Marist Brothers celebrate 200th anniversary

from Brother Richard Dunleavy FMS

The caption “Marist Brothers 200” highlights the story of the Marist Brothers, who with their Champagnat associates, friends and ex-students in  80 countries worldwide are celebrating 200 years since St Marcellin Champagnat founded their Congregation on 2 January 1817.

Marcellin was one of a number of young priests who, in the aftermath of the French Revolution, were inspired by a vision of rebuilding the fractured Church in France in the maternal spirit of Mary. They planned what was to later become the Society of Mary or Marists, a multi-branched family of priests, sisters, brothers and lay Marists.

Within six months of his ordination Marcellin who insisted strongly on the need for Brothers to provide Christian education for the youth, gathered his first small group of recruits for this new mission in the Church. Soon schools were springing up in villages near his parish of Lavalla, then very quickly throughout  the whole of France. When St Marcellin in died in 1840 there were 280 Marist Brothers educating young men and women “to know and love Jesus Christ” and to develop them as “good Christians and good citizens”.

New Zealand entered this dynamic story early on when, in 1836, the Pope sent the fledgling Society of Mary to plant the seed of the Church in Oceania led by Bishop Pompallier who had worked with Marcellin to form the first Marist Brothers. Thus he asked Marcellin to send some of these Brothers to be part of the new mission team. As a result, the very first Marist Brother, Michel Colombon, arrived in New Zealand with the Bishop in January 1838. Another brother, Marie-Nizier Delorme, went with St Peter Chanel to Futuna, and others followed later to be catechists and practical helpers in the early development of the Church in Aotearoa.

Auckland presence

The story takes a leap forward when in 1876 a community of four Brothers arrived to start the first NZ Marist school in Wellington. In the following decades Marist primary and secondary schools spread through the length and breadth of the land, as well as in Fiji, Samoa, Tonga and Kiribati. The first Auckland teaching community started in Pitt St in 1985. A small plaque marks the spot at the start of the motorway there.

Furthermore the Marist spirit multiplied significantly when Brothers and ex-students developed Marist sporting clubs in nearly every city and town so that today the Marist sporting brand has become a prominent nationally recognized feature of nearly every sport in the country.

In the various events throughout this Marist Bicentenary Year the primary focus of the Marist Brothers is to simply celebrate their heartfelt gratitude to God, to Mary our Good Mother, to St Marcellin, and to the hundreds of leaders and dedicated friends and co-workers in our Church and nation who have so generously assisted and supported them and their ministries throughout years past, and still today.

To each and every one of you we offer our heartfelt, brotherly thanks!

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