Our Service to Mission
CSSp Congregation Sancti Spiritus - Congregation of the Holy Spirit, known as Spiritans in mainland Europe and as Holy Ghost Fathers in English-speaking countries.
The Spiritans were founded in Paris in 1703 by a wealthy young Breton Lawyer, Claude Poullart des Places, then but 24 years old. Having opted for the priesthood he came to the help of poor young students who wanted to be priests but could not afford it. He founded a community for them dedicated to the Holy Spirit and trained them to be available to work in preference in neglected areas. They served as chaplains to hospitals, prisons, schools etc. In time some volunteered for service on the foreign missions in the Far East - China, Cambodia and Vietnam, in North America, especially among the Indian and Acadians in Canada, in French Guyana etc.In 1765 the Holy See begun to entrust the Congregation with the direct care of mission territories beginning with French Guiana, and in 1779 the first two Spiritan missionaries arrived in Senegal, Africa.
The Spiritans in Europe
Some 1,300 had been so trained by the time the Seminary was suppressed in 1792 by the French Revolution. Reduced in Europe to a few members the society was allowed to restart under Napoleon in 1902 when they were asked to concentrate exclusively on supplying priests committed to work in the French colonies in Africa, the West Indies and the Indian Ocean. Some Irishmen were enlisted as from 1920, but the 1930 Revolution threatened once again to undo the work of rebuilding the Society.
In 1848 the Spiritans were joined by a convert Jew Fr Francis Libermann, who had launched a society to cater mainly for the emancipated black slaves in the French colonies. Fr. Libermann was elected superior of the society. When Irish-born Bishop Baron of Philadelphia volunteered to go to Liberia to take charge of the pastoral cares of the slaves repatriated from America he turned to Fr. Libermann for personnel.
The Spiritans in Ireland
As from 1845 the Congregation was entrusted by Rome with the pastoral care of a vast area in West and East Africa, including regions under British rule. To provide English speaking personnel for these missions it was decided in 1859 to open a house in Ireland. This work was entrusted to Fr. Jules Lenan. He had hoped to find priests and clerical students who would be willing to serve in Africa, but found that Ireland still recovering from the Penal times and the recent Famine had little interest in Africa. On seeing that Irish Catholics were very poorly served in matter of secondary schools he decided that conducting a secondary school would be the best was to secure vocation for Africa while making a worthwhile contribution to Ireland. In time the congregation was to launch five such secondary schools in Ireland and over the years these proved to be the main sources of vocation for work on the missions.
Through to the 20th and 21st Century...
Houses of recruitment were also opened in Germany and Portugal cater for missions in territories in Africa being colonised by these countries. When Bismarck suppressed the Congregation the German Spiritans emigrated to the USA where at first they attended to the pastoral care of their compatriots and gradually set up a separate Province with the assistance from Irish confreres. The main centres of activity were special parishes for African-American and at Pittsburgh Catholic High School launched in 1878, which became known as Duquesne University as from 1911.
The French conferes, who were in the majority, continued to serve in many areas in central Africa which, though by now independent republics, are still closely associated with France having received so much of their technical training as well as the faith from French missionaries. Several of the earlier missionaries distinguished themselves as explorers in an uncharted interior as creator of Dictionaries and Grammars of native African languages, and as experts on African countries. In more recent times the congregation has engaged in mission work in Canada and South America, particularly in Brazil where the Irish went in some numbers after being expelled from Nigeria in the wake of the Beafa war. More recently the Congregation has begun to undertake mission work in Pakistan and the Philippines. Spiritans from the mission countries in Africa are now participation in such overseas projects.