Officially known as Marist Brothers of the Schools (FMS, Official Catholic Directory #0770), also called the Little Brothers of Mary, a pontifical congregation of lay religious of men; it was founded Jan. 2, 1817, near Lyons, France, by St. Marcellin champagnat for the Christian education of French youth. Champagnat, ordained in 1816, was relieved of his parochial duties in 1824, to spend all his time in furthering and guiding the work of the brothers. At the time of his death (1840), there were 280 brothers teaching about 7,000 pupils in 48 schools in France. In 1851, the French government approved the congregation, and in 1863, it was officially recognized and approved by Pius IX.
Champagnat himself was one of the first members of the Society of Mary, or marist fathers, and he originally envisioned a single congregation of priests and brothers under one superior. This union never materialized, since the Holy See judged that the size and diversity of purpose of the two congregations would make such a union impractical. In the course of their history, the Marist Brothers have absorbed several other congregations of brothers: in 1842 the Brothers of Saint-Paul-Trois-Châteaux in France; in 1844 the Brothers of Christian Instruction of Viviers, France; in 1956 the Brothers of St. Peter Claver, a congregation composed entirely of native Nigerians; and in 1959 the Brothers of St. Francis Regis, in Canada and France.
In the United States, the Marist Brothers have operated schools since 1886, when Canada and the United States formed a single province. In 1911 the United States became an independent province, which was divided into two (Esopus and Poughkeepsie) in 1959. The brothers provide Christian education to students on the primary, secondary, college, and university levels. They maintain academic, vocational, technical, and agricultural schools. The congregation is governed from the motherhouse in Rome.
Bibliography: j. coste and g. lessard, Origines Maristes, 1786–1836, 4 v. (Rome 1960–61). m. cotÉ, The Historical Growth and Development of the Marist Brothers in the United States (Poughkeepsie, N.Y. 1961).
[l. a. voegtle/eds.]