A Census of the Houses of the Congregation of the Mission Founded During the Lifetime of Monsieur Vincent
God planted the Congregation of the Mission in his Church as a mystic vine which was to bear fruit though his grace to sanctify a large number of souls. He willed that it extend its branches everywhere. The new growth was in the establishment of other houses, which in truth should be attributed to the will of God rather than to any human intervention. The one most responsible for cooperation with this design of God was Monsieur Vincent, but only after he was convinced that not to do so would be to resist the action of God.
We have already spoken of the three houses in Paris, that is, the College des Bons Enfants, Saint Lazare, and Saint Charles.
The first house outside of Paris began in Lorraine in the town of Toul at the invitation of Charles Chretien de Gournay, bishop of Scythia. At the time, he was administrator of Toul and afterwards became its bishop. This mission was established in 1635 in the house of the Holy Spirit with the approval of the religious who lived there. It was formally joined to the Congregation of the Mission, and this action was authorized by the king with letters patent and ratified by the Parlement.
Three years later, in 1638, Cardinal Richelieu, as a memorial of his piety and as a sign of his esteem for Monsieur Vincent and his institute, founded a house of the Congregation of the Mission in the city of Richelieu. This foundation bore the obligation of having missions preached not only in the diocese of Poitiers in which the city of Richelieu is located but also in Lucon, where he formerly was bishop. 1 While awaiting the coming of other priests of the Congregation to Lucon the priests fulfilled the obligation of giving missions and were able to offer various other services. The cardinal completed his gift by leaving a sum of money for their maintenance.
Some time later, after the purchase of a house in Lucon around 1645, Monsieur Vincent sent three or four of his priests in response to the earnest request of Pierre de Nivelle, bishop of Lucon, who gave them full faculties to work in his diocese. They have remained there since, to the credit of the missionaries of Richelieu, who gave them a small sum to help in their upkeep, and thus enable them to serve many souls more fully.
In the same year, 1638, another house of the Congregation was founded in Troyes, in Champagne, by the good offices of its late bishop, Rene de Bresle and of the late Commander de Sillery.
In 1640 Monsieur Vincent sent several priests of his Congregation 2 to work in the diocese of Geneva in Savoy. This was in response to the earnest request of Juste Guerin, bishop of Geneva, coupled with the insistence of Mother de Chantal, foundress and first superioress of the Visitation Sisters, in the city of Annecy. The bishop hoped to preserve in the diocese by means of the missions the great blessings brought by Blessed Francis de Sales. Commander de Sillery, moved by a singular dedication to the memory of this prelate, set up a foundation for the support of the missionaries, who have remained there up to the present. Besides giving missions for the sanctification of the country people, their commitment has been to reform and train the clergy. They did this by the usual ordination retreats and by founding a seminary. It began in October 1641 to train the clergy in knowledge and virtue.
In the same year, 1641, Dominique Seguier, bishop of Meaux, authorized a house of the Congregation in the city of Crecy in Brie, to conduct missions in his diocese. This was founded in the king’s own name by Monsieur [Pierre] Lorthon, counselor to the king.
The following year, 1642, saw the foundation and establishment of another house in Rome through the generosity of the noblewoman Marie de Wignerod, Duchess d’Aiguillon, niece of Cardinal Richelieu. She was zealous for God’s glory and charitable towards her neighbor, especially the most neglected poor no matter where they lived. This virtuous woman had a special esteem and affection of Monsieur Vincent, who in turn greatly appreciated her help and friendship.
This same duchess arranged to support seven priest missionaries to give missions in her territory of Aiguillon and in the counties of Agenais and Condomois. The bishop of Agen 3 arranged for them to start a house at Notre Dame de la Rose in his diocese, near the town of Sainte Livrade.
This same lady was responsible for supporting the new establishment in 1643 in the city of Marseilles, chiefly for the benefit of the poor unfortunates condemned to the galleys of France. The priests were to do all their usual good works in favor of the poor. Several years later the work was expanded by the duchess in favor of the Christian slaves of the Barbary pirates.
In the same year, 1643, Alain de Solminihac, the late bishop, baron and count of Cahors, whose memory is held in such veneration in all the Church because of the eminent virtues with which his life was graced, brought the Congregation of the Mission to his diocese. 4 He himself was noted for his pastoral vigilance, his zeal for the glory of God and for the salvation of the people of his diocese. He was sensitive to the singular graces he recognized in Monsieur Vincent and in his institute. He judged he would do a great service to his diocese by inviting the Congregation of the Mission to open a house in Cahors.
The late king, Louis XIII of glorious memory, acquired sovereignty over the Sedan region, but unfortunately it was deeply infected with heresy. He requested Monsieur Vincent to send some members of his Congregation to conduct missions that would instruct and confirm Catholics in their faith. For the most part these people were poorly educated and in constant danger of losing their faith because of their frequent contact with heretics.
