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1816: Marcelino con sus compañeros se consagran a la Virgen de Fourvière.
Partida de los primeros hermanos para la R.D. de Congo (1911) y a las Islas Salomón (1938)

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Marcellin Champagnat

 

A Vision for Marist Education Today
- 1998

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Europe during Marcellin’s life-time, 1789 to 1840, was the scene of great cultural, political and economic upheavals, a time of crisis in society and in the Church. This was the context in which he grew up and was educated, the setting which elicited his response of founding the Institute of the Little Brothers of Mary, known as the Marist Brothers.

Disciples of Marcellin Champagnat1. Marcellin Champagnat is the life-giving root of Marist education. Times and circumstances change but his dynamic spirit and vision live on in our hearts. God chose him to bring hope and the message of Jesus’ love to young lives in the France of his day. God inspires us to do the same in our time and place. A man faithful to God in an age of crisis 2. Europe during Marcellin’s life-time, 1789 to 1840, was the scene of great cultural, political and economic upheavals, a time of crisis in society and in the Church. This was the context in which he grew up and was educated, the setting which elicited his response of founding the Institute of the Little Brothers of Mary, known as the Marist Brothers. - in his youth Marlhes (1789-1805) 3. Marlhes, the village where Marcellin was born, was a setting of backwardness and ignorance. Most of the adults and young people were functionally illiterate. During his childhood, however, there was a mood for change. Ideas about social progress and solidarity, flowing from the revolution taking place in France, were having their impact even in such isolated villages. Indeed, for a time Marcellin’s father himself played an important role locally in this social movement. 4. Marcellin’s character was shaped in particular by three people from within his immediate family circle. His father, an intelligent, hard-working, enterprising man, contributed to his formation as a future citizen. His mother and his aunt served as models and guides to strengthen his first steps as a believer, to deepen his faith and prayer life, and to awaken his devotion to Mary. 5. Young Marcellins intellectual formation proved to be extremely difficult for lack of competent teachers. In fact, he refused to return to the local school after just one day when he witnessed the cruelty of the teacher towards another student, and devoted himself instead to his work on the family farm. It was as an almost illiterate adolescent, then, that he generously answered Gods call when invited to become a priest. What he lacked in formal education, he made up with abundant common sense, strong piety, strength of character, practical skills, and unshakable determination. Lyons (1813-1816) 6. From 1805 to 1813 Marcellin attended the minor seminary in Verrières where his vocation overcame many temptations to take the easy way out or to give in to discouragement. He then entered the major seminary in Lyons for his spiritual and theological formation by priests who had suffered during the French Revolution and its aftermath. During these troubled times, this town, a Marial center of ancient origin, was to be the starting point for a number of new missionary and apostolic ventures. 7. It was in this Christian and Marial soil that the idea of the Society of Mary was conceived and promoted by a group of seminarians including Marcellin. From the start, he expressed his conviction that the Society should include Teaching Brothers to work with children deprived of a Christian education in remote rural areas because others were not going to them. - during the foundation period La Valla (1816-1825) 8. After his ordination as a priest on 22 July 1816, Marcellin was appointed curate at La Valla. The isolation and cultural poverty of the people in this mountainous rural area immediately weighed on him. In the country as a whole, a middle-class, liberal, self-centered society was emerging and the politicians were primarily interested in creating an elite who could furnish military, political and economic leaders. Even in the Church, there was little happening for the pastoral care of young people in the countryside. Moreover, the teaching profession was held in such low esteem and so poorly paid that it attracted only candidates whose ability and character left a lot to be desired. 9. At the end of October 1816, Marcellin was called to the bedside of Jean Baptiste Montagne, who at the age of 17 was about to die without ever having heard much about God. In the eyes of this adolescent, he saw the calls for help of thousands of other youngsters, who, like him, were victims of tragic human and spiritual poverty. This event spurred him into action. 10. On 2 January 1817, Marcellin brought together his first two followers. Others soon followed. La Valla thus became the birthplace of the Marist Brothers. A wonderful spiritual and educational adventure was to begin amid human poverty and trust in God and Mary. 11. The first Brothers were young country boys, most of whom were between 15 and 18 years old, more accustomed to hard work in the fields than to contemplation, intellectual reflection and working with children and other young people: Jean Marie Granjon (Br. Jean Marie), Jean Baptiste Audras (Br. Louis), Jean Claude Audras (Br. Laurent), Antoine Couturier (Br. Antoine), Barthélemy Badard (Br. Barthélemy), and Gabriel Rivat (Br. François), Jean Baptise Furet (Br. Jean Baptiste). 12. Marcellin enthused these adolescents with his apostolic and educational zeal. He lived among them, like one of them. He taught them reading, writing and arithmetic, how to pray and to live the Gospel in ordinary life, and how to be teachers and religious educators themselves. 13. Very soon he sent them into the most remote hamlets of the parish, 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 sort of teacher training center for his young Brothers, including opportunities for teaching practice. The Hermitage (1825-1840) 14. By 1824-1825, the little community had grown, and Marcellin built a large formation house in a valley near the city of Saint Chamond. This was called Notre Dame de lHermitage -- Our Ladys Hermitage – which was part monastery and part teacher training center for the Brothers. 