Spiritan History

The Spiritans are a Roman Catholic religious missionary congregation – the Congregation
of the Holy Spirit – with a 300-year legacy of announcing the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the poor and serving as “the advocates, the supporters and the defenders of the weak and the little ones against all who oppress them”.
Our missions are spread worldwide. While we may be found involved in many diverse ministries, we have dedicated ourselves to working with the poor and in those situations where the Church has difficulty in finding ministers.

 

History of the Congregation of the Holy Spirit

 

 

Claude – Francois Poullart des Places

 

Our Congregation was founded by Claude Francis Poulart des Places in France on May 27th 1703 on the feast of Pentecost.

As one of the youngest founders of a major religious congregation, he accomplished so much and influenced so many other young people during his short life, that he continues to be a role model for young people today. Like them, he, too, had to struggle with all the agonies and ecstasies of growing up and making career decisions that at first were not fully understood or approved by his friends, his professors or even his family.

Claude Francis Poullart des Places was born in February 1679 in Rennes , the capital of Brittany , as the only son of a wealthy couple of ancient and noble origins. They raised him with great care, both religiously and socially as befitting the son of one of the city’s leading families. Outside of school he was an avid hunter, a very good horseman (no cars in those days!), and very useful with a sword and a gun. He even thought of joining the armed forces.

He was also an exceptionally gifted student: one of the youngest, he placed first among the hundreds who graduated in 1697 from the Jesuit college in Rennes . Thus, he was chosen to be the defender in the solemn, philosophical debate that ended the academic year. Everybody who was somebody in Rennes attended the event, which lasted several hours.He thrilled them by the charm of his youth, the grace of his eloquence, the clarity and depth of his replies. A thunderous applause marked the end of this stage of his life. After that he was invited to Versailles in Paris as guest of the Royal Family.
Despite that he also had deeper side As one of his biographers tells us – “Claude gathered some of his friends and without saying anything to his parents or teachers, formed a small prayer group with its own rules of devotions, silent reflection and self-discipline exercises.”
In passing, it might be mentioned that among this group was none other than the now well-known St. Louis-Marie Grignion de Montfort, a life-long friend and later a collaborator in trying to solve some of the serious religious problems of the Church in rural France.

Graduating from high school at 16, Claude was considered too young to go on to University, so he was given a ‘finishing off year’ in the university city of Caen on the coast.
The real test for Claude came when he was 19. To satisfy his parents’ wishes he spent three years in the Law School of Nantes.. At 22 he graduated with a Licentiate in Law. His family had great plans for him. Claude, however, had other ideas. He would become a priest
With the world at his feet and so many promising careers open to him, he had great difficulty deciding between a military career (a family tradition), law and provincial politics (like his father), management and future ownership of the family real-estate business (as only son), or the priesthood where he saw several possibilities as a diocesan or a religious priest. But once the die was cast, there was no turning back; not even a compromise with his family’s suggestion that he now combine his theological studies with another degree at the Sorbonne, the University of Paris. No, Claude would concentrate solely on the spiritual preparation and take non-degree courses at the Jesuit College in Paris. This, as history was to show, made all the difference in his life.
As Claude grew more severe with himself, he became also increasingly more kind and charitable toward others: an unmistakable sign of his virtue’s authentic character. He befriended the boys who, as chimney-sweeps, earned a pittance for their destitute families, teaching them to read and write, instructing them in religion and helping them in their material needs from the modest allowance his father was giving him. Next, his attention was drawn to the many young theology students who lived wherever they could find a shelter and tried to follow lectures at the university while earning a precarious living by holding the menial jobs that allowed them to stay alive. (It should be noted here that resident seminaries, as we know them, for six years of study and formation were few.) He began by giving them his own meals, satisfying his stomach with a few leftovers from the college tables. Claude also noticed that these young men needed sound spiritual training and a common shelter. He, therefore, rented a house for them and, at their request, constituted them into a community and seminary later known as Holy Spirit Seminary . On Pentecost Sunday, May 27, 1703, in the church of Saint-Etiènne-des-Grès in Paris, Claude Poullart des Places and his 12 companions consecrated themselves to the Holy Spirit, under the protection of the Blessed Virgin Mary, for their service to the poor. On December 17th, 1707 Claude Poullart des Places was ordained priest, aged 28.
Most unexpectedly in the late summer of 1709 he fell seriously ill of pleurisy accompanied by a violent fever and after a short but painful illness, patiently borne, he died peacefully at the age of 30 years and 7 months on October 2 of that year.

Even in dying, Claude left a memorable lesson to his youthful associates, many of whom had difficulty understanding why God would take one still so young, so necessary to the Seminary, and only two years a priest. Claude breathed his last breath, happily quoting Psalm 84, the triumphant pilgrim hymn, confident that the good God would use his untimely death for the best interests of his young foundation. He made only one request – that his friends bury him not with an expensive tombstone, but in a nameless plot among the poorest of the poor, whom he and they had pledged to serve.

