian monks in the Abbey of the Dormition on Mount Zion in Jerusalem following the internment (November 1918) of the original German Benedictine community by the victorious British forces are of no avail, the question being finally settled by the reinstallation of the German (Beuronese) monks in 1921.
Marmion dies at Maredsous on January 30, 1923, following a brief illness which originates in a chill and is aggravated by influenza.
Marmion is beatified by Pope John Paul II on September 3, 2000. This is the outcome of a popular reputation for holiness which had increased steadily since his death and the procedures for beatification prompted in 1954 by Mgr. Montini, the future Pope Paul VI. The canonical steps are: diocesan process at Namur (1957–61); examination at Rome of Marmion’s writings (1960–73); a critical biography (1987–94), written by Mark Tierney, OSB, for the Roman process on the ‘heroicity’ of Marmion’s virtues which concluded in June 1999; and finally an inexplicable cure of cancer through Marmion’s intercession, judged as miraculous by Rome on January 25, 2000.
The originality of Marmion’s spiritual doctrine lay in his truly central emphasis on the doctrine of our adoption as the children of God in baptism. Many of his predecessors had also emphasised this doctrine, but few had made it the focus from which everything radiated and to which everything returned. The second characteristic of Marmion’s teaching, a much more personal trait, is the conviction of authenticity communicated by his writings, of the greatness of our sharing in the sonship of the Word. This makes a deep and lasting impression on the reader, and gives an infinitely sacred meaning to the title ‘children of God’ and thereby to the whole of life. The third characteristic of Marmion’s teaching is the simplicity with which the deepest theological truths are presented – truths which preachers often feel their people cannot ‘take,’ and hence are left unsaid. Marmion presents these truths directly from St. John and St. Paul, and not merely in familiar extracts but in the whole sweep of their texts.
(From: “Marmion, Dom Columba” by Placid Murray, Dictionary of Irish Biography, http://www.dib.ie)