15. Stretching possibilities to the limit, and in accordance with the legal requirements of the day, Marcellin offered his followers an initial and ongoing human and spiritual formation with a special focus on increasing their intellectual knowledge and teaching skills. The Hermitage, then, can be described as the crucible of Marist educational principles and practice. 16. It also gradually became the centre of a network of elementary schools, which increased in number and became better organized. The option taken by Marcellin and the Brothers was to reduce the payment they asked to a minimum, and to live austerely themselves as a consequence. The first printed edition of the Rule of Life of the Little Brothers of Mary (1837) gave structure to both their life as a religious community and their life-work as educators. 17. The Hermitage was also the source of the missionary activity of the Institute, beginning in 1836 when three Brothers sailed to Oceania with a group of Marist Fathers . Marcellin himself wrote to a Bishop who asked for Brothers, “Every diocese in the world figures in our plans”. An educator for our times A man of practical vision, an innovator 18. From a young age, Marcellin showed his enterprise and foresight. He was looking forward to life as a farmer and was keenly interested in raising and selling sheep. Yet, as soon as he heard God’s call, he redirected his enthusiasm and energy to preparing for his mission as a priest. 19. With his closeness to the people of his area and a keen sense of their disadvantage in a changing world, Marcellin dared to imagine other possibilities beyond the vision of his contemporaries in Church and government. His determination and drive led him to gather followers to found a new religious community within six months of his ordination. The source of his apostolic energy was his unfailing trust in God and in Mary. 20. He was also realistic and pragmatic. In order to establish the Brothers, he was very enterprising, in buying land and houses, and in erecting, renovating, and enlarging buildings to make them suitable for religious community life and formation. Similarly, he had a practical approach to solving problems as can be seen, for example, in his efforts to seek official recognition for his group and a solution to the conscription of his young Brothers. 21. The key to his success as a leader was his ability to relate to other people and to communicate with them. His personality and his project won over young people and he had the gift of bringing the best qualities out of them so that they became the best ambassadors of his work. Further, through his letter-writing and personal appeals to Church and government authorities, and through his careful preparation of a set of statutes and a prospectus, he presented, defended and promoted the project he had received from God. Educator of children and youth22. Marcellin was a born teacher. In Marlhes, during his vacations from the seminary, he attracted children and even adults who came from quite a distance to attend his catechism lessons. They listened to him attentively, sometimes for more than two hours. In La Valla, the young curate transformed the parish by his welcoming and simple manner and by the constant quality of what he had to say during catechism lessons or his Sunday sermons, linking faith and life. 23. He also showed himself to be a first-class educator of young people. His success in transforming the mostly poorly educated youth who wanted to be Brothers into capable teachers and religious educators was extraordinary. He was present among them, gave them good example, and helped them to develop humanly and spiritually. The secret of his success lay in the great simplicity with which he related to his young followers and in his great confidence in them. 24. Together with them he drew up and refined a system of educational values taking Mary as model, the servant of God and educator of Jesus in Nazareth. Likewise he was enterprising in implementing and adapting the most effective pedagogical approaches of his day. Formator of young apostles 25. Marcellin showed personal interest in each one of his young Brothers, guided them spiritually, encouraged them to become qualified, and entrusted them with apostolic responsibilities. He visited their schools, and accompanied each Brother in his mission as teacher and catechist. 26. He nurtured in them an apostolic spirituality based on a sense of the Presence of a loving and faithful God, on leading a committed life taking Mary as Model and Mother, and on a spirit of fraternal care in community. He introduced them to the love of Jesus as expressed in the Crib, the Cross and the Altar - not just as a focus for personal contemplation but as reminders of their own call to express love in down-to-earth ways. His love of the poor was a model for those who would claim the name “Marist”. 27. Marcellin developed a system of ongoing professional development which involved both theory and practical experience and was community-based. Especially during the early years, the summer vacations were put to good use for improving his Brothers store of knowledge and their educational methods through such means as individual and group work, examining committees, and conferences. 28. He established a similar system for the formation of leaders, especially school principals, in areas of administration, accounting, handling responsibility, relating with the other Brothers, and working as a council or as a team. We continue his educational work 29. During the fifty-one years of his life, Marcellin labored to the point of exhaustion to found a family of religious educators. He experienced the Cross in his life, with countless disappointments, difficulties and setbacks but his hope and vision remained strong. When he died on 6 June 1840, this family numbered 290 Brothers in 48 elementary schools. 30. Brother François and the first Brothers took up Marcellin’s project with enthusiasm. In a similar spirit of faith and apostolic zeal, their successors have taken it to the five continents. As contemporary Marist educators, we share and continue Marcellin’s dream of transforming the lives and situation of young people, particularly the least favoured, through offering them an integral education, both human and spiritual, based on a personal love for each one.

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