Chaminade College Preparatory school is named for the man who founded the Brothers of Mary. William Joseph Chaminade was born in France in 1761. The fourteenth of fifteen children, he became a diocesan priest, living through one of the most dangerous periods in history, the French Revolution. France at this time underwent a period of upheaval in which the Catholic Church was, to say the least, unpopular with the “enlightened” men who governed the country after the execution of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette. Religion was on the decline; churches had been taken over by the government. Father Chaminade was forced into exile in Spain.
While in Spain, Father Chaminade finalized the plans he had already begun for bringing back Catholic life to France. He had decided on groups composed of persons who had something in common: the young, the old, priests, sisters, single men and women, and married men and women. These groups met periodically, mostly around Bordeaux, France, for mutual help and instruction in their religion. The group spirit was that of the early church in the first century, with its special emphasis on the place of the Mother of God among them. Eventually, each group multiplied its original number many times over. All these groups together were known as the Family of Mary. To perpetuate the Family of Mary, Father Chaminade founded the Brothers of Mary.
In 1817, seven young men, all from different professions: one seminarian, one college professor, two businessmen, and three tradesmen, approached Father Chaminade and volunteered to become the first brothers. As more young men came to join the Brothers, Father Chaminade saw the advantages that would come to France if the brothers would take as their special work the education of the youth of the country. Gradually the brothers worked into the school system in France. St. Stanislaus College in Paris became, perhaps, the most famous school run by the brothers. Father Chaminade had concluded correctly that in schools there was the greatest opportunity to make a lasting impression on young men by offering to them an excellent Catholic education.
On Epiphany Day, 1850, while studying church history, Father Chaminade suffered a stroke. He never regained his voice after that moment. Father Chaminade died in his eighty-ninth year, his seventy-fifth year of vows, confident that Mary’s work was permanently established, as she had inspired him at Saragossa. At the time of his death, there were over six hundred Brothers of Mary.
Towards the end of his life, Father Chaminade began receiving requests for brothers to come to America and establish schools. In 1849 Father Leo Meyer, S.M., arrived in Cincinnati, Ohio, in the middle of a cholera epidemic; but despite the adverse circumstances, he established the fastest growing branch of the Brothers of Mary. It was not long before he himself received requests from all over the United States to send Brothers and priests to establish and staff schools.
The Society of Mary purchased the property for Chaminade College Preparatory School in January, 1906. Three years later ground was broken for the administration and classroom building. In the summer of 1910, the first faculty was announced. In the first year there were two students in the fifth grade, three in the sixth, and two in the eighth. The high school held seven students. Chaminade was described as “A Catholic boarding and day college for boys and young men, located near the Creve Coeur Branch of the Missouri Pacific Railway, three miles west of Clayton on Denny Road (now Lindbergh Boulevard)."
In the initial years of the school, the brothers, priests and resident students lived in what are now the north and south wings of the third and fourth floors of Chaminade Hall. These were open dormitories according to the custom of the day. A few seniors had private rooms on the fourth floor, now occupied by classrooms. In 1957, Canning Hall was completed. The two-story brick building on the south end of the campus was named for Father James Canning, S.M., who for many years was a dedicated and kindly chaplain at Chaminade.