TODAY IN MARIST HISTORY
June 6, 1840
The Death of St. Marcellin Champagnat
When Marcellin gave his spiritual testament to the Brothers on May 18, 1840, it was clear that he was dying. The anguish of the Brothers gathered at the Hermitage was evident as they wondered to themselves and with each other, “What will happen now?” “How will we go on?” For Marcellin was not just the founder of a religious order, he was their spiritual father and older brother. The Marist Pillar of Presence, like all the other Pillars, had its origin in the life and witness of Marcellin Champagnat.
In presenting his Spiritual Testament, Marcellin stated his vision for what he hoped the Little Brothers of Mary (the original name of the Marist Brothers) would become in the days, weeks, months, and years ahead. Like the good father and an older brother that he was, Marcellin offered comfort and encouragement to the mostly young men gathered around his bedside. In his Spiritual Testament, he offered the answers to their questions of “What will happen now?” and “How will we go on?”
Marcellin died in the early morning hours of Saturday, June 6, 1840. Brother Jean-Baptise, author of the first biography of Marcellin wrote, “Several times during his illness, he had expressed a desire to die on a Saturday, but he always added that he did not deserve such a favor. Not only was that grace granted to him, but it was given him to die during the very hour which, for more than thirty years, he had devoted to meditation and union with God.”
(Brother Jean-Baptiste, Vie, Vol 1, p. 270)
Saturday is a day that Marist Brothers have always dedicated to Mary, so right after Marcellin died the Brothers gathered in the chapel at the Hermitage to sing the Salve Regina (Hail, Holy Queen) and offer prayers to Mary for the repose of Marcellin’s soul.
In his book, The Life of Joseph Benedict Marcellin Champagnat, Brother Jean-Baptiste gives many examples of the love that the Brothers had for Marcellin. We also have testimonies from some of the people who came to know Marcellin during his years in La Valla. Here are some of their recollections.
I still remember Father Champagnat, who prepared me for my First Communion in 1817. It was the first time he had the pleasure of preparing children for First Communion. I will never forget the touching exhortation he gave me before giving me absolution for the first time; I could hear his deep faith in his earnest words. It was as though he poured his whole soul into them. He taught catechism in his surplice, standing in the middle between us and the boys. Everyone’s eyes were riveted on him. He was strict with those who didn’t know their lesson, but he was also very just. (Catherine Prat)
All I can tell you about Father Champagnat is that, having had frequent dealings with him, I considered him a peerless man, very strict with himself and strict with others also, but always for their own good. Gentle, affable, always on good terms with everyone. He was the father of the town of La Valla. He did incomparable good through the whole area. Everyone loved and venerated him. (Jean-François Badard)
I went to Father Champagnat’s catechism lessons, and though I was very young, I loved to listen to him, and especially to see the church full of grownups who followed his explanations so carefully. He spoke simply so that the most uneducated could understand, but he said such beautiful and moving things that he delighted everyone. People used to say, “Let’s go to the catechism lesson; Father Champagnat is giving it.” And the church would be full. (Françoise Baché)
As for his catechism lessons, we hurried to them, and despite the cold, the snow, the terrible roads and the distance (it took us over an hour), we were always the first to arrive. Then he would tease our friends from the town, telling them, “You’re lazy! Look at the children from Saut-du-Gier: they have to walk more than an hour, and they’re always the first ones here. You’re two steps away, and you’re always the last.” He made us feel very proud of ourselves.
(Louise and Marie-Anne Duvernay)
I have seen older Brothers go to pray at his tomb as at the tomb of a saint. I have often seen tears on their faces, when they spoke to me about him. What touched them most of all was the memory of his fatherly goodness. (Father Pierre-Louis Mallaure)
While June 6 is the feast commemorating the death of Marcellin Champagnat, it is important to see this day as one commemorating the gift of Marcellin’s life, vision, and mission which we enthusiastically embrace today in 2022, 182 years after his death.
As the inheritors of Marcellin’s legacy and the bearers of his vision and mission, let us reflect on these passages from Water from the Rock:
Today, those of us who follow in the footsteps of Marcellin and his first disciples are seized by the same inner dynamism. We develop a way of being, loving and doing, in the spirit of our origins. Gradually, day by day, we deepen our experience of the loving presence of God within ourselves and in others. This presence of God is a profound experience of being personally loved by God, and the conviction that he is close to us in our daily human experiences. (Water from the Rock: Marist Spirituality Flowing in the Tradition of Marcellin Champagnat, # 16)
We endeavor to develop our relationship with God so that, just as for Marcellin, it is our daily source of renewed spiritual and apostolic dynamism. This vitality makes us daring, despite our short-comings and limited resources. Drawing from Marcellin’s experience, we embrace the mysteries of our life with confidence, openness, and self-giving. (Water from the Rock: Marist Spirituality Flowing in the Tradition of Marcellin Champagnat, # 18)
St. Marcellin Champagnat: pray for us!
Mary, our Good Mother: pray for us!
Let us remember: to pray for each other!