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St Marcellin Champagnat
priest, of the Society of Mary, Founder of the Institute of the Little Brothers of Mary (Marist Brothers) (entered heaven this day 1840)
I share your chagrin. It is indeed shocking to see how little today’s generation knows about Jesus Christ. We used to call misbehaving students “pagan” in a metaphorical sense; now, I’m afraid (and your last note confirms it), we no longer need the metaphor. So I share your chagrin, but I don’t share your discouragement. Do you think God has been alien to this turn of events? Do you think he hasn’t been preparing great apostles to reclaim these souls for Christ, for true happiness, and for heaven? I know he hasn’t abandoned college culture; he’s just waiting for you to really roll up your sleeves and get to work. You may be encouraged by the example of today’s saint.
He was born on the eve of the French Revolution, and by the time he was a young man the violence had done its damage, so that almost an entire generation of children were lacking in the most basic formation, be it religious, human, or academic. He had to teach himself the most fundamental academic skills before he could join the seminary, which he had always wanted to do. Even as a seminarian (he studied in the same seminary as St John Vianney, the Curè d’Ars) he felt that God had given him a special mission to educate that lost generation, as well as future generations, to give them a full, integral education, training their minds, their willpower, and their spirits.
But his first assignment as a parish priest kept him busy, and it wasn’t until he had a harrowing encounter with a dying 17-year-old boy who knew absolutely nothing about Jesus, heaven, sin, or hell, that he resolved to act on what God had been inspiring in his heart. He was 27 at the time, and with no money and only two disciples, he started the Institute of the Little Brothers of Mary, or the Marist Brothers (the Marist Brothers – not the Marist Fathers, they were founded by one of Marcellin’s fellow seminarian, Jean-Claude Colin). He met opposition from every direction – no one understood his zeal and no one thought it appropriate that such a young priest was taking on a project so vast in its scope. But he persevered.
Soon one school became two, two became three, and before he knew it his little congregation was bursting at the seams and the Pope was entrusting to his order the entire mission territory of Oceania. He worked so hard to reclaim the younger generation for Christ that he simply wore himself out, and at the young age of 51 he died, exhausted.
Your experience of the spiritual desert all around you should spark in your heart the same zeal that it sparked in St Marcellin’s. After all, as he never tired of repeating, “When God is on your side, and you depend only on him, nothing is impossible!”
Your devoted uncle,
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