To further this project His Majesty ordered that a large sum be given to Monsieur Vincent to underwrite the work of the missions. After the death of this great monarch, Louis XIV, his successor now gloriously reigning, upon the advice of the queen regent, his mother, preferred that the remaining money should serve as a foundation for a permanent house of the Congregation of the Mission. This was done finally by Eleonor d’Etampes de Valencay, archbishop of Reims.
The house at Montmirail, a small village in Brie in the diocese of Soissons, was founded in 1644 by the Duke de Retz.5 Monsieur Toublan, his secretary, contributed some of his inheritance to this foundation.
Jacques Raoul [de la Guibourgere], then bishop of that city, established the house at Saintes that same year with the help of the diocesan clergy for the purpose of missions and a seminary.
The following year, 1645, another house was set up in the city of Le Mans, at the insistence of the bishop, Emeric de La Ferte, and the cooperation of Monsieur Lucas, head of the collegial church of Notre Dame de Coeffort, a royal foundation in the city. This was done with the consent of the canons, who turned over the church, the house and its appurtenances to the Congregation of the Mission. This was confirmed by royal letters patent, and ratified by the authorities of the town.
In the same year, 1645, Achille de Harlay, bishop of Saint Malo, requested priests of the Congregation to work in his diocese. Monsieur Vincent sent several, and they were soon given the abbey of Saint Meen to live in. It should be remarked that the bishop was also abbot of this monastery, and the religious there agreed to the invitation. In fact, the house and its benefice was ceded to the missionaries. This transaction was authorized by letters patent from the king and later was approved by an apostolic bull of our holy father the pope, Alexander VII. 6
We must not neglect to mention the foundation made in 1645 and the two following years in several remote locations. Having been pressed by the requests of some zealous and virtuous persons, but more so by his own charity, he sent some of his priests to remote places for various works of mercy, after obtaining the necessary approvals from the apostolic see. He sent men to Tunis and Algiers for the spiritual and temporal care of Christian slaves who, whether well or ill, were in great need. He sent others to Ireland to instruct and encourage the poor Catholics of this region oppressed by their heretical masters from England. His zeal put no limits on his charity. He sent other priests all the way to the island of Madagascar then called Saint Lawrence, located below the equator. Here the people lived either in idolatry or with no religion at all. This is a vast region covered with brambles that this steward of the Gospel sought to reclaim by the indescribable labor of his followers, several of whom have already succumbed. We should mention that Monsieur Vincent displayed a remarkable firmness and constancy in supporting these apostolic efforts, particularly in this infidel island and in Tunis and Algiers. This took place despite the enormous difficulties in these missions, with the accompanying losses he suffered. We shall refer in Book Two7 to the blessings God has poured out on these foreign missionaries and to the fruits they reaped, aided by his grace.
In the same year 1645, Cardinal Durazzo, the esteemed archbishop of Genoa in Italy, learning of the services rendered to the Church by Monsieur Vincent and the Congregation of the Mission in various places, chiefly Savoy and Rome, set about procuring the same benefit for his diocese. In response to his earnest request to have some priests of the Congregation in the city of Genoa, Monsieur Vincent sent several, and they were warmly received. The archbishop, with considerable help from local priests, Baliano Raggio and Giovanni Cristoforo Moncia, and from the local nobility, underwrote the enterprise.
In 1650 the Congregation of the Mission was set up in the city of Agen by the bishop. He also had the priests assume the direction of his seminary.
In 1651 Monsieur Vincent sent some priests of the Congregation to Warsaw in Poland in response to the invitation of the pious and generous queen. In Book Two we shall see what remarkable things took place in this foundation that reveal Monsieur Vincent’s generosity, his truly apostolic zeal, and his personal self-abnegation. 8
In this same year, 1651, Monsieur Vincent sent some of his priests to the Hebrides Islands to serve the abandoned poor of this region, located to the north of the kingdom of Scotland.
The following year, 1652, the Congregation of the Mission was established in the diocese of Montauban where Bishop Pierre de Bertier handed over to them the direction of the seminary besides the missions to be given in his diocese.
The house in the city of Treguier in lower Brittany, in 1654, was due to the kindness of Balthazar Grangier, count and bishop. He was aided in this by Monsieur Thepant, lord of Rumelin and canon of the cathedral church of Treguier, who endowed it.
In the same year Monsieur Vincent sent several of his Company to the town of Agde in Languedoc at the request of the count and bishop Francis Fouquet, who later became archbishop of Narbonne.
The same year also, Monsieur Vincent sent priests to Turin, capital of Piedmont, at the request of the Marquis de Pianezza, prime minister of the duke of Savoy. This latter was a man of singular piety and had a great desire to further the glory of God and the salvation of souls by establishing a house of the Congregation in Turin.
