On October 28, 1816, St. Marcellin Champagnat was called to the bedside of Jean-Baptiste Montagne, who, at the age of 17, was about to die without ever having heard much about God. In the eyes of this adolescent, he saw the calls for help of thousands of other youngsters, who, like him, were victims of tragic human and spiritual poverty. This event spurred him into action. (1)
Marcellin’s visit to the bedside of Jean-Baptiste Montagne just weeks after his appointment as parish priest to La Valla is well known to us. In the context of our Marist culture, it holds a place as one of our sacred stories, a defining foundational experience. For us who seek to be Marist Educators in the Champagnat way, the story should not be seen as simply the tale of the incident which galvanized Marcellin’s resolve. Much more than that, it can help Marist schools and ministries test the authenticity of their current practice against the standard of the founding charism.
Whatever other aspects of Marist schools which a people may find attractive – its spirit, the quality and generosity of its staff, its climate, its extra-curricular programs – it must also respect its rights to welcome and deal with the kinds of students and families for whom Marcellin began his work, the Jean-Baptiste Montagnes. There is something intrinsically missionary about Marist Education. (2)
A THOUGHT 204 YEARS LATER
On this day, we recall that our presence at Marist Chicago is rooted in Marcellin’s response to Jean-Baptiste Montagne 204 years ago. This day is not about an historical event; it is about the radical response of one man to the signs of his times. Our presence at Marist Chicago bears testament to the fact that we too are called to respond to the signs of our times as they exhibit themselves in the lives of our students. If we choose to see what we do as “missionary,” then we have begun to grasp the Marist mission. And, if we choose to, the Marist mission can transform us as much as it can transform our students.
Check out the video from Marist Youth and Young Adults telling the story of Marcellin and Montagne.
(1) Disciples of Marcellin Champagnat, #9, In the Footsteps of Marcellin Champagnat: A Vision for Marist Education Today
(2) Contemporary Marist Schools and the Founding Charism, Brother Michael Green, FMS (Province of Australia)