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What are Father Champagnat’s Christian names?

 


Louis Richard -



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Marcellin, Joseph, Benedict CHAMPAGNAT

From the start of the Life, Brother Jean-Baptiste calls him: “Joseph-Benedict-Marcellin”. But a footnote specifies: “The Christian names are not always in this order. On the Baptism certificate, one finds Marcellin, Joseph, Benedict; on the profession act, Father Champagnat signs himself : Joseph, Marcellin, Benedict. Marcellin is the principal Christian name: his godfather having this Christian name.” On the 11th November 1947, Brother Léonida gave some information on the Institute, information demanded by Professor Paul Lesourd of the Catholic Faculties of Paris, he specified clearly: “The Congregation of the Little Brothers of Mary or the Marist Brothers of the Schools was founded in 1817 by the Venerable Marcellin Joseph Benedict Champagnat whose heroicity of virtues was proclaimed in 1920.” (Letter 17.724) It is under this Christian name that he would be canonised: Saint Marcellin Champagnat. A parish in France, Saint -Paul-Trois-Châteaux, in the department of the Drôme, is called: “Parish Saint Marcellin en Tricastin”.

Lucena,But what of Joseph-Benedict?

These Christian names must have some importance for the Champagnat family since the little brother of Marcellin, the tenth, who was born on the 27th October 1790 would be named: “Joseph Benedict”. Al the hypotheses would be foreseeable, but in a letter from Brother Louis-Marie, Superior General, who on the 15th December 1862 wrote to the Brother Directors of the novitiate houses:

“We have been led to invoke in particular the Blessed Labre by the example of the pious Founder himself. It results in a letter from Reverend Father Champagnat, found in the papers of the chapel raised to Blessed at Amettes, Diocese of Arras, place of his birth, that the good Father went to pray to him in this same place and without doubt recommended to him the great and difficult affair of the approbation of the Institute by the Government which he was pursuing at this time. The knowledge of this letter and of this process came to us at the time when the most important affair of the approbation of the Institute was being treated by the Holy See. We have no doubt that the good God allowed us to have recourse to this blessed, and recommended to him also this last approbation, as the Founder has recommended to him the first. We are thus resolved to see him as our special and extraordinary patron for the whole of this year, and to pray to him and invoke him as such, at least in all our houses of the Novitiate. Already at the Mother House, we have felt some very sensitive effects of his protection. A terrible pox that tended to propagate itself and overcome the whole novitiate was completely stopped following the prayers and novenas that we addressed to him. Our affair in Rome has been taken up by the Sacred Congregation of Bishops and Regulars and they have sent us good news. Other interior and exterior difficulties have been happily terminated; as we wait for the protection of this Blessed, the protection of Mary Immaculate, Saint Joseph, the Angels, the Saints, and the souls in purgatory, may we also include in our practice a very particular help for all the needs both spiritual as well as temporal of the Congregation.” (Letter 3776)

The letter in question must have come to the knowledge of Brother Louis-Marie through the Marist Fathers who, on the 1st April of the same year 1862, took charge of the sanctuary of Amettes.

The reference to Joseph-Benedict Labre becomes clear. But how is this saint so venerated at Marlhes that his Christian names are given to children?

When we read the life of this down-and-out saint we need to leave the world of the conventional to find a man so close to God, full of so much faith, that he goes right to the essential. He left his natal village of Amettes, in the Pas de Calais, and goes from monastery to monastery, seeking his way. In 1770, he has just left the Trappist monastery of Sept-Fonds where he had started his novitiate under the name of Brother Urbain. He set himself thus in his vocation of the perpetual pilgrim. Paray-le-Monial, Fourvière, La Louvesc are privileged stages before his departure for Rome where he settled. We know that he stopped at Dardilly, with the Vianneys. The master of the lodgings welcomed him as he welcomed all the poor. The children looked at this disinherited person in which their mother and father had taught them to see Jesus Christ himself. And among them, Matthew, one of the five boys, who would become the father of another saint, Jean-Marie Vianney, the Curé of Ars. Some time after, the family received a letter from Joseph-Benedict Labre. The Curé of Ars often spoke of this letter and certainly would have done so with the young Marcellin with whom he shared part of his seminary…

We know that this poor person of Jesus Christ went also to La Louvesc and thus also into the region of Marlhes, towards the years 1774 and people remembered this strange man so full of God, that the popular veneration, here as in Rome, had canonised him well before the Church had done so. Evidently in 1889, Joseph Benedict Labre was not yet canonised, but people had started to speak about him and the Roman cardinals had been obliged to look at this case of the down-and-out about whom all the children of the Colosseum said “the saint is dead”, and who, some weeks after his death, had made numerous cures. He rests now at Santa Maria ai Monti, in Via Madonna dei Monti, beside the metro station of Cavour.

We can claim without hesitation that it was in memory of Saint Joseph-Benedict Labre that the parents of the little Marcellin gave him two other Christian names. And our Institute owes it to itself to not forget that God acts with means that are his own and often different to ours. Labre, Champagnat, Vianney: nothing destined them to renown and to action that was their own, except for the love of God that filled their hearts, this solid faith despite appearances, this incessant recourse to Providence and this certainty of their human limits.

Louis RICHARD fms

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