Today we celebrate the feast of St. Marcellin Champagnat. Founder of the Little Brothers of Mary
Today we celebrate the feast of St. Marcellin Champagnat. When seeing children and young people without schooling and knowledge of their faith, Marcellin would say, “We need brothers!” , and on January 2, 1817 he set in motion his plan for the Congregation of “the little brothers of Mary” with two young recruits.
Saint Marcellin Champagnat, a Marist Priest, dreamed of a worldwide community of brothers wholeheartedly devoted to making Jesus Christ known and loved among children and young people, especially the least favored. He embraced God’s call to found the Marist brothers, the religious congregation that continues to pursue his dream today.
Marcellin Champagnat was born on 20th May 1789, in Marlhes, a village in the mountains of east-central France. The Revolution was about to burst upon the scene. He was the ninth child of a very Christian family, from whom he received his basic education. His mother and his aunt, a religious driven from her convent, awoke in him a solid faith and deep devotion to Mary. His father, who was a farmer and merchant, possessed an above-average education, and played a significant role in the politics of the village and the region. He imparted to Marcellin his aptitude for manual work, a penchant for direct action, a sense of responsibility, and openness to new ideas.
When Marcellin was 14, a priest passing through the village helped him to see that God was calling him to the priesthood. Marcellin, whose formal schooling was practically non-existent, began to study because “God wills it!”, even while those around him, aware of his limitations, tried to dissuade him. The difficult years he spent in the minor seminary in Verrieres were for him a time of real human and spiritual growth. On 2nd January 1817, Marcellin, a 27-year-old curate, brought together his first two disciples; the congregation of the Little Brothers of Mary, or Marist Brothers, was born in poverty, humility, and total trust in God under Mary’s protection. While still carrying on his parish ministry, he went to live with his brothers, whom he trained and prepared for their mission as Christian teachers, catechists, and educators of young people. Passionately devoted to the Kingdom of God, conscious of the tremendous needs of young people, and an instinctive educator, Marcellin turned these uncultured young country lads into generous apostles. He lost no time in opening schools. Vocations arrived and the first little house, even though enlarged by Marcellin himself, was soon too small. There were many difficulties. The clergy in general did not understand what this inexperienced young priest with no material resources was trying to accomplish. However, the nearby villages continually requested brothers to see to the Christian education of their children.
In 1836, the Church recognized the Society of Mary and entrusted to it the missions of Oceania. Marcellin took his vows as a member of the Society of Mary, and sent three brothers with the first missionary Marist Fathers to the islands of the Pacific. “Every diocese of the world figures in our plans”, he had written.
Steps for obtaining legal recognition of his congregation made great demands on his time, energy and spirit of faith. He never stopped repeating, “When God is on your side, and you rely only on him, nothing is impossible!”
A lengthy illness gradually wore down his robust constitution. Worn out by his labors, he died at the age of 51 on 6th June 1840, leaving this message with his brothers: “May you be of one heart and one mind. May it be said of the Little Brothers of Mary as of the first Christians: see how they love one another!”
Today let’s remember the role of St. Marcellin Champagnat, and follow his steps as he taught his disciples to love and respect children, and to give special attention to the poor, the most ungrateful and the most neglected, especially orphans.
Heaven is our goal.