St. Marcellin Champagnat
"All to Jesus through Mary; All to Mary for Jesus.” - St. Marcellin Champagnat
Marcellin Champagnat was born on May 20, 1789, the year of the French Revolution, and died on June 6, 1840. He was a priest of the Society of Mary and the founder of the Little Brothers of Mary (Marist Brothers of the Schools), a congregation of brothers devoted to the education of young children and young people.
He was the ninth child of a very pious catholic family and developed a very deep devotion to Mary as a young boy, which he learned from his aunt (Louise) who was a religious. He also had a great capacity for work, which he learned from his father.
Champagnat left school at the age of seven, and when, at the age of 14, he discovered through the help of a priest his own vocation to the priesthood, he had to begin to study again almost from scratch.
Aware of his limitations, and against the advice of those around him, he entered the minor seminary and struggled to learn the fundamentals of schooling. However, never losing sight of the will of God for him, he struggled through these difficult years with his eyes fixed on the horizon of God’s call.
In the major seminary, he became friends with the future Curé of Ars, Jean-Marie Vianney. He was ordained with his companions on July 22, 1816, the feast of St. Mary Magdalen.
One of his desires was to found a congregation devoted to the name of Mary in order to re-evangelize French society in the wake of the French Revolution. He saw his main task as the Christian education of the young, and this inclination was quickened and solidified upon encountering a dying young boy who had nearly no knowledge of the faith.
He founded the Little Brothers of Mary on January 2, 1817, when two young men decided to join him in his mission. He set about at once, in addition to his parish ministry, to educate uncultured young boys and turn them into ardent apostles of Jesus Christ, all the while living in abject poverty and trusting totally in God’s providence, and the solicitous protection of the Blessed Virgin Mary, to whom he gave all, for the sake of the Lord Jesus.
Marcellin Champagnat died at the age of 51, his health having been worn out by his immense workload and an illness.
At his canonization in 1999 by Pope John Paul II, the Holy Father said of him, “St Marcellin proclaimed the Gospel with a burning heart. He was sensitive to the spiritual and educational needs of his time, especially to religious ignorance and the situations of neglect experienced in a particular way by the young.”