Skip to main content

A Brief History of the Marist Brothers in North America

The Marist Brothers are a teaching order, founded in 1817 by Saint Marcellin Champagnat in a rural section of southern France near Lyon, The principal mission activity outside France was in the South Pacific including Australia, New Zealand, and Polynesia, areas also developed by the Marist Fathers and two congregations of Marist Sisters.  There had been some discussion to move to the United States among the Marist Brothers as early as 1823, and formal invitations to New Orleans and Saint Louis in 1837, but these were turned down because of the need for Brothers in the South Pacific region. 

However, in 1885, the Brothers opened several schools in Canada, near Montreal and Quebec.  There was a good fit: the Brothers in France were used to rural environments and the majority of schools opened in Canada were for French speaking farming families.  Within a short period, the Brothers taught in 40 schools, several of which serviced French speaking families who had migrated into the United States, lured by employment possibilities in the mills of New England.  The first school opened by the Marist Brothers in the United States was in Lewiston, Maine in 1886. 

Shortly after, in New York City, a priest had convinced his superiors that the New York Diocese ought to have a church concentrating on the French-speaking citizens of the City and in anticipation of an influx of French Canadians already reaching into Massachusetts and Connecticut and the rest of the New England states.  Father Tétreault was pastor of Saint Jean-Baptiste along 76th Street between Lexington and Third Avenues.  After he oriented the parish towards support of French speaking parishioners, he was transferred to Drummondville, Canada, and the diocese asked the Blessed Sacrament Fathers, with strong French backgrounds, to take over the parish.  The Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur were attracted to teach in the elementary school. And some Marist Brothers were imported to teach the upper grades of the elementary school.  The Fathers then asked the Brothers to open a boarding school along 76th Street. Saint Ann’s Academy opened in 1892 , the first secondary school for the Brothers in the United States..  

By this time the common route for Brothers to come from France to Canada was through New York City, then by rail to Montreal.  So Saint Ann’s became a transition station for immigrant brothers, giving them a chance to learn English to prepare them for bilingual Canada experience. 

The success of the Brothers at St. Jean Baptiste School and Saint Ann’s Academy led to their being asked to staff other schools in New York City, all based on instruction in the English language.  Since the Brothers started to recruit candidates for the brotherhood, they wound up sending these recruits to French speaking novitiates in Canada.  They soon realized that this would prove unworkable, and decided to look for training centers in the United States. 

The Brothers concentrated on teaching elementary school, with young men graduating at age twelve or thirteen, By Canon Law, a young person could not be accepted as a candidate to join the Brothers until age seventeen. This left a gap during which young men who showed aptitude and inclination to join the Brothers, would lose association with the Brothers.  The solution for this gap was to create a secondary school specifically for potential candidates to the Brothers, even though most of the students in the school would not become Brothers.  The term for such a school was Juniorate (French Juvenat).  The logical site for such a Juniorate would be along the railroad between New York and Montreal.  Brother Cecidius, the Provincial, was too busy to take on this task himself, so he turned to Brother Louis Zepheriny

Marist CollegeMarist Archives & Special Collections | Contact Us  | Acknowledgements