The Marist Brothers were founded in 1817 by St. Marcellin Champagnat, a young French priest who combated the illiteracy and spiritual poverty in Post-Revolutionary France.
Marcellin was born in Marlhes, France on May 20, 1789. During the French Revolution, Marcellin did not attend school regularly like all the other children in that period. He only attended school for one day at age 11 and that experience was horrifying as Marcellin watched a school teacher beat a student who tried to answer a question that had been posed to Marcellin. He left school that day and did not return to formal education until he entered the seminary at age 16.
Although gifted with natural intelligence, Marcellin had to struggle to become a seminarian. With determination and perseverance, he managed to meet all his academic requirements. Marcellin's concern for the education of children and young people was rooted in his own educational experience. The memories of the teacher beating the student and the recollections of his academic struggles were the basis of his educational philosophy, “To educate children you must love them and love them all equally.”
After receiving his ordination in 1816, Marcellin was called to the Montagne home where 16-year-old Jean-Baptiste Montagne was dying. From the confession of Jean-Baptiste Montagne, he realized that the young man had little religious or academic education and that convinced him of the importance of combating the illiteracy and spiritual poverty of the young people in rural France.
After his ordination in 1817, Marcellin gathered a small group of associates who shared the same vision and founded a religious community called “The Little Brothers of Mary” -- now called “The Marist Brothers of the Schools”. Marcellin said that the community of Marist Brothers was dedicated to helping young people, especially those most neglected, and educating them about the love of Jesus Christ through Mary. The Marist Brothers are known for 5 distinctive education styles: Presence, Simplicity, Family Spirit, Love of Work and In the way of Mary.
The first Marist school opened in LaValla, followed by Marlhes, France in 1819. Soon, the Marist Brothers earned a reputation as teachers. Marcellin's mission quickly spread to other countries. By the 20th century, the Marist Brothers were found in many countries around the world.
Marcellin died in 1840, at the age of 51, due to ill health caused by his frequent travels and endless hours of manual labor. In 1955, Marcellin Champagnat was declared Blessed by Pope Pius XII. He was canonized by Pope John Paul II on April 18, 1999.
Today, Saint Marcellin Champagnat's legacy lives on with more than 3,400 Marist Brothers worldwide. The Marist Brothers continue to change the lives of young people through education and spirituality.