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Foundation and History

Father William Joseph Chaminade

Chaminade University is named for Father William Chaminade (1761–1850), a French Catholic priest who lived through the French Revolution and the rise and fall of Napoleon. During the Revolution, Catholic churches and land were taken over by the state; clergy who did not cooperate were frequently executed. In the aftermath, Father Chaminade faced a new apostolic challenge: ignorance of the faith, religious indifference, and the abandonment of Christian life, and the structural ruin of the Church. Aiming to dedicate the rest of his life to the renewal of the Church, he realized that new means were required for his times: new institutions, new methods, and even a new kind of missionary.

Father Chaminade understood the rich creative possibilities of a Christian community for apostolic service. Such a community could bear the witness of a people of saints, showing that the gospel could still be lived in all the force of its letter and spirit. A community could thus become the great means to Christianize France. Within the lay Christian communities he initiated, some expressed the desire to follow Christ as vowed religious. Thus, in 1816, Father Chaminade, in collaboration with Adele de Batz de Trenquelleon, founded the Daughters of Mary Immaculate (Marianist Sisters). In 1817, he founded the Society of Mary (Marianist Brothers and Priests). He saw in these two religious congregations the means to animate and extend the network of communities and works founded through his inspiration.

The life of Father Chaminade reveals a deep sense of Providence. Filled with a compelling awareness of the Church’s mission, he was ready to adapt to ever-new situations, eager to respond to the Lord’s indications, and deeply sensitive to the needs of the times. He was gifted with the tenacity of purpose, a profound spirit of prayer, and a keen ability to discern God’s will. He wished to impress these traits on Marianists of all times.

Like social reformers before and after him, Father Chaminade saw schools as a principal means for transforming society. During his lifetime he founded over forty schools, including three teacher-training institutions. In explaining his efforts to Pope Gregory XVI, he said that by opening schools, especially for those classes of people most numerous and most abandoned, and by engaging in teacher training, he sought to counteract the anti-Christian spirit ushered in by the French Revolution and the religious indifference that resulted from it. Consistent with his fundamental apostolic insight, Father Chaminade desired that Marianist schools be true communities concerned for the education of the whole person, respecting both faith and reason as means to the truth, and preparing its graduates for both successes in their careers and life and committed to service. Chaminade University is grateful to have received such a legacy and strives to be the educational community envisioned by Father Chaminade.