Propagation of the Faith, Society for the
PROPAGATION OF THE FAITH, SOCIETY FOR THE
The "organ of the Holy See for collection everywhere of the alms of the faithful and their distribution among all Catholic Missions" ["Romanorum Pontificum," Acta Apostolicae Sedis 14 (1922) 321]. It aids the Near East, Latin America, and the home missions of the United States, as well as those territories under the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples.
Origin. At 19, Pauline jaricot (1799–1862) had her first intuition of the plan for the Propagation of the Faith. The French missionary establishment had been fatally hit by the revolution of 1789 and the three leading missionary institutes wiped out; only seven missionaries left France between 1793 and 1798. French organizations in Asia and Africa were cut off from the motherland for 25 years. Missionary societies lacked both vocations and monetary support. Aware of this situation and also of the fact that various organizations were trying to set up collecting agencies, Pauline Jaricot did not believe that particular and competing associations would advance the missions. She wished, rather, to establish a single collecting agency for all Catholic missions everywhere.
Three stages may be distinguished in the foundation of the Society for the Propagation of the Faith. The first, from 1818 to 1819, was Pauline Jaricot's implementation of a proposal by the directors of the Missions Étrangères for an association of prayer and good works for the missions—one, however, that culled but meager contributions. The second stage, from 1819 to 1822, was the organization of the association according to a plan she had conceived. Watching a family card game one evening, Pauline thought how easy it would be for each of her friends and relatives to find ten associates who would each donate a weekly sou to the missions. One among them would be chosen to receive the contributions of 10 groups of 10; another, 10 groups of 100, and so on. The future of the Society for the Propagation of the Faith, which was born that evening, appeared bright; however, only a few weeks later its very existence was threatened. Several Lyonese priests warned their parishioners against the society in their Sunday sermons, calling the association a schismatic enterprise dreamed up by an ambitious bigot, and they refused absolution to its associates. These attacks were triggered by the displeasure of the friends of certain missions in the United States who resented a general collecting association. Fortunately, through the efforts of influential laity and clergy, the society was saved and immediately afterward took a great step forward. The third stage was the universalization of the association and its subsequent reorganization. This began at a meeting on May 3, 1822, purportedly held to raise money for Bp. Louis William dubourg's missions in Lousiana and attended primarily by members of the Congregation de la Vierge, an organization dedicated to works of charity in post-Revolutionary France. They agreed to constitute themselves a provisionary council and adopted the collection method and name of the Society for the Propagation of the Faith. Pauline Jaricot was persuaded to bring her own collection groups into the generalized society, and for the next 30 years "left to whomever wished to assume it, the honor of having founded the Society for the Propagation of the Faith." However, in 1881, in a brief addressed to Julia Maurin, Pauline Jaricot's first biographer, Leo XIII designated her as the foundress.
History. The society spread with extraordinary rapidity on the national level. After Pius VII authorized it on March 15, 1823, what so far had been the concern of pious laity was enthusiastically promoted by bishops and clergy. By 1826 the society had become international; the first branch outside of France was established in Belgium in 1825, and two years later others followed in Germany, Italy, and Switzerland. By 1836 the society had spread over most of Europe. In 1839 local units extended to the land that was its first beneficiary, the United States, and in 1840 to South America.
In 1822, when the society sent its first donation to the United States, the Church there had only one archdiocese and eight dioceses, while Catholics numbered about 200,000. For the next ten years, the United States received 42 percent of the society's total allocations. In recognition of this, the First Provincial Council of Baltimore (1829) stated: "The bishops and clergy of the United States make it a duty never to offer the Sacrifice on our altars without thinking of the venerable Association of the Propagation of the Faith." In 1884 the Third Plenary Council of the United States bishops endorsed Cardinal James Gibbons' suggestion for a national organization of the Society for the Propagation of the Faith in the United States. No substantial work was done, however, until 1896, when at the proposal of Abp. Patrick Riordan of San Francisco, California, the metropolitans authorized the appointment of a national director and the American branch of the society was incorporated. The following year, 1897, Bp. Henry Granjon, a Sulpician missionary of Lyons, was appointed first national director, and headquarters were established at St. Mary's Seminary in Baltimore, Maryland.