The Beginnings

In the early decades of its existence, the foundation supplied priests for rural parishes, hospitals, colleges and seminaries, but as soon as possible, it also began to send workers abroad in the missions. In 1732, the year George Washington was born, the first of them arrived in North America; he was soon followed by many others. They worked among the Indians and Acadians. Others went to the Far East: China, Cambodia, Vietnam, Siam and India. In 1775 they arrived in Guiana or Cayenne in South America; four years later the first of a long line set foot on Africa in Senegal.

Before the French Revolution of 1792 did away with all religious orders, about 1,000 Spiritans had worked in various parts of the globe. About twenty of them died “in the odor of sanctity”. The Congregation could be restored in 1805, but continued to be hampered by successive political persecutions at home in France. It was slowly bleeding to death when Providence came to its rescue in the person of Fr. Francis Libermann, a convert Jew.

Francis Libermann

Venerable Francis Libermann had a most remarkable journey of faith. He was born into an orthodox Jewish family in the Alsace region of France in 1802, and given the name Jacob.
Jacob Libermann’s father was a rabbi, and Jacob was preparing to become a rabbi himself when his studies led him to the New Testament and to Christianity.
He was baptized Francis Mary Paul, in 1826, at Christmas.
Soon he was studying for the Catholic priesthood, but violent attacks of epilepsy put his vocation on hold.
It was fifteen years before he was finally ordained, in 1841.

Fr. François Marie Paul Libermann, on September 25, 1841, assisted by Frederic Le Vavasseur, Eugene Tisserant and l’Abbé Desgenettes, celebrated the mass of foundation of the Society of the Holy Heart of Mary at Notre Dame des Victoires in Paris.

Soon his growing group was asked by Rome to join the Spiritans, a much older religious community, legally and canonically established in France, but on hard times by the mid-1800s.
He and all members of his institute entered the Spiritan Congregation in 1848. His charism was the same as that of the Spiritans, so that he could give it a powerful impulse.

He exhausted himself in the process of leading his great enterprise, and died on February 2, 1852 before his 50th birthday. Surprisingly, Fr. Libermann himself never went overseas. Yet he inspired and empowered literally thousands of missionaries around the globe.
Libermann was a visionary, a missionary, a profoundly spiritual man who has affected the course of history in the last 150 years. His influence and that of his Spiritans, in the Church and in the emerging world has been inestimable.

Blessed Spiritan Missionaries

Bl. Daniel Brottier

Blessed Daniel Jules Alexis Brottier, C.S.Sp. (September 7, 1876 – February 28, 1936) was a French Roman Catholic priest in the Congregation of the Holy Ghost. He was awarded the Croix de guerre and the Légion d’honneur for his services as a chaplain during World War I, did missionary work in Senegal, and administered an orphanage in Auteuil, a suburb of Paris.
Particularly notable of Brottier’s work with the orphans of Auteuil, and perhaps of his work in general, was his eagerness to expand to previously unexplored means of seeking financial support. An example of this is that he mastered the art of the camera and offered instruction on film making to the children. He even produced a popular film on the life of his personal patron, Saint Thérèse.

Brottier died on 28 February 1936 in the Hospital of St. Joseph in Paris. Fifteen thousand Parisians attended his funeral Mass. He was buried in the Chapel of St. Thérèse in Auteuil on 5 April 1936. He was declared venerable in 1983, and beatified on November 25, 1984, by Pope John Paul II.

Bl. Jacob Laval

Jacques-Désiré Laval (also Jacob Desiré Laval; 18 September 1803 – 9 September 1864) was a French Roman Catholic priest and missionary to Mauritius. He is known honorifically as the “Apostle of Mauritius”, and was the first blessed of the Congregation of the Holy Spirit.
He was sent as a missionary to the island of Mauritius on 14 September 1841. He spent the next twenty-three years in service to the people of that island nation.

Many of Père Laval’s parishioners were poor and uneducated former slaves. He lived with them, learned their language, fasted when supplies were short, and slept in a packing crate.[1] His medical training was useful to his ministry, as he worked to improve conditions in agriculture, sanitation, medicine, and science. Laval was tremendously successful—he is believed to have made 67,000 converts in his parish.
The date of Père Laval’s death has become a holiday of sorts in Mauritius, marked by a festival and procession to the site of his tomb

The twentieth century

Our History in the twentieth century and beyond has been marked by spectacular growth of the Church, especially in Africa. By the end of the twentieth century, the most vibrant experiences of the church were to be found in the Southern hemisphere.
Because of the early Spiritan tradition of the “evangelization of freed slaves,” Spiritan ministries have flourished and continue to do so in Africa, the Caribbean, and South America. As times changed the Spiritans responded in other regions where poverty and marginalization had begun a new form of slavery—such as Pakistan, Philippines, New Guinea, and Australia …

Today, the Holy Spirit Congregation has over 3000 professed and lay Spiritans carrying out their mission of evangelization in more than 60 countries throughout the world.

 

Presentation on the History of Spiritans