Newsletter 16 & 23 September 2018
Today’s Spiritans –
Priests, Brothers and Lay Associates - owe their origin to a young French
nobleman, Claude Poullart des Places, who gave up the practice of law to study
for the priesthood. His apostolate began
among the chimney sweeps of Paris, and his small seminary, founded in 1703,
dedicated to the Holy Ghost, marked our beginning. The Spiritan College was unique in that it
charged no fees and studies were for six years instead of the customary
three. The one condition for entry was a
willingness to take on the works that others were reluctant to tackle. This was one of the first attempts to put in
place seminary reforms of the Council of Trent in 1563.
Soon the Spiritans
were actively engaged in apostolic work throughout Europe. They were entrusted with the French overseas
territories, first in French Guiana followed by China, Cambodia, Vietnam,
India, South America and North America, especially in Canada among the Indians,
where they created the RCIA programme.
In 1779 the first mission in Africa opened in Senegal, West Africa.
Over 1,300 Spiritan
priests were sent out from the seminary before it was suppressed by the French
Revolution in 1792. The staff and home
based Spiritans were scattered and sent into exile leaving just a remnant to revive
the college in 1802 under the Government of Napoleon. They were now asked to concentrate on
supplying priests to the French Colonies of Africa, the Caribbean and Indian
Up to this point all
Spiritans were French. However, in 1830
another French Revolution threated to wreck the rebuilding of the Congregation
and they had to go into exile once more.
Much diminished by
the French Revolution, the Congregation revived in 1848 when Fr Francis
Libermann, a former Jew and rabbi, joined his new Congregation of the Holy
Heart of Mary to the Spiritans to create the Congregation of the Holy Spirit
and the Immaculate Heart of Mary. He
brought with him a number of priests and seminarians dedicated to the poor and
underprivileged. It is the writings and
the example of Fr Francis Libermann that set the tone for today’s Spiritans as
they follow an apostolate dedicated to, and guided by, the Holy Spirit.