Holy Ghost Fathers
HOLY GHOST FATHERS
(CSSP, Official Catholic Directory #0650); a congregation of priests and lay brothers; they are known also as Spiritans but the official title is the Congregation of the Holy Ghost and of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Since 1855 the members have bound themselves by simple vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience. The purpose of the congregation, to bring "the Gospel everywhere, to undertake the most humble and laborious works for which it is difficult to find laborers," is fulfilled through teaching, social outreach, mission and evangelization.
Foundation. On the feast of Pentecost, May 27, 1703, Claude Francis Poullart des Places, formerly a lawyer, then a seminarian, founded in Paris a group that became known as the Seminary and the Congregation of the Holy Ghost. His intention was to provide the Church with priests at a time when adequate seminary training was the exception rather than the rule. Two years later he selected the best of his fellow students and shared with them the direction of the Seminary. In 1707 he accepted the first two as members of the new congregation. Although the founder died in 1709 at the age of 30, less than two years after his ordination, and his first two associates also died less than a year later, the organization survived.
Development. In 1734 the congregation obtained its first official approval by the Church and was legally recognized by the French government, a privilege granted to only a few societies of priests. The society became famous for its learning and integrity of doctrine; none of its members in France ever gave adherence to the Jansenists or took the schismatic constitutional oath of the clergy. It began to interest itself in missionary work, at first supplying candidates to the Paris Foreign Mission Society, but soon after also sending them directly to the missions and assuming charge of mission territories. In 1732 its priests made their first recorded entry into the New World missions in the person of Rev. François Frison de la Mothe of the Seminary of Quebec, Canada. Three years later they began to labor among the French settlers and Indians of Acadia, to whom they ministered during the years preceding the deportation of all Acadians from Nova Scotia and adjacent lands. Jean Louis Le Loutre, Father of the Acadians, and Pierre Maillard, Apostle of the Micmac Indians, did notable work among these people.
Both the Seminary and the Congregation of the Holy Ghost almost perished in the persecution resulting from the French Revolution of 1789. Although they were restored in 1805 in accord with the demand of Pius VII, recurrent persecution left them barely able to survive until the year 1848 when (Ven.) François libermann became superior general and infused both with new life. A Jewish convert, Libermann had established the Congregation of the Holy Heart of Mary in 1841 to bring the faith to Africa. The next year he sent the first group of his priests to work in the vicariate of the two Guineas, which stretched along 5,000 miles of Africa's West coast, and without limits to the interior. It had been entrusted by the Holy See to Bp. Edward Barron, former vicar-general of Philadelphia, PA (1842), but the death of nearly all missionaries soon after caused his withdrawal. Libermann then accepted full responsibility for the entire mission (1845). In the extreme north of the Guineas and in the islands of Mauritius and Reunion, Libermann's priests met missionaries sent by the Holy Ghost Fathers. In 1848, encouraged by the Holy See, the two congregations decided to merge. Giving preference to the older of the two, which alone was officially approved by Church and State, the Holy See suppressed Libermann's society, and its members entered the Congregation of the Holy Ghost. Elected its 11th superior general, Libermann so effectively reorganized the congregation that he is regarded as its second founder.
The congregation spread throughout Europe and the Americas, establishing educational and social works as well as seminaries for the training of priests to staff its missions in Africa, South America, the West Indies, and the islands of the Indian Ocean. As the vicariate of the two Guineas is called the "Mother of All Churches in West Africa," so the prefecture of Zanguebar is considered the "Mother of All Churches in East Africa." Founded in 1860, this mission stretched along 2,000 miles of coast and also without limits to the interior. Although charged with many works not specifically dedicated to Africa, the Spiritans have sent more missionaries to Africa than any other organization. Their most famous missionaries include Abp. Alexandre le roy of Gabon, Abp. Prosper Augouard of the Congo, Bp. Joseph Shanahan of Nigeria, Rev. Charles Duparquet of Angola, and Rev. Antoine Horner of East Africa.
U.S. Foundations. In 1783 when the Holy See was negotiating with Benjamin Franklin over the ecclesiastical organization of the states, there was question of entrusting the training of its clergy to the Holy Ghost Fathers. Nothing, however, came of this. It was only in 1794 or 1795 that the first Spiritan, John Moranvillé, landed in Norfolk, Va., a refugee from persecution in Guiana. A few years later be became pastor of St. Patrick's Church in Baltimore, Md. He is credited with being the founder of the first free school in Baltimore, and, together with Bp. John David of Bardstown, the creator of Catholic religious chant in the U.S. Although two other Spiritans joined him a few years later, their stay did not result in a permanent foundation. When the last of them died in 1839, he was not replaced.
The permanent establishment of the Holy Ghost Fathers in the U.S. dates from 1873. The previous year Otto von Bismarck had ordered them expelled from Germany under the pretext of their alleged "affiliation with the Jesuits." When their original plan to open a college in the Diocese of Covington, Ky., had to be abandoned, they accepted Abp. John B. Purcell's invitation to the Archdiocese of Cincinnati, Ohio. Soon after, however, they were forced to leave Ohio because the archbishop imposed conditions that made community life impossible. Under the leadership of Rev. Joseph Strub they then established themselves in Pennsylvania and Arkansas. Following the waves of European immigration, they opened parishes for French, German, Polish, Portuguese, and Spanish-speaking Catholics in Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Michigan, Arkansas, and California. In addition, they founded missions for Blacks in the South. The Spiritans' most important educational institutions are Duquesne University, begun in 1878 by Strub.
Bibliography: h. j. koren, The Spiritans: A History of the Congregation of the Holy Ghost (Duquesne Studies, Spiritan Series 1; Pittsburgh 1958); Knights or Knaves? A History of the Spiritan Missionaries in Acadia and North America 1732–1839 (Duquesne Studies, Spiritan Series 4; Pittsburgh 1962). c. f. poullart des places, Spiritual Writings, ed. h. j. koren (Duquesne Studies, Spiritan Series 3; Pittsburgh 1959).
[h. j. koren/eds.]