(CSSR, Official Catholic Directory #1070); the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer (Congregatio Sanctissimi Redemptoris) was founded by Saint Alphonsus Liguori (1696–1787) under the direction of Bp. Tommaso Falcoia (1663–1743) of Castellammare di Stabia, Italy. Moved by the spiritual neglect of country people in the Kingdom of Naples, Liguori founded the Redemptorists "to follow the example of Jesus Christ, the Redeemer, by preaching the word of God to the poor." The congregation does this "by responding with missionary thrust to the pressing pastoral needs of the most abandoned, especially the poor, by devoting itself entirely to evangelization." Canonically, it defines itself as "a clerical missionary religious institute of pontifical rite, enjoying the privilege of exemption, and having members belonging to various rites" (CSSR Rule, Constitution 1).
As a community of priests, permanent deacons, and lay brothers ministering in 724 foundations in 73 countries, its total membership in 2001 consisted of 5,556 professed religious: bishops (43); priests (4,160); and deacons, brothers, and students (1,353). Worldwide the congregation is organized into 40 provinces, 26 vice provinces, 11 regions, and 10 mission outposts. The members bind themselves to the work of evangelization by the vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience, together with a vow and oath of perseverence in the congregation. An essential law for Redemptorists is to "live in community and to carry out their apostolic work through community" (Constitution 21). To enable them to fulfill their vocation in the Church of preaching the gospel to the most abandoned, Redemptorists, like their founder, cultivate a markedly Christocentric spirituality orientated to "crib, cross, and sacrament." Devotion to Mary under the title of Our Lady of Perpetual Help is integral to the spiritual life of a Redemptorist. The motto of the congregation is "With Him there is Plenteous Redemption" (Ps 130:7).
History. Liguori established the first community of the Redemptorists in the small town of Scala, near Naples, in 1732. Neapolitan regalism made the beginning extremely difficult. Only after a foothold was gained in the Papal States and the rule and constitutions were approved by Benedict XIV in 1749, was the future growth and success of the congregation assured. A severe crisis was occasioned in 1780 by the Regolamento. This was a rule drawn up by several Redemptorists who were commissioned to seek royal approval for the congregation. In order to placate the Neapolitan regalists, the original rule, approved by Benedict XIV, was so watered down that the nature of the institute was changed in the new document. Alphonsus, already in his 80s and suffering from severe
physical handicaps, signed the Regolamento, unaware of the betrayal by his confreres. In an act of reprisal directed at the Neapolitan government, Pius VI withdrew his approval of the Neapolitan Redemptorists. Only those in the Papal States were looked upon with favor by him. Alphonsus thus came under a cloud, since he resided in the Neapolitan area. Only after his death was his good name cleared and his innocence in the matter of the Regolamento established. By 1793 all the Redemptorists were united again.
Development in Italy. The period following the founder's death (1787) must be seen from two points of view: the one concerns the Redemptorists in Italy, the other centers around the Redemptorists in the vicariate north of the Alps. From the days of Alphonsus down to 1855, the world headquarters of the congregation was in Nocera dei Pagani, in southern Italy, where the superiors general resided. For a period of 70 years the congregation grew at a fair pace in the Kingdom of Naples and in the Papal States. In spite of the Napoleonic invasions and the economic hardship that followed, the number of members grew steadily during the regimes of the superiors general Andrea Villani (1787–92) and Pier Paolo Blasucci (1793–1817). Nineteen foundations were established throughout Italy. Progress in Italy was slower during the administrations of Nicola Mansione (1817–23), Celestino Maria Cocle (1824–31), Giovanni Camillo Ripoli (1832–50), and Vincenzo Trapanese (1850–53). By the middle of the 19th century an effort was being made to have the headquarters moved to Rome in order to free the Redemptorists from the regalistic restrictions of Naples, but the king of Naples refused to countenance this administrative move. As a result, Pius IX in 1853 reluctantly divided the institute again, allowing Neapolitans to have their own superior general and ordering the other Redemptorists to elect a superior general with a residence in Rome. The actual opening of the new Roman headquarters took place in 1855. This dual administration lasted until 1869, when all Redemptorists throughout the world were united under the sole jurisdiction of the superior general in Rome.
Development outside Italy. Meanwhile, a great impetus had been given to the congregation north of the Alps by (St.) Clement hofbauer, who after taking his vows as a Redemptorist in the Papal States, moved to Vienna, Austria, in 1785 to establish a branch in northern Europe. Balked in Vienna, Clement moved northward to Warsaw, Poland, in 1787. For 20 years he had extraordinary success there, and as vicar-general of the Redemptorists north of Italy, won many recruits for the congregation until the legions of Napoleon uprooted and destroyed his work. Aware of the danger to his foundation in Warsaw, Clement strove to establish the congregation on German soil, sending his lieutenant, Joseph Passerat (1772–1858), with a group of clerics and their teachers to Jestetten, southern Germany, in 1803. The wanderings of these Redemptorists for 15 years from Warsaw to Bavaria and then to Switzerland form a saga of patience and perseverance. They finally found a home in Valsainte, Switzerland.
