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125 years of education (1889-2014)

30/01/2014: Colombia

When Champagnat founded the brothers, his goal was to to “form good Christians and worthy citizens, and presented them with Mary as a model for educators and students because of her preference for simplicity, work and family life”. He condensed this in the motto of “All to Jesus through Mary, and all to Mary for Jesus”.

A number of Parent Associations aimed at creating private schools to provide Christian education for their children were organized in Colombia as a result of the new Constitution of 1886 and the signing of the Concordat with the Holy See (12/31/1887). Article 11 of the Concordat says: “The Holy See will offer support and cooperation to the Government so as to establish religious institutions in Colombia mainly dedicated to the exercise of charity, the missions, the education of youth, education in general, and other works of public utility and charity”. As soon as the terms of the Concordat became public in Colombia, religious orders dedicated to education were asked to send members to direct the public schools. On August 3, 1888, Brother Théophane SG wrote to General Vélez, Minister to the Vatican from Colombia, in response to his request, and promised to send brothers to direct two schools in Cauca Department. Finally, on March 26, 1889, the contract by which the brothers accepted to direct these schools was signed in Rome. The seven European brothers arrived in Popayan on November 26, 1889, took possession of the public school on December 4, and started classes on January 20, 1890, with approximately 300 students.

This first Foundation in Popayán was a Marist seed that has fructified during the last 125 years in cities like Cali, Buga, Palmira, Tuluá, and Cartago, in the Cauca Valley; Pasto, Ipiales, Pupiales, Túquerres and El Tambo, in Nariño; Santander de Quilichao, and Bolívar, in Cauca;Neiva, Timaná, Pital, and Elías in Huila; Ibagué in Tolima; Bogotá in Cundinamarca; Pereira in Risaralda; Quibdó in Chocó; Riohacha in Guajira; Duitama in Boyacá;Itagüí, Medellín, and Sonsón, in Antioquia; Sibundoy, Santiago, and San Francisco, in Putumayo; and Villavicencio in Meta. Unfortunately several of these 150 foundations disappeared during the War of the Thousand Days or due to subsequent political circumstances. Today, as it reaches 125 years in Colombia, the Marist community continues to take care of its most valuable treasure: 11,300 students, children and youngsters, through 16 Marist works and 4 retreat houses in Pasto, Ipiales, Popayán, Cali, Armenia, Pereira, Manizales, Medellín, Ibagué, Villavicencio and Bogotá, directed by a group of 1,400 brothers and committed teachers, besides several hundred support workers.

Throughout these years of history, hundreds of Marists have lit up new paths in the souls of young people and in our homeland as such. Together with them, a legion of educators, administrative workers, and employees have labored from sunrise to sunset in the schools “preparing the furrows, assisting the sowing, enabling the harvest singing”, and building the great Champagnat family. And we cannot forget to mention the parents who entrusted their children to the disciples of Champagnat, and the former students, their legitimate offspring, of whom the Marists are so proud.

The preferential option for the poor has always been a driving force along the Marist history in Colombia; the brothers’ concern for the most in need has been steady wherever they have been in these 125 years; there is as yet an effective presence, regardless of the difficulties, in many insertion communities and missions; several educational centers are also free of charge.

In the Jubilee Year of this wonderful educational odyssey in Colombia, we thank God, Mary our Lady and First Superior, and Saint Marcellin Champagnat, our Founder, for allowing this great work to move ahead so strongly and keep casting deeper Marist roots in Colombia.



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