Saint Marcellin Champagnat: Model for Parents and Educators


The precious legacy of Saint Marcellin to his disciples emphasizes his wise method of education and his devotion to Our Lady, the foundation and quintessence of Marist pedagogy.

Newsdesk (June 10, 2021, 15:42, Gaudium Press) Interestingly enough, among the Curé of Ars’ seminary companions was a person who, in those early days of the 19th century, also experienced considerable difficulties in learning: Saint Marcellin Champagnat, founder of the Congregation of the Marist Brothers.

He was a true peasant lad with a robust physique and a tenacious spirit. He entered the seminary determined to become a priest and a saint.

Educated since birth in the solid principles of religion, he lacked knowledge but not faith. Therefore, when the superiors wanted to dismiss him, claiming his inability to complete his long ecclesiastical studies, he did not hesitate to appeal to his great Protectress, the Mother of God.

He entrusted his vocation to Her, begging Her to help him in his hardships as a student. He got much more than he requested. So much that on the day of his canonization, the Church proclaimed him a “model for parents and educators.”

“A vigorous boy, gifted with an excellent soul”

Marcellin Joseph Benedict Champagnat was born on May 20, 1789, in the tiny village of Le Rosey, in the mountainous region of the Loire, a few weeks before the outbreak of the French Revolution. He was the second-to-last of ten siblings and was born in a tiny village. A healthy child with a cheerful and outgoing temperament, he soon assimilated the devotion to Our Lady that his mother had early sought to instill in him.

Undoubtedly under Mary’s special protection, the winds of anti-religion which ravaged France during Saint Marcellin’s childhood did not penetrate the Champagnat household.

And since the boy showed keen interest in all matters of religion, they decided to anticipate his First Communion to the age of 11, two years younger than the age prescribed by the Church at that time.

By this time, religious life was beginning to return to its normal rhythm in the country. Thus, in 1800 Marcellin enrolled in the first group of neo-communionists. That was in the parish of Marlhes to which the village of Le Rosey belonged.

First contacts with the world of education

Already in the preparatory course for the solemn moment of the Eucharist, Saint Marcellin began to observe the world of education with a singular pedagogical sense.

He was in class when the teacher lost patience with an unruly student. In a burst of irritation, he began to scold him with harsh words and gave him a humiliating nickname. The other boys thought it was funny and from that day on made fun of his fellow student, jokingly repeating the nickname.

To get rid of the mockery, the only way out was to isolate himself. That made him, in time, a taciturn, rude, and difficult adolescent.

“Therein lies a faulty education,” Saint Marcellin said when he recounted this fact to the Marist Brothers decades later. “And the child, exposed to become the torment of his home and, who knows, the scourge of his neighbors! All because of a thoughtless word said in a moment of nervousness and impatience that should not have been difficult to subdue.”

He had another unfortunate experience in the village nursery school. Besides teaching in a very precarious space, the teacher used to solve disciplinary problems with corporal punishment, according to the custom of the time.

On the first day of class, Saint Marcellin saw him inflicting one of these punishments, taking a violent attitude that more deserved the name of anger than correction. He felt such revulsion at this lack of righteousness and justice that he decided never to return to school.

He was just under 12 years old, determined to spend his life far away from school and books. That was until the day he came to know God’s will for him.

The call to the priesthood

Towards the end of 1803, when Marcellin was 14 years old, a priest sent by the Vicar General of the diocese arrived in the village of Le Rosey with the task of recruiting young men eager to “study Latin,” the common expression used to mean “study to become a priest.”

The parish priest recommended the visitor should go to the Champagnat home to see if any of the boys in the family aspired to the priesthood.

The two oldest sons denied it, but Marcellin could not answer. The priest then decided to call him aside and, after a brief dialogue, he noticed in him the profile of an authentic priest. And he told him in a fatherly and very decisive way: “My boy, you must study Latin and become a priest; God wants you.”

Until shortly before this visit, the young man had never thought of embracing the priestly state. He had thought of following the profession of his parents, farmers, and owners of a mill. Then he had decided to plan his future as a merchant because he had a knack for finance.

However, the words of that minister of God were enough to undo such human plans, and he promptly answered the divine call.

An elite group at the seminary

After several months of attempting to learn Latin, young Marcellin entered the minor seminary of Verrières in 1805.

He faced difficult moments because of his initial struggle with education. But under the protection of the Blessed Virgin and with a lot of hard work, he overcame them and even surprised his professors by outstripping the other students, managing to complete two terms in one year.

In 1813, already in the major seminary of Lyon, he promoted the formation of a group of dedicated students – among them the future Curé of Ars – whose ideals were to restore the Catholic Faith in the world through the devotion to Mary.

They discussed the best means of apostolate to achieve this noble objective and save as many souls as possible. There were two fields of action in which they wanted to work: the missions and the evangelization of the young.

Thus were laid the foundations of the Society of Mary or Congregation of the Marist Fathers, a task which would later be consolidated and founded by the Venerable Father Jean-Claude-Marie Coli.