When Clement himself was exiled from Warsaw in 1808, he went to Vienna, where he sought once again to establish his congregation. Emperor Francis I of Austria finally consented to a Redemptorist foundation in that city, but Clement, who died shortly afterward, never saw it in operation. At the time of his death in 1820, he had only two precarious foundations to show for his 35 years of labor, one in Switzerland and the other in Romania. There were also some Redemptorists still in Poland. Nevertheless, Clement had gathered together a group of missionaries who, operating out of Switzerland and Vienna, were to spread the congregation into northern Europe and North America.
For 28 years (1820–48) Joseph Passerat was the vicar-general in northern Europe. Thanks to his energy and to the spirit of the men Clement had trained, the Redemptorists advanced successfully across border after border. They went into France in 1820, Portugal in 1826, Belgium in 1831, Bulgaria in 1835, Holland in 1836, Germany in 1841, and England in 1843. During this same period they also came to the United States (1832). The forward movement north of the Alps was temporarily checked by the Revolution of 1848. After two years a new vicar-general was chosen in the person of Rudolf Smetana, who held this post until 1855. During his term of office the Redemptorists were established in Luxemburg in 1851 and in Ireland in 1853.
Uniting of the Two Branches. By mid-century the vicariate had outstripped, in the number of its personnel and of its new foundations, the Italian division of the congregation. Two moves were made that sought to improve the administration of the whole organization. The first was the decree of Rome in 1841 dividing the whole congregation into 6 provinces, 3 in northern Europe and 3 in Italy and Sicily. The second was the effort to bring the headquarters of the entire institute to Rome. Because of the civil conditions of Italy, this effort resulted for a time (1855–69) in the creation of a dual administration. Nevertheless, the establishing of the Roman headquarters and the election of a rector major (superior general) in 1855 favored the growth of the congregation. From that time on it prospered under the successive superiors general: Nicolas Mauron, a Swiss (1855–93); Matthias Raus, a Luxemburger (1894–1909); Patrick Murray, Irish (1909–47); Leonardus Buijs, a Hollander (1947–53); William Gaudreau, American (1954–67); Tarcisio Amaral, Brazilian (1967–73); Josef Pfab, German (1973–85); Juan Lasso de la Vega, Spaniard (1985–97); and Joseph Tobin, American (1997– ).
Mauron and Raus increased the foundations in Europe (Czech Republic) and North America and introduced the Redemptorists into South America (1859), Australia (1882), and Africa (1899). During the administration of Murray the number of foundations in these places was increased, and the Redemptorists began to establish themselves in Asia (the Philippines, 1906) so that the congregation became truly worldwide. These advances were made despite many serious setbacks. Like other religious orders, the Redemptorists suffered from suppression and confiscation in Alsace in 1830, Lisbon in 1833, Switzerland in 1847, Austria in 1848, Italy in 1860, Spain in 1868, Germany during the Kulturkampf, France in 1902, Mexico in 1926, and Spain in 1936. During World War II every foundation in one province of Germany was lost, and the whole Redemptorist community of Warsaw was wiped out. Under communist regimes, especially in the Ukraine, Czechoslovakia, and Vietnam, Redemptorists suffered severe persecution, and several shed their blood for the faith.
Government and Apostolate. The Redemptorists are ruled by a superior general known as the rector major. He is elected for a term of six years by the sole legislative body of the congregation, the capitulars assembled in a general chapter. The chapter elects also a group of regional consultors as the cabinet of advisers to the general. Their term of office terminates with the convocation of the following general chapter. General chapters are held every six years or on the occasion of the death or resignation of the superior general. Two other officials complete the administration, the procurator general and the general econome (bursar). These also are elected by the capitulars. The procurator general is the liaison with the Holy See on official business. The general chapter is composed of the Roman officials, the provincial of each province, and delegates elected by the fathers in their respective provinces and vice provinces. The provincials, provincial vicars, rectors, and local superiors are selected according to the electoral law enacted in each unit, after approbation by the general government.
