One Heart. One Spirit.
CLAUDE POULLART DES PLACES
The Congregation of the Holy Spirit was launched by Claude Poullart des Places, aged 24, with a group of 12 seminarians at Paris, in France on Pentecost Sunday, May 27, 1703. He was a seminarian by then. Notably, what he launched was not a Congregation as such. Rather, it was a Seminary consecrated to the Holy Ghost under the invocation of the Blessed Virgin Mary conceived without sin. Poullart des Places’ aim was to care for the spiritual and material needs of his fellow seminarians who came from a poor background. For most these seminarians life was very precarious. They were following theological courses and at the same time did menial jobs to enable them to live.
The initial and primary objective was not missionary work but rather to provide the poor seminarians with a decent home and excellent training for their sublime ministry. It was for this reason that he turned down the offer by his friend Louis de Montfort, of going to preach. The Poullart des Places ‘tradition’ has always emphasized the teaching charism which was mainly taken up by both the Irish and French Spiritans.
Nevertheless, Poullart des Places was open to the missionary orientation. As the seminary grew, especially under the able leadership of Louis Bouic (1701-1763), the well trained priests that the seminary provided would not be restricted to France but went to the missions as well. In 1732, the first Spiritan went to Quebec, Canada. Many others subsequently followed him. The following year, Spiritans went to the far East, mainly to China.
On January 2, 1734, the Seminary was granted official ecclesiastical approbation. The missionary thrust continued to grow until the French Revolution, which begun in 1789. At the aftermath of this Revolution, the Congregation was almost brought to a halt. By 1822, there were only two Spiritans survivors in France! As the Spiritan Congregation was undergoing crisis, particularly due to limited personnel, another one was being born by a Jewish convert: Francis Mary Paul Libermann.
FRANCIS MARY PAUL LIBERMANN
In 1840, Libermann went to Rome to seek approval from the Holy See to start a new Religious Society. He was promised approval on condition that he had to be ordained first. During his sojourn in the eternal city, he had time to compose the Rule of the Religious Society he wanted to found. He also wrote a commentary on St. John which he never finished. Eventually, the bishop of Mauritius allowed him to be ordained for his diocese. On September 18, 1841, Francis Mary Paul Libermann received the sacrament of Holy Orders.
On September 21, 1841, the Society of the Immaculate Heart of Mary was launched and the first novitiate for the new Society was opened on September 17, 1841. On September 13, 1843, seven missionaries of the Society were sent to by then Guinea in West Africa.On August 15, 1841, Libermann presented the second memoir to Propaganda Fide in Rome about the evangelization of the black people.
Meanwhile, from the very beginning of the Society of the Holy Heart of Mary, there had been some discussion about a merger with the Congregation of the Holy Spirit. Rome had advised Libermann that the Congregation of the Holy Spirit takes care of the same needs proposed by his Society. Hence there was no need to “raise an altar against an altar.” After some discussion the two parties met on June 10, 1848 and accepted the merger in principle. The merger took effect on September 26, 1848. By this merger, the Society of the Holy Heart of Mary ceased to exist and its members joined The Congregation of the Holy Spirit under the Protection of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Fr. Libermann became the new Superior General on November 22, 1848.