Marcellin Champagnat was born at Marlhes, in France in 1789 during the turbulent time of the French Revolution. His father held an important position in local politics and he introduced Marcellin to many practical skills.
In 1803 he was asked if he would like to be a priest. He gave the matter deep consideration and committed himself to the task with outstanding dedication. Despite his own lack of sound, formal education, he worked hard at his studies. He always valued the role of education and it is not surprising that providing a good education for children and the young became a very important passion during his life.
In the seminary of St Irenaeus in Lyon, France, Marcellin met many who were inspired with an idea of founding a religious congregation dedicated to the work of Mary. During the academic year of 1815 – 1816 the “Marist aspirants” discussed their hopes and made their plans for the founding of the Society of Mary. They envisaged a congregation of three branches: priests, sisters, and a third order of lay people, all of whom would undertake the ‘work of Mary.’ At the suggestion and insistence of Marcellin (“We need brothers!”), a branch of teaching brothers was added.
Following his ordination in 1816, Marcellin was appointed to the parish of La Valla, where he began immediately the work of founding the “Little Brothers of Mary”. With outstanding commitment and great personal charisma, he gathered a community around him and attended to the urgent need of providing Christian education to many of the young people of his region. Soon many others were attracted to his work and schools flourished at first throughout France and later, to places all over the world.
Marcellin also shared responsibility for the foundation of the priests’ branch of the congregation. He worked tirelessly in the area of Lyon to promote the beginnings of the Society of Mary and, following formal ecclesiastical approval in 1836, took his vows along with the first Marists.
Marcellin died on 6th June, 1840 at the age of 51 years. On the 18th April, 1999 Pope John Paul II proclaimed Marcellin Joseph Benoit Champagnat, S.M. a saint of the Church of God. His feast day is celebrated on the 6th June.