William Joseph Chaminade was born in France in 1761, the youngest of the 15 children of Blaise and Catherine Chaminade. Early in his life he felt called to the priesthood, was ordained and spent the early years in the ministry of teaching.
Undaunted by the rising political tension and religious persecution that would precipitate the French Revolution, Chaminade continued his ministry. In the first waves of the forced exile of religious and priests from France, Chaminade remained. Defying the authorities, he went underground disguised as a tinker or needle peddler. He continued to bring to the Church of Bordeaux his compassion and ministry. Hunted by the political authorities, he was finally captured and exiled to Spain.
It was during years of exile in Saragossa, Spain, that Chaminade was inspired to see his mission to the Church of France in a new way. It was there deep in prayer before the statue of Our Lady of the Pillar in the cathedral of Saragossa, that Mary’s role in the Incarnation would become for him the archetype of his efforts to rechristianize France: the most faithful imitation of Jesus, Son of God become Son of Mary.
When he returned to France in 1800, the vision of Saragossa was engraved in his heart, and he began the work of actualizing this vision with the establishment of the first lay communities, and later the Daughters of Mary Immaculate (with the collaboration of Mother Adèle), and the Society of Mary.
From the founder we carry forth the prayer which allows us to act on behalf of people in new and bold ways. We are convinced that “still today the Gospel can be lived in all the force of its letter and spirit” (Rule of Life, article 9).
Fr. Chaminade was beatified in 2000 at a ceremony in St. Peter’s Square in Rome.
The Daughters of Mary Immaculate (Marianist Sisters) and Society of Mary celebrate the bicentennials of their foundations in 2016 and 2017.