On the Feast of Pentecost 1703, Claude Poullart des Places, stood with a dozen candidates for priesthood before the Statue of Our Lady of Rescue in the Church of Saint-Étienne-des-Grès in Paris. Thus began a congregation which developed its missionary activity throughout the eighteenth century. It suffered in the French Revolution and by the middle of the nineteenth century was struggling for survival. In the 1820s, Jacob Libermann, son of a rabbi, underwent a crisis of faith while pursuing rabbinical studies in Metz, France, became a Catholic, took the name Francis and joined the seminary of St Sulpice. The onset of epilepsy delayed his ordination. The movement to end slavery was gaining ground and he became involved with two colonial seminarians in their dream of providing priests to Réunion and Haiti. After Francis’ recovery of health, the Society of the Holy Heart of Mary was born in 1841.
There was a fusion of the two missionary societies in 1848, the name of the older congregation was retained, and so the Spiritans were revitalised. One of their express charisms is ministering to the most abandoned. The Congregation is also involved in education at the secondary and university level. Individual Spiritans came to Canada as early as 1732 but the first community presence was in French-speaking Canada in 1905. English speaking Spiritans came to Canada in 1954 and since then have been active principally in Ontario and Alberta. In addition to priests and religious brothers, the Congregation also has lay associates, men and women who work with the Spiritans in building God’s kingdom. A lay missionary organisation, Volunteer International Christian Service (VICS), was founded by the Spiritans here in Canada. Nearly 3000 Spiritans are present in eleven countries in Europe, nine countries in the Americas, 27 countries in Africa, and in Australia, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, Taiwan and Pakistan. In Hamilton Diocese they presently minister in Oakville, Dundalk and Erin.
For further information: www.spiritans.com