Saint Marcellin, “struck by the difficulties they faced in learning,” proposed, during one of the meetings of this elite group, the creation of another institute. Not of priests, but brothers, destined for the education of children and young people. It would unite in the same method teaching the truths of the Faith and the basic sciences.

The idea was approved, and it was up to St. Marcellin to carry it out. Soon after he became a priest, on July 22, 1816, he found the right circumstances to make the project a reality.

Born as the Little Brothers of Mary

He became the coadjutor of the populous parish of La Valla-en-Gier. The young priest was closely acquainted with the sad reality of moral disorder and detachment from pious practices that a large part of the people lived.

Religious ignorance, one of the most harmful consequences of the 1789 Revolution, was almost generalized there. There was not a single teacher to teach the children to read and write and transmit elementary knowledge.

Before taking any concrete steps, he was careful to put the task in the hands of Our Lady. He took her as Mother, Patroness, Model, and First Superior of the future Institute.
He also decided that the members would be called Little Brothers of Mary, convinced that the Virgin’s name was enough to attract many candidates.

Soon the first aspirants came: two boys from the parish. They had a good character, frequented the sacraments, and were eager to embrace the religious life. Enthusiastic about the proposed ideal, they soon began to live in a community in a modest house near the parish church.

Thus, in January 1817, less than six months after Father Champagnat’s arrival in La Valla, the history of the Little Brothers of Mary – also known as the Marist Brothers – began. By the middle of the 20th century, there would be more than 8,000 of them, with 700 schools spread throughout the world.

The saintly founder was only 28 years old at the time

From then on, Saint Marcellin’s life followed the path followed by all founders, buying with their suffering the fidelity of their followers and the glory of their work.

Until his death, at the age of 51, he suffered all kinds of setbacks. That gave his existence the distinctive mark of men who are pleasing to God: that of being tested “through the crucible of humiliation” (Eccl 2:5).

He was slandered by his enemies and contradicted by some of his disciples; he lacked financial means and, at one period, even vocations.

The hardships eventually consumed his health, shortening his days. But a few minutes before his death, his face regained its color and, looking up, he said with a smile: “I am smiling because I see Our Lady. She is there, and she is coming to get me”.

Some aspects of the Marist pedagogy

In the valuable legacy of Saint Marcellin to the Marist Brothers, his wise pedagogical method stands out. It is one of the best expressions of his vocation.

The good example of the master

As a pre-requisite for the success of the Institute’s mission, he considered it essential that his disciples be committed to being true educators and not merely transmitters of knowledge:

“We want to educate the children, that is, instruct them about their duties, teach them to practice them, infuse them with the spirit and sentiments of Christianity, religious habits, the virtues of the Christian and the good citizen.”

He considered an indispensable element for the effectiveness of this mission the mutual respect between student and teacher. Above all, the good example of the teacher is one of the key elements to obtain their obedience.

“The child learns more by the eyes than by the ears. By seeing his parents or bosses working, he gets used to the work and learns a trade. So, too, it is by seeing others do good acts and receiving good examples that he learns to practice virtue and to live Christianly.”

Discipline is the core of education

Discipline was another aspect to which St. Marcellin gave primary importance in the art of teaching.

He insisted that order is pleasing to all, including children. He made it clear that the essence of discipline is not repression by force and fear of punishment but rather the correction of faults and the formation of the will.

“Discipline is one-half of a child’s education. If it is missing, in most cases, the other half is useless. What good is it for a child to know how to read, write, and even know his catechism if he has not learned to obey and behave? Or if he has not acquired the habit of curbing his evil inclinations to follow the voice of his conscience? Why are men today so fickle, sensual, incapable of renunciation, incapable of putting up with anything that goes against nature? Because no one disciplined them since childhood. They have enjoyed too much freedom. They have not been taught self-control, self-denial, and the fight against evil inclinations. Discipline is the body of education; Religion, the soul.”

“All to Mary, for Jesus”

However, it is in the devotion to Our Lady that the foundation and quintessence of Marist pedagogy lie, as is prescribed in the founding Rule:
“The Brothers will make every effort to inspire the boys to have great devotion to the Blessed Virgin.”

St. Marcellin Champagnat’s desire to glorify the Mother of God was such that the phrase “all to Jesus through Mary” did not satisfy him.

That is why, when he adopted it for his Institute, he complimented it with a bold and filial twist which could well summarize his life: “All to Mary, for Jesus!

The post-Saint Marcellin Champagnat Model for parents and educators appeared first on Gaudium Press.

The precious legacy of Saint Marcellin to his disciples emphasizes his wise method of education and his devotion to Our Lady, the foundation and quintessence of Marist pedagogy.

Newsdesk (June 6, 2021, 11:32, Gaudium Press) Interestingly enough, among the Curé of Ars’ seminary companions was a person who, in those early days of the 19th century, also experienced considerable difficulties…View article
The post-Saint Marcellin Champagnat Model for parents and educators appeared first on Gaudium Press. Read More Spirituality, Marist Brothers, Marist pedagogy, Saint Marcellin Champagnat Gaudium Press

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