Blessed Marcellin Joseph Benedict Champagnat

The life and works of Blessed Marcellin Champagnat, the first priest of the Society of Mary, and founder of the Institute of the Marist Brothers, or the Little Brother of Mary.

The so-called Marist Schools all over the world have a distinct flavor and character to them that can be attributed to the founder of the Institute of the Marist Brothers, a country priest named Blessed Marcellin Joseph Benedict Champagnat (1789-1840).

Blessed Marcellin Champagnat was born on May 20, 1789, near St. Etienne (Loire), France. He was the youngest of 10 children. As a child, Marcellin Champagnat showed signs of leaning towards the religious way of life, and later on, after having talked with a priest, was convinced that priesthood was his vocation. He subsequently entered the Junior Seminary of Verrieres. Afterwards, Marcellin Campagnat entered the Senior Seminary of Lyons. Blessed Marcellin Champagnat was ordained priest on July 22, 1816. He was immediately sent as curate to Lavalla-en-Gier, a parish with around 2500 parishioners.

As a young man, Blessed Marcellin Champagnat was inflamed with the vision of establishing an association to be called the "Society of Mary." He envisioned its goal to be that of educating young people, particularly those, at that time, in the rural areas of France, where education had virtually ceased to become a priority because of overwhelming poverty.



Together with two other men, one aged 15, the other 23, Blessed Marcellin Champagnat founded the Marist Brothers in 1817, that is, France right after the revolution. Dismayed by the illiteracy he witnessed in the rural children of France, he established a network of village schools, all of which he imbued with the character of hard work and excellence, within a religious framework of seeking the divine guidance of Mary, the Mother of Jesus Christ. In 1822, Father Champagnat suffered a vicious assault on his character by fellow priests, which hampered his work with the brothers. But in 1824, he was able to resolve this conflict, and immediately started work on a house to be known as Our Lady of the Hermitage.

Blessed Marcellin Champagnat focused his work on the rural areas of southern France. While he was alive, he and his companions, who became the first Marist Brothers, were able to establish 47 schools, all of which have been continued by subsequent generations of Marist Brothers. Because the number of brothers often would not suffice for the personnel needs of each school established, dedicated lay people have been tapped to assist the brothers in teaching and running the many different schools all over the world. These lay people must be in deep agreement with the tenets proclaimed by Blessed Marcellin Champagnat in order to carry out their particular roles in the schools, particularly in teaching. Marist Schools promote holistic education, striving to enhance the spiritual, intellectual, social, cultural and physical potential of the students in their care. The Marist Brothers did not limit their work to establishing schools, however. They also put up crisis centers, for dealing with children in difficulty (drug addiction, social problems, etc.), like streetchildren, children from deprived areas, children of immigrants, and children in mission territories.

In 1836, the Holy See recognized the Society of Mary, which had taken for its motto "All to Jesus through Mary; all to Mary for Jesus." Blessed Marcellin Champagnat had taken Mary as his Ordinary Resource.

Blessed Marcellin Champagnat passed away at the age of 51 on June 6, 1840.

Reference:

Marist Institute Publications Bureau. Marcellin Joseph Benedict Champagnat: A Short Biography. Rome. 2000.

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