Saint Marcellin Champagnat founded the Marist Brothers in 1817. Champagnat was born on the 20th May 1789 and was baptized the very next day on the Feast of the Ascension of the Lord. In October 1805 at the age of 17 years, he entered the seminary and spent eleven years of preparation before he was ordained as a priest on 22nd July 1816.
Champagnat’s story was one of trials and tribulations. He spent his childhood years in the turmoil of the French Revolution where he witnessed the atrocities of a civil war. As a seminarian, his studies were so poor that he was advised not to continue in his vocation. He was devastated but not conquered. With sheer determination, courage and an unrelenting faith in the Lord and the Blessed Virgin Mary, Champagnat finally succeeded in fulfilling his life-long desire to become a priest in 1816.
Champagnat’s approach to education was simple and yet powerful – “to educate children properly, we should love them and love them equally.” This has indeed been the guiding philosophy behind Marist education throughout the whole world since. Champagnat was firmly convinced that it was his calling and duty to found a congregation of teaching brothers; who would impart the virtues and values of the Catholic faith through the channel of secular education.
When Marcellin Champagnat died on 6th June 1840 at the age of 51 years old, there were 280 Marist Brothers in the south of France. The numbers grew to 1500 Brothers in 1856. Today, an estimated 5000 Marist Brothers and tens of thousands of lay people undertake the work of spreading the Marist education in 79 countries around the world.