Marist Bicentenary Video
Saint Marcellin Champagnat
Marcellin Champagnat was born in 1789 in revolutionary France. At the age of eleven and with little aptitude for academic work, Marcellin, decided he preferred farm work to hours spent over books. A few years later, a visiting priest suggested that he might like to train for the priesthood. Marcellin found the early years of his studies extremely difficult.
While in seminary, Marcellin and some others conceived a vision for the founding of the Society of Mary. He was determined the Society should include teaching Brothers to work with rural children with no Christian education.
In 1816, in his first parish, he was called to the bedside of a dying sixteen-year-old boy completely ignorant of Christian teaching. Deeply moved by this experience, Marcellin decided to act.
In January 1817, Marcellin and two others formed the nucleus of the Marist Brothers. Others soon followed. A primary school was established which became a teacher training centre for the Brothers. Marcellin motivated them with his enthusiasm for teaching and spreading the gospel, teaching them how to pray and to live in community.
After a long and painful illness, Marcellin died of cancer on 6 June 1840, leaving this message in his Spiritual Testament: “Let there be among you just one heart and one mind. Let it always be said of the Little Brothers of Mary as it was of the early Christians: See how they love one another!” Marcellin’s simple educational philosophy: to teach children one must love them. He saw God at the centre of life and the Virgin Mary as a sure means of attracting people to God.
Founded in 1817, the Marist Brothers is an international community with the goal of educating young people, especially those most neglected. Most of the Brothers minister in schools, others work with young people in parishes and religious retreats, at-risk youth settings, young adult ministry and overseas missions.
Time and again St. Marcellin said he wanted “to make Jesus known and loved” throughout the world. He would run a needle through an apple (representing the earth) to demonstrate how he wanted the message of “Ad Jesum per Mariam” (“To Jesus through Mary”) to cross the globe.
The Marist Brothers are involved in educational work throughout the world and now conduct primary and secondary schools, academies, industrial schools, orphanages and retreat houses in 79 countries on five continents, reaching almost half a million young people.
Marist in South Africa
In the mid nineteenth century, the Bishop of the Cape set about getting religious brothers and sisters to teach the children in his small Catholic community. Answering his invitation, five Marist Brothers landed in the Cape in 1867and established the first two Marist schools outside Europe in Cape Town. A sign reading “Marist Brothers’ Schools” can still be seen on an arched gateway leading from the Public Gardens to the original school building (now an annex to the Art Gallery). The concern of the early priests and religious was to care for their relatively small Catholic communities. For many years, the South African Catholic Church devoted the majority of its manpower and resources to the white community and comparatively little to other groups that eventually made up the bulk of its members.
The Marists spread to the Eastern Cape, the Transvaal, the Transkei, Basutoland, Natal and the Orange Free State.
In 1960, the famous “Winds of Change” speech was delivered to Parliament in Cape Town. The world was being radically transformed through a post-industrial revolution, decolonization, and, in the Church, an unexpected revolution had been launched with the Second Vatican Council. South Africa suffered the tragedy of Sharpeville and the persecution of opponents of apartheid, with Nelson Mandela and other figures involved in the struggle being imprisoned.
The SA Bishops Conference had censured the politics of apartheid. In the face of political repression, they spoke out increasingly strongly. The 1976 Soweto student riots caused even deeper soul-searching among Catholics. Some Catholic schools had already opened their doors to all and, by the late 1970s, Catholic schools registered for “Whites only” were admitting significant numbers of children of other races. More resources and personnel were being directed towards the poor and the marginalized. !n the 1980s Marist communities were set up in Umtata , Slough and north of Kuruman. The Brothers’ work with the poor includes training of staff in rural schools, adult education, teaching in township schools, fund-raising for disadvantaged schools and community centres.
There are five Marist schools in South Africa: St David’s Marist College in Inanda, Sacred Heart Marist College in Observatory and Marian College in Linmeyer, all in Johannesburg; St Henry’s Marist College in Durban and St Joseph’s Marist College in Rondebosch, Cape Town.
A specific Marist ethos has evolved and been codified in the light of the life and philosophy of the Marist Founder, St Marcellin Champagnat:
Presence: Spending time with youngsters provides opportunities to enter their lives, build up relationships and understand them better Simplicity: Being child-like as in the spirit of the Gospel means avoiding duplicity, pretence and empty show. Relationships are open and honest. Family Spirit: There is a place for everyone. A sense of belonging is fostered. A sound family does not neglect moral authority and expectations.
Love of Work: Marcellin’s practical lifestyle moved others to work hard and to respect all kinds of labour. He balanced work with prayer and life in community.
Mary’s Way: Mary was a prayerful woman of faith, obedient and grateful to God. She was concerned for others and stood by those who suffered. Students in a Marist school are nurtured in an environment where “Integrity” is the watchword, where absolute honesty in all that is said and done is given priority.
St Henry’s Marist College is justifiably proud of its superb academic record, its annual success rate of 100% at Matric level and a very high percentage of candidates obtaining exemptions. Since 1996, the College pupils have written the Independent Examination Board Matric which is regarded as the pre-eminent examination body in South Africa. The pupils are helped to develop a spirit of inquiry so that they will undertake personal independent study. The Learning Resource Centre, incorporating the School Library and Archives, is wellequipped as the nucleus of research.
St Henry’s is academic home to about 750 young men and women from Grade 000 through to Grade 12. Pupil-Teacher ratios are very favourable, classes averaging twenty-two to twenty-five students, ensuring that each student receives the best possible individual attention.
The teaching staff keep abreast of the educational changes in our country, attending relevant in-house courses offered by the Education Department and the Independent Examinations Board. In the Foundation and Junior Preparatory Phase traditional spelling, phonics, tables, bonds, grammar and reading programmes form a core part of the schemes of work alongside tested creative and innovative contemporary approaches and methods.Married to this is a vigilant concern for the spiritual and emotional well-being of the pupils and continuous interaction between management, teachers and parents.
Assessment is carried out continually on both a formal and informal basis. Problem areas are addressed as soon as possible to avoid accumulation of learning difficulties. The teachers’ focus is always on the happy, productive student, keen to attend school and who enjoys success in as many areas as possible, academic and extra-mural.
The Little Brothers of Mary (the Marist Brothers) purchase a prime Ridge Road property on the Berea, Durban. St Henry’s Marist Brothers’ School opened its doors on 4 February with 17 pupils and Brother Paul Eusterius as the first Principal.
IInauguration of the House system.
The new double-storeyed building of six classrooms, a library, Principal’s office and cloisters is opened.
The first Matric class writes the first public examinations and the nine writing achieve a 100% pass.
The first swimming gala is held.
Mr Anthony Akal is appointed the first lay Principal.
The pre-primary classes begin for the first time, with both boys and girls at the little desks.
Marcellin Champagnat canonized.
The Marist Association Hall opened by Archbishop Napier and blessed by Archbishop Hurley.
The Learning Resources Centre is completed and opened and blessed by Cardinal Napier.
The first girls write Matric and the first Head Girl is appointed.
Dr Akal retires after 26 years as College Principal.
Mrs Rene MacQuillin, the first lady College Principal, is appointed.
The College celebrates its 85th Anniversary. The College playing fields are renamed and blessed by Wilfrid Cardinal Napier OFM, Archbishop of Durban.