Marcellin Champagnat was a priest concerned about the Christian education of children. To carry out this mission he gathered together a group of young men whom he instructed in the art of teaching. With his Bishop’s approval, in 1824 he was freed from duties as parish curate to take charge of the expanding Institute of Brothers.
Soon there was a network of little schools which could perhaps best be described as family schools led by the brothers. These Brothers were dedicated religious, and professional teachers, able to go to poor villages . There they would teach the truths of the Catholic faith and things such as reading and writing which people needed to know if they were to improve their living conditions.
And as the centre of any family is typically the mother, the centre of each of these education families’ was Our Lady. Her statue or picture had a place of honour in each school, and her spiritual role in the schools was strongly encouraged.
Gradually the Marist schools taught more and more branches of knowledge and some of them began in large towns and cities. Father Champagnat planned to open a school for deaf children and also a kind of agricultural school. But always the stress was there on the family spirit, on the bond between teacher and pupil, on love and dedication, on answering real needs, on Mary as the model educator. And this is Marcellin Champagnat’s simple yet profound insight into the theory of education – that nothing replaces fruitful personal interaction between a dedicated teacher, an the student; this insight is just as relevant today as it was 160 years ago.
New Zealand: www.maristbrothers.org.nz/