Until 1922 the central council of Lyons and the central council of Paris decided on the distribution of the alms received, in accordance with the missionary demands brought to their attention. Displeased by the monopoly held by the French council over the distribution of monies collected in the entire Catholic world, the bishops of other countries, and especially the United States bishops, tried to bring about the transfer of the international center of the society to Rome. So did the heads of mission territories who complained that the central council did not understand their needs. Decided and prepared by Benedict XV, this transfer was realized by Pius XI in 1922 and carried through by a young prelate, Msgr. Angelo Roncalli (later Pope John XXIII), National Director for the Society for the Propagation of the Faith in Italy. Through his motu proprio Romanorum Pontificum of May 3, 1922, Pius XI established the society as a pontifical society to be governed by the Congregation of the Propagation of the Faith and directed by a general council selected among the clergy of the countries notably contributing to the collection. With its headquarters in Rome, the society received from the same Pontiff a new set of rules and regulations for its administration and coordination. Later Pius XI issued an important encyclical, Rerum Ecclesiae, which conferred upon the society in a certain way "Roman citizenship" and made it "all mission organizations … the principal one" [Acta Apostolicae Sedis 18 (1926) 65]. Through the same document it received "charge of all mission needs that exist at present, or that shall exist in the future."
Organization. The Pontifical Society for the Propagation of the Faith is administered by a supreme council chosen by the pontiff himself from among those nations that contribute to the work. Over this council presides the secretary general of the Congregation of the Evangelization of Peoples. The roster of officials administering the council, as well as the regulations for its conduct, have been laid down by Romanorum Pontificum. The two main functions of the council consist in augmenting its administrative sphere through the establishment of national and diocesan offices of the Society for the Propagation of the Faith and in centralizing the alms of the faithful in order to be in a position to effect a "just division of the alms among … all the Catholic Missions" (Pius XI, Romanorum Pontificum, op. cit. 321). Subject to the superior general council are the national and diocesan directors of the Society for the Propagation of the Faith. The national directors are directly responsible to the pope through the superior general council. Diocesan directors, named by the bishop in each diocese, assist their national director to whom they send the alms that have been donated to the society by the faithful in every parish throughout the world.
Distribution of alms collected through the society belongs strictly to the superior general council. Those in charge of the national and diocesan offices of the society are the trustees of the pope's mission money. Therefore it may not be disposed of by anyone except the superior general council without violating positive and natural rights. Accordingly, the same council found it necessary to declare that "according to the motu proprio: Romanorum Pontificum, the right and duty of allocating to the Missions all offerings made to the Society belongs exclusively to the Superior Council" (Plenary Session, Rome, April 26, 1938). It further asserted that "all stringless offerings, even those made outside of Mission Sunday and membership ought to enter the General Fund to be placed at the distribution of the Superior Council" (Dec. 15, 1951). This distribution is made at the annual international meeting in Rome.
Fides News Service. From its inception, the Society started a service of mission information—"News from the Missions." Three years later, it was renamed "Annals of the Propagation of the Faith." During a meeting of its Superior Council in April 1927, the Society decided to establish Fides News Service, "to make the missions known to the People of God" through the press. Fides was to "provide to the Propagation of the Faith Directors of the world two classes of publicity material: (1) news copy and photos, the timeliness of which is such that they will be valuable not only to the Annals but for the nonmission press of each country; and (2) Studies of contemporary mission conditions of religious and social affairs throughout the world so far as they affect the conversions of non-Christians" (First Statutes of Fides). Fides was launched immediately after the feast of Saint Francis Xavier in 1927, the first news bulletins being issued in English and French. The Italian edition began in 1929, the Spanish in 1930 and the German in 1932. Fides provides a mission statistics service and assists in the worldwide promotion of missionary publications. With more than 100 volumes in English and other languages, Fides is a source of accurate documentation of the work of evangelization throughout the world.
Bibliography: a. guasco, Oeuvre de la Propagation de la Foi: Ses origines, … ses progres (Paris 1911). Act Apostolicae Sedis 14 (1922) 321–330, 647–649; 15 (1923) 77–80. d. lathoud, Le Secret des origines de la Propagation de la Foi, v.1 of Marie Pauline Jaricot, 2 v. (Paris 1937). j. m. goiburu, El problema misionero, v.1 (Madrid 1946) 72–102. s. paventi, La chiesa missionaria (Rome 1950) 41–51. e. j. hickey, The Society for the Propagation of the Faith (Washington 1922). john xxiii, "La Propagazione della Fede," Scritti di A. G. Roncalli (Rome 1958).
[f. j. sheen/eds.]