William Joseph Chaminade was born in Périgeaux, France. He was born on April 8, 1761. He was the fourteenth child in his family of fifteen children. His father was a cloth merchant, and although he was not wealthy, he had enough money to send his children to school.
Chaminade was educated in Mussidan, at the local college-seminary. When he completed his schooling, he joined his two brothers on the staff of the seminary. In 1785, he was ordained into the priesthood. He and his brothers were eventually in charge of the entire seminary.
In 1789, the French Revolution broke out. The unrest led to chaos and anarchy, which gave way to a new regime that persecuted Christians. Because of this, Chaminade moved to Bordeaux, a big city where it was easy to hide. He taught the French youths about Catholicism and God. Throughout his stay in Bordeaux, Chaminade was forced to lay low under the threat of execution.
In 1797, Chaminade was exiled from Bordeaux. He moved to Saragossa, Spain. He remained there for three years. While there, he claimed that he had a miraculous vision while praying at Our Lady of the Pillar. He realized that his vocation was to spread the message of Christ through Mary.
Chaminade often worked with Adele de Tranquelleon. In 1816, she formed the Daughters of Mary, and in 1817, Chaminade founded the Society of Mary, also known as the Marianists.