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Marist Bulletin - Number 75


Seán D. Sammon, FMS - Superior General

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Rome, 6 June 2003

When the sun set on June 6th, 1840, Marcellin Champagnat was gone, gone at least in the way our early brothers had come to know him. In recent months, I have often reflected on the days surrounding our founder’s death and what this group of young men in mid-nineteenth century France must have felt in the wake of that event.

After all, Marcellin was like an older brother to each of them. An older brother whom they knew loved them, looked out for them, and had their best interest at heart; though I am sure that they did not always agree, nor see eye to eye. The love and fierce loyalty between our founder and early brothers, as in a family, helped them to overcome everything else.

So, the loss felt by François, Louis Marie, Jean Baptiste and the others who numbered among Marcellin’s first followers must have been profound. Father Bélier, a missionary priest who was present at the Hermitage when our founder died, had this to say about the scene he observed, “Never was there a prince of this world, ”he wrote,“ surrounded with such tender care in his last moments.”

Marcellin did not leave us a theological library but rather his Last Testament, some letters and other writing, and this definition of our vocation as Little Brothers of Mary. Stunning in their simplicity, his words to this day continue to challenge us, “To love Jesus,” he said, “yes, to love Jesus and to make him known and loved, this is what a brother’s life should be.”

Marcellin’s life, though, also has a message for our Church. His charism, after all, is not the brothers’ property but rather a gift that came into our Church through him. Two aspects of that gift bear mention briefly. First, the elements of Marcellin’s spirituality: the practice the presence of God; a reliance on Mary and her protection; the uncomplicated virtues of simplicity and humility. Our founder’s spirituality was incarnational, Marial and transparent.

Second, Marcellin’s approach to the education and the evangelization of children stood in stark contrast to the norms of his day. After all, he said, “To teach children, you must love them first, and love them all equally.” In his very homespun way, he once told our early brothers to look out for the child “on whom the sun had not shone brightly.”

He also said, of children, “I cannot see children, without wanting to tell them how much Jesus loves them, and how much I love them.”

As we mark the anniversary of his death, let us commit ourselves again to imitate this simple country priest and Marist Father with his dream of evangelizing poor children and young people. And let us give thanks also that God gave Marcellin Champagnat and our Church this dream and saw fit to bless and promote it. We are its stewards today; let us steward it wisely.

A word of thanks to Jan, Superior General of the congregation of which Marcellin was a member—our Marist Fathers, for being our chief celebrant today and for the words of his homily. Thanks also to all who led us in prayer through their concelebrating, to Monica and our Marist Sisters and to Judith and Marist Missionary Sisters, our brothers from San Leone Magno, and to all here to celebrate the life, the dream, and the charism of our founder. You are all very welcome.

If I may encourage you now to proceed into the inner garden to continue our celebration of this feast of Saint Marcellin Champagnat.

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