Blessed William Joseph Chaminade (1761-1850) and that which he loved most, the Catholic Church, were marked for elimination. Her priests (Chaminade numbered among them) held no place in the imagined utopian world the anti-religious French revolutionaries dreamed of. We honor Father Chaminade as a courageous example of evangelistic faith during hostile political and cultural upheaval.
Fr. Chaminade defiantly refused to sign the Civil Oath during the French Revolution (1789-1799). This document forced Catholic priests in France to renounce their obedience to the Pope and follow the godless dictates of the French Government instead. In refusing to sign it, Fr. Chaminade and his fellow clergy risked death by guillotine. So he joined an underground network of faithful priests in Bordeaux who continued the work of the Church in secret. To evade detection, Fr. Chaminade even disguised himself as a lowly street vendor to blend in amongst the common folk. Despite their efforts, Fr. Chaminade witnessed the unmasking of fellow priests who were carted off by government agents for beheading. He even recounted a few harrowing moments of his own where his cover was almost blown!
Eventually, Fr. Chaminade sensed escalating danger in Bordeaux so he fled to the neighboring Spanish city of Saragossa for refuge. This three-year exile (1797-1800) was not for nothing, as it was during this crucial hiatus that God ultimately revealed to Fr. Chaminade the primary role the Blessed Mother would play in his ministry upon his return to his homeland. Standing before the statue of “The Lady of the Pillar” in Saragossa, he received the initial vision of a future spiritual order that would become the Society of Mary (i.e., the Marianists) which would be formed in 1817.
Returning to France at the end of the French Revolution, Fr. Chaminade resolved to restore the faith to his homeland. He endeavored to achieve this in the establishment of schools to provide the French youth with an innovative Christian education. Despite opposition from Napoleon (1804-1815) and King Louis Phillipe (1830-1848), Fr. Chaminade displayed constancy and adaptability and his mission grew in influence. He once wrote, “I am like a brook that makes no effort to overcome obstacles in its way. All the obstacles can do is hold me up for a while, as a brook is held up; but during that time it grows broader and deeper, and after a while it overflows the obstruction and flows along again.” While the reigns of these temporal rulers have come and gone (e.g., Napoleon and King Louis Phillipe), the legacy of Blessed William Joseph Chaminade remains as seen in the various Marianist educational institutions around the world advancing the Kingdom of God. Blessed William Joseph Chaminade…pray for us!