Educational Vision: A Marist Perspective

by John McMahon

I completed this doctoral thesis in December 1992 at the University of London.  I thank all who assisted me in fulfilling this challenging, yet most fulfilling undertaking, particularly my supervisor Dr Paddy Walsh.


This research seeks to understand the current educational vision of the Marist Brothers’ Teaching Congregation, a Catholic religious order founded by Marcellin Champagnat in rural France in 1817 which currently has 5,000 Brothers educating young people in 76 countries.

Some theoretical conclusions are drawn about the fruitfulness of bringing the theological and sociological literatures on charisma into relationship with each other. A series of more practical conclusions relates to the nature of Marist educational vision, the possibility of pursuing this vision with different levels of contribution in terms of numbers and roles of Brothers in a school, the relationship of Brothers to lay staff in Marist schools, and the process of school self-definition of educational vision. (14 pages)


Chapter 1

Charismatic Social Movements: A Weberian Perspective

In this chapter, I consider a sociology of ‘charisma’ and ‘charismatic social movements’ as the first element in this work’s theoretical framework. (24 pages)


Chapter 2

The Self-Understanding of Contemporary Religious Congregations as Charismatic Social Movements

Religious life can be described as a social movement which has existed ‘in many different religious traditions and in a wide variety of forms’ (Schneiders, 1986, p.26). It currently understands its own history as a succession of eras, each marked by distinctive innovation in life-style. During such transitions, religious life undergoes a ‘paradigm shift’ which causes ‘revolutionary changes’. This model of historical development is similar to that advocated by Thomas Kuhn for understanding the history of science. It differs from Kuhn’s, however, by not claiming a complete break from one era to the next. New congregations are seen as maintaining some of the characteristics of the old and, of course, many of the old congregations obviously continue to exist, and even to thrive, in the new era. (29 pages)


Chapter 3

Social Movements and Education

Social movements influencing education come from two sources. First, there are those which originate within the educational community such as the school improvement and the effective schools movements and, second, those which take root beyond the educational community, such as the trade union movement, feminism and liberationism but which develop specific educational dimensions. This chapter considers social movements from both these sources, distinguishes between social movements which are charismatic and those which are not and then analyses two charismatic social movements in more detail: The United World Colleges and the Society of Jesus. (36 pages)


Chapter 4

Marcellin Champagnat’s Movement

This chapter provides an historical introduction to the main subject of the thesis, the social movement of the Marist Brothers. It begins with a brief consideration of education in nineteenth century France as setting the context for what follows. It then discusses the contribution Marcellin Champagnat made to French education during this period and studies the influence the social movement he founded has had, not only in France, but also throughout the world. In the third section, it offers an analysis of Marcellin Champagnat’s educational vision and concludes with a brief survey of the subsequent development and adaptation of this vision by the Marist Brothers. (35 pages)


Chapter 5


In this research I adopt the interpretative paradigm thereby entering ‘a process of exploration’ (Hammersley and Atkinson, 1983, p.12). In studying the constructs Marist Brothers, their colleagues and their students use to make sense of the events and phenomena in their worlds, ‘the researcher comes face-to-face with the social situations that reveal such constructs and the taken-for-granted components of such worlds’. I endeavour to understand these phenomena through active mental work, interactions with the external context and transactions between my mental work and the external context (McCutcheon and Jung, 1990, pp.146-147). (25 pages)


Chapter 6

Discerning a Direction: Marcellin College Melbourne

From 1982 to 1989, I was principal of Marcellin College, Melbourne – a school owned and administered by the Marist Brothers, Melbourne Province. During this period I strove with colleagues to articulate and implement what we believed to be an appropriate educational vision for such a school – a vision in keeping with the philosophy of the Marist Brothers and one relevant for the 1980s. The chapter covers many of the decisions taken by the school’s leadership team during that period. Naturally I have had to be selective because of the impossibility of covering in one chapter everything relevant from an eight year period. The account is only one person’s account – for all that it was checked in draft by many colleagues of that time – and very much a Principal’s account. Sitting in the principal’s chair gives one the opportunity of observing, speaking with and receiving feedback from many groups within the educational and wider communities. During this period the issue of Marist educational vision came close to my heart and has provided the impetus and rationale for undertaking this research. (41 pages)


Chapter 7

Building Anew: St. Mungo’s Academy, Glasgow

St. Mungo’s Academy has received Government funding for longer than most Marist schools around the world. The Academy’s 134 year history is well respected in both Glasgow and the Order and provides an important backdrop, and reference point, for what currently happens in the school. Today St. Mungo’s has its first lay principal and a Marist Brother as Principal Head of the Religious Education Department. The Marist Brothers are now withdrawing from the leadership of many schools with which they have been traditionally associated. At the same time, they often continue to have a Brother on the staff and sometimes on the School Board. In this case study we study one such school through the eyes of administrators, staff, parents and interested onlookers and look in particular at the current Marist contribution to the school and the educational vision which seems to inspire this contribution. (23 pages)


Chapter 8

Moving Steadily On: Archbishop Molloy High School, New York

St. Ann’s Academy opened as a catholic school in Manhattan in 1892 and over many decades built up for itself a solid academic reputation. In 1957 it moved to Briarwood in New York’s Borough of Queens where it became Archbishop Molloy High School. Unlike Marcellin College and St. Mungo’s Academy, here we have 31 Brothers working in one school. Such a school is an ideal location to experience Marist Educational Vision in a corporate form. (30 pages)


Chapter 9

Eight look at Three

This chapter introduces eight more schools to give the research further breadth.  Rather than an extensive questionnaire, I chose to send these schools drafts of the three case study chapters, thereby endeavouring to provoke their imaginations in a different way.  I hoped this would encourage them to discuss

  • the Marist character of their own schools,
  • the Marist character of the three case study schools and
  • whether there is much comparability between their school and any or all of the three case study schools. (23 pages)


Chapter 10


In brief these are the more general conclusions of the thesis, some of them emerging from individual studies and/or chapters, others from juxtapositions of several studies and/or chapters. The first two relate to the theoretical framework of the thesis, and mirror each other up to a point. (4 pages)

Bibliography (40 pages)

Appendix (8 pages)

Abbreviations and Acronyms (6 pages)