Paris Foreign Mission Society

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A religious institute of secular priests, the first one devoted exclusively to foreign missions (Société des Missions Etrangères de Paris, Societas Parisiensis Missionum ad exteras gentes, MEP).

It began c. 1660 as a result of the following conjunction of circumstances: (1) the French clergy and laity, especially the members of a piouss apostolic association calle the compagnie du saint-sacrement, were eager to participate in missions hitherto reserved to religious;(2) some missionaries, notably Alexandre de rhodes, SJ, wished to form a native clergy in the Far East; (3) the Congregation for the propagation of the faith (Propaganda), founded in 1622, wanted to gain effective control of missions up to then dominated by the Spanish and Portuguese governments with their claims of patronato real and padroado. The efforts of the Compagnie du Saint-Sacrement, begun in 1646, led to the naming in various missions of a vicar apostolic dependent on Propaganda and charged with the formation of a native clergy in Tonkin, Cochinchina, and China. Before departing for the East, Bps. François pallu, Pierre lambert de la motte, and Ignace Cotolendi ordered their procurators to establish a seminary. King Louis XIV and the local ordinary approved the Paris Mission Seminary in 1663; the Holy See approved it in 1664.

One hundred missionaries, including many laymen, embarked for Asia between 1660 and 1700; but only 62 went between 1700 and 1822, for the 18th century lacked fervor, and the seminary, closed by the French Revolution in 1792, was unable to open until the fall of Napoleon I (1815). Between 1822 and 1963 there were 3,816 departures for the missions. Bishop François Laval confided to the MEP his seminary in Quebec and the missions dependent on him, in Acadia, Ill., and elsewhere. This situation lasted from 1665 to the Treaty of Paris (1763). From its start the society centered its activities in the Far East, and labored in Tonkin, Cochinchina, Siam, and western China. In 1776 it assumed responsibility for evangelizing southern India, until the Jesuits took over part of this region (1836). As MEP missioners became more numerous, Propaganda assigned them new territories: Japan and Korea (1831); Manchuria (1838); Tibet (1846); the Chinese provinces of Guangdong, Guangxi the Hainan (1848); Burma (1855); and Malaysia, detached from the mission of Siam (1899). By 1920 the society had relinquished three of these fields, but its 1,139 members, aided by 1,109 native priests, were still entrusted with regions populated by 250 millions. Since 1920 the society has ceded 30 mission fields to various religious congregations, and 41 to native clergies formed by it. After the closing of China to missionaries, the MEP was assigned Hwalien in Taiwan (1952); Madagascar, for work among the Chinese (1953); and the mission of Mananjary (1961).

To develop a native clergy the society founded a general seminary in Siam (1665), which has since been transferred to Penang, Malaysia. Other seminaries were opened in Cochinchina (1665), Tonkin (1666), and China (1703). The original Chinese one lasted only a short time, but reopened in Jiuquan (1777). In 1909 membership reached its highest total, with 38 bishops, 1,377 priests, and six lay auxiliaries or brothers. Since its inception, about 200 of its members have sacrificed their lives for the faith. Among the 23 martyrs that have been beatified, 20 were canonized by Pope John Paul II.

In its government the MEP followed a collegiate form until 1921. Since then it has had a superior general, who since 1950 has been elected by a general assembly, along with his assistants. Members do not take religious vows, but promise to serve for life in the missions while receiving temporal support from the MEP.

Bibliography: j. guennou, Les Missions étrangères (Paris 1963). g. goyau, Les Prêtres des Missions Étrangères (Paris 1932). a. launay, La Société des missions étrangères, 16581913, 2 v. (Paris 191216); Histoire générale de la Société des Missions Étrangères, 3 v. (Paris 1894). h. heimbucher, Die Orden und Kongregation der katholischen Kirche, 2 v. (3d ed. Paderborn 193234) 2:600606. j. guennou, "La fondation de la Société des Missions Étrangères de Paris," Sacrae Congregationis de Propaganda Fide, 1/1: memoria rerum 16221700 (Freiburg 1971) 523537. j. p. wiest, "Catholic Mission Theory and Practice: Lessons of the Paris Foreign Mission Society and Maryknoll," Missiology 10 (1982) 171184. g. m. oury, Mgr François Pallu, ou les missions étrangères en Asie au 17ue siècle (Paris 1985).

[j. guennou]