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Saint Marcellin Champagnat
Painting of Marcellin Champagnat
Priest & Founder
Born May 20, 1789(1789-05-20), St. Etienne, France
Died June 6, 1840 (aged 51), Marlhes, France
Venerated in Roman Catholicism
Beatified May 29, 1955, The Vatican by Pope Pius XII
Canonized April 18, 1999, The Vatican by Pope John Paul II
Feast June 6
Attributes Compassion, Empathy
Patronage Education & Teachers

Saint Marcellin Joseph Benedict (Benoît in French) Champagnat (May 20, 1789 – June 6, 1840) was born in Rozet, village of Marlhes, near St. Etienne (Loire), France. He was the founder of the Marist Brothers, a religious congregation of men in the Roman Catholic Church dedicated to education.

Champagnat was ordained a priest in 1816, and was part of a group led by Jean-Claude Colin which founded the Society of Mary, also called the Marist Fathers and Brothers, a separate religious congregation to the Brothers Marcellin later was to found.

Contents

Early years

Marcellin Champagnat was born the ninth of ten children at Le Rosey, a hamlet in the Rhône-Alpes region (Loire Département, Saint-Étienne Arrondissement, Mahrles commune). He spent his childhood years in this area amidst the turmoil of the French Revolution where he witnessed the atrocities of civil war.

Marcellin's character was influenced by three people in his family. His father, an intelligent, hard-working, enterprising man, contributed to his formation as a citizen. His mother and his aunt (a Sister of St Joseph) served as models and guides to strengthen his steps as a believer and to deepen his faith.

The area of Marlhes in which Champagnat lived and worked had been badly affected by the French Revolution and Napoleonic Wars, and the local community was poor and uneducated...

Seminary & ordination

From 1805 to 1813, Marcellin attended the minor seminary in Verrieres. At one stage, quite discouraged, he overcame the temptation to leave religious life. He then attended the major seminary in Lyon for his spiritual and thelogical formation as a priest.

It was here that the idea for the Society of Mary was conceived and promoted by a group of seminarians, including Marcellin. From the start, he announced the Society should include Teaching Brothers to work with children deprived of Christian education in remote rural areas because others were not going to them.

Founding the Marist Brothers

After his ordination as a priest on 2 July 1816, Champagnat’s first posting was as curate to the parish of Lavalla-en-Gier. Marcellin was distressed that the people in the village were so isolated that they did not know much about the rest of the world. There was also little happening to help young people learn more about the Catholic faith. Teachers were poorly paid and not respected and therefore teaching attracted those with low ability and bad character.

At the end of October 1816, Marcellin visited the dying Jean Baptiste Montage. Champagnat was horrified that this seventeen year old boy who looked more like a scrawny child of twelve was totally ignorant of the basic beliefs of the Catholic faith. He knew that there were many young people like Jean who were poor and lacked knowledge of religion and God. This event motivated him to act.

On 2 January 1817, Marcellin encouraged two young men Jean-Marie Granjon and Jean-Baptiste Audras, to join him in forming the nucleus of the Marist Brothers. Others soon followed. La Valla thus became the birthplace of the Marist Brothers.

The first Brothers were young country men, most of whom were between 15 and 18 years old. They were more used to hard work in the fields than to prayer, intellectual work and working with children and the uneducated.

Marcellin motivated these teenagers with his enthusiasm for teaching and spreading the gospel. He lived among them, like one of them. He taught them how to pray and to live in religious community as Brothers, and how to be teachers and religious educators themselves.

Very soon, he sent them into the most remote villages to teach the children, and sometimes the adults as well, the basics of religious knowledge, and of reading and writing. Between 1817 and 1824, he started a traditional primary school at La Valla and used it as a teacher training centre for his young Brothers.

Encouraged by the success of the school in La Valla, others were founded at Marlhes in 1819, in Saint-Sauveur-Street 1820, and in Bourg-Argental in 1822. But this success endangered the small congregation, which had little more than novices. In March 1822, eight applicants came from Haute-Loire, giving a new impetus to the institution, and allows the creation of new houses in Vanosc 1823, Saint-Symphorien-le-Chateau 1823, and Chavanay Charlieu 1824.

Champagnat decided to build a novitiate on land purchased from the hermitage at St. Chamond. One sign of both his trust in God and the huge success the Brothers had become, was the building being designed to accommodate 150 people. The chapel was blessed on August 13, 1825. In 1837, Champagnat printed a Rule for his Brothers. Exhausted by his travels and his incessant efforts to gain recognition for his work with the authorities in Paris, and having been sick for a long time, Champagnat began preparing for his succession and Brother Francis was elected as Marcellin's replacement, on October 12, 1838.

Final years

After a long and painful illness caused by cancer Champagnat died on 6 June 1840, aged 51, at Our Lady of the Hermitage in the Gier River valley about 30 kilometres from where he had commenced his work He was buried on 8 June. He left this message in his spiritual Testament of May 18, 1840: "Let there be among you just one heart and one mind. Let it always be said of the Little Brothers of Mary as it was of the early Christians: See how they love one another!" By that time there were 280.4 Brothers and 48.8 Marist schools in France and Oceania (South Pacific), and by 1856 there were 300 houses and more than 1500 Brothers.

The Marist Brothers Institute was not formally approved until 1863 by Pope Pius IX. The educational philosophy of Champagnat was simple: to teach children one must love them, and secular subjects should be well taught as a means of children to the schools, where they would learn the basic elements of their faith. Champagnat saw God at the centre of life and the Virgin Mary as a sure means of attracting people to God.

Marcellin Champagnat was declared Venerable in 1920 by Pope Benedict XV beatified by Pope Pius XII on 29 May 1955, and canonised by Pope John Paul II on April 18, 1999. His feast day is observed in the Roman Catholic Church on 6 June. At their most numerous the Marist Brothers numbered about 10,000. In 2005 there were around 5,000 brothers.

Quotes

To raise children, we must love them and love them equally.
I cannot see a child without wanting to tell them how much God loves them.

Let there be among you just one heart and one mind. Let it always be said of the Little Brothers of Mary as it was of the early Christians: See how they love one another!

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