In 1657 the court was in Metz. Moved by her usual concern to further the public good, the queen mother thought that inviting Monsieur Vincent to send some missionaries to the city would be the most effective way to achieve this goal. 9 Accordingly, she returned to Paris, summoned Monsieur Vincent, and told him of her wishes. She also told him she wanted him to send missionaries to give a mission in Metz. He replied:
Your Majesty is perhaps not aware that the Congregation of the Mission was founded solely for service to the poor. Our community is in Paris or other episcopal cities only to direct seminaries, to prepare young ecclesiastics about to be ordained, or to serve as a base for missions into the countryside, and not to preach, catechize, or hear the confessions of its citizens. However, another group of clerics who meet regularly at Saint Lazare can, if Your Majesty wishes, fulfill your wishes better than ourselves.
The queen replied that she was unaware that the priests of the Congregation of the Mission did not serve in the larger cities. As she had no desire to turn them from their proper goal as an institute, if the priests of the Tuesday Conference of Saint Lazare were to come, she would find this satisfactory. This actually occurred in the Lenten season of 1658. Monsieur Vincent chose more than twenty priests, all capable men. He then requested the late Father de Chandenier, a man of singular virtue and of good repute, to take charge of this new foundation. 10 He was successful in this, carefully following the advice given him by Monsieur Vincent. He observed all the usual practices of the missions to guarantee success. When this virtuous priest reported the condition of the house to Her Majesty, she was so pleased that she decided to found a house of the Congregation of the Mission in Metz itself, but this did not happen until after the death of Monsieur Vincent.
In 1659 he sent several of his priests to Narbonne at the request of the archbishop, Francois Fouquet, who founded the house there.
The late Father de Sery of the Mailly family of Picardy had informed Monsieur Vincent several times in the past that he wished to contribute to the foundation of the Congregation of the Mission in Amiens. However, before this project could be completed, our holy priest had passed from this world. The mission was established, however, by Francois Faure, bishop of Amiens, who gave the priests the perpetual direction of his seminary. The good priest survived Monsieur Vincent only a short time, having requested that he be buried near him in the church of Saint Lazare.
The late Henri de Baradat, count and bishop of Noyon and peer of the realm, wished to have the Congregation of the Mission in his diocese and wrote to Monsieur Vincent with this intention. Monsieur Vincent did not think it appropriate at the time to accede to the request. Divine Providence reserved the fulfillment of this wish to his worthy successor, Francois de Clermont. He was not long in his diocese before he followed up on the request to have the Congregation of the Mission come. This was accepted, and when the priests arrived, they were given the perpetual direction of the seminary of the diocese. This occurred in 1662.
It should be remarked that other prelates besides those in France itself wished to have the Congregation of the Mission in their dioceses for giving missions, working with those about to be ordained, and directing seminaries. Monsieur Vincent could not honor all their requests, either for lack of personnel or for other good and sufficient reasons. He did not care to attempt anything before the moment willed by God or beyond his own capabilities.
The priests of the Congregation of the Mission reaped the fruit of their labors, even here in this life. They saw their numbers increase like the stars of heaven, and the Congregation quickly became rooted in short time in various parts of the world.
Since the most ardent desire of the heart of Monsieur Vincent was that God should be glorified and that souls redeemed by the blood of Jesus Christ should be saved, he was moved to profound gratitude that Providence had used him, a poor and miserable creature (as he believed) to bring about these things. The thought of all the works in which his Congregation was engaged did not give him a sense of accomplishment but rather one of deeper and deeper self-abasement. He continually offered his thanks to God that notwithstanding his own unworthiness and lack of ability he had been chosen as the instrument of divine mercy to bring about such blessings upon the world.
- Armand Duplessis, Cardinal Richelieu, was bishop of Lucon from 1607 to 1624. Named cardinal in 1622, he resigned his diocese to give himself entirely to affairs of state. He died December 4, 1642, at age fifty-eight.
- To Annecy
- Barthelemy Delbene.
- 1593-1659. Born in Perigord, he became abbot of Chancelade near his home town. He worked strenuously for the reformation of that abbey and of others. He was named bishop of Cahors in 1636. He established a seminary for the formation of his clergy and entrusted it to Saint Vincent. He died in 1659, at age sixty-seven. Pope John Paul II beatified him in 1981.
- Pierre de Gondi, the eldest son of Philip Emmanuel de Gondi, and a former student of Saint Vincent.
- CED XIII:387-95. April 4, 1658.
- Ch. 1, sects. 7-9.
- Ch. 1, sect. 10.
- See CED XII:4.
- See below, ch. 49. The total was probably less; see CED VII:76, 92.