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 gave thought to the founding of the Society of Mary (the Marists). 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 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 Mary as a sure means of attracting people to God.