The main service rendered the Church by Redemptorists is the preaching of missions, retreats, and novenas, the administration of parishes, and foreign missions. It took the Redemptorists almost 40 years to inaugurate their missions in northern Europe, but once established, they became known among the foremost preachers in various countries. Well known for their eloquence were Michael Neubert (1805–82) in Baden and Alsace; Bernard Hafkenscheid (1807–65) in Holland; John Furniss (1809–65) in England; Victor dechamps, later Cardinal of Malines in Belgium; Johannes Zobel (1815–93) in Germany; Achille Desurmont (1828–98) in France; and Joseph Wissel (1830–1912), who preached missions for over 50 years in the United States. The eminence of Liguori in moral theology, emphasized by the Holy See in declaring him patron of that study, has naturally interested his followers in that important branch of ecclesiastical learning. Among those who have won recognition by their publications in the field are: Anthony Konings (1821–84), Joseph Aertnys (1828–1915), Cornelius Damen (1881–1953), Willem van rossum, Clément Marc, Francis Connell (1888–1967), Bernard Häring (1912–98), Marciano Vidal (1937–), and Brian Johnson (1959–). In 1957 the Redemptorists founded the Academia Alfonsiana, a special institute of moral theology in Rome, which was incorporated into the Pontifical Lateran University in 1960. In 2000 the student body, which annually averages 300, represented 60 countries. To date, 539 doctorates have been granted.
Another special apostolate of the congregation is its work among Ukrainian Catholics. Begun by the Belgian fathers laboring in Galicia, in Poland, this apostolate later spread to Canada and the United States. The Redemptorist fathers and brothers of the Byzantine rite in North America form the Yorkton province. These Byzantine rite houses number seven, with their headquarters in Winnipeg, Canada. In the United States they are established in Newark, New Jersey. In the course of their history the Redemptorists have served the Church in many other ways. Alphonsus fought jansenism and strenuously upheld the rights of the Holy See against febronianism. Hofbauer worked to save the Church's prerogatives during the Congress of Vienna. Passerat and Friedrich von Held (1799–1881) strove to stem the title of irreligious liberalism in northern Europe. Redemptorist missionaries promoted the Confraternity of the Holy Family and fostered devotion to the Blessed Virgin under the title of ourlady of perpetual help. Dechamps was a leader at Vatican Council I in promoting the declaration of papal infallibility. In all, 131 Redemptorists have been chosen as bishops; five have been nominated cardinals. Four have been canonized: Saints Alphonsus Liguori, Gerard Majella, Clement Hofbauer, and John Neumann. Declared blessed: Peter Donders (Netherlands/Surinam), Kaspar Stanggassinger (Germany), Gennaro Sarnelli (Italy), Francis Xavier Seelos (USA); in 2001 Pope John Paul II beatified five Redemptorist martyrs, four from the Ukraine and one from Slovakia; 16 causes are at various stages of progress.
Development in the U.S. The growth of the Redemptorists in the United States began slowly. For the first seven years they failed to obtain a stable footing, but following the foundation in Pittsburgh in 1839, they grew, rapidly. Answering the appeal of the bishops of the country, they undertook the care of German immigrants. Not all the early Redemptorists came from a Germanic background, however. Many were of French, Dutch, Belgian, and Slavic origin; four of the first six superiors in the United States were non-Germans. By 1850, when the first American province was erected, there were nine foundations stretching from New York City to New Orleans, Louisiana. Their work was not restricted to the Germans, however, since they also established American, French, and Bohemian parishes. A permanent mission band, devoted exclusively to giving missions in English, was organized in 1851 under the direction of Hafkenscheid.
Through the years Redemptorists conducted missions, retreats, and other preaching events in English, German, French, Italian, Bohemian, Polish, Spanish, and Portuguese. Today such preaching is conducted mostly in English and Spanish; a number of missionaries minister to the special needs of the hearing challenged. The preaching apostolate is also continued in a number of retreat houses in the states of Arizona, California, Florida, Kansas, Louisiana, New Jersey, New York, Virginia, and Wisconsin. Redemptorists continue their tradition of ministering in large parochial centers, where special stress is placed upon frequent preaching, impressive services, and spiritual and social societies and organizations. This work for the immigrant was instrumental in giving badly needed support to incoming European immigrants, insecure and confused in their new home. Faithful to their charism of seeking out the marginalized and spiritually abandoned, especially the materially poor, Redemptorists today are frequently found in the inner city, working for African Americans, those from a Latin background, and new arrivals.
The Redemptorists' parochial centers have always given much attention to the parochial schools. Since this phase of their activity at first centered on the German immigrant, they were forced to provide Catholic schools using the German language in order to preserve the faith of the immigrant. These in time became schools of both German and English, and then entirely English. A similar effort to attend to the spiritual and corporal works of mercy resulted in the provision of Catholic homes and asylums for orphaned children. In Baltimore, Maryland; Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; New York, Rochester, and Buffalo, New York; and New Orleans, Louisiana, the Redemptorists undertook this task with notable success. American Redemptorists have continued the apostolate of the pen initiated by St. Alphonsus. Liguorian Publications is one of the largest publishing houses of Catholic literature in the United States and the Liguorian, a periodical aimed at the average American Catholic, is one of the leaders in circulation.
Two Redemptorists served as chaplains in the Civil War. During World War II, the American Redemptorists had 188 chaplains serving the armed forces, and in 1943 the provincial of the Baltimore province, William McCarty, was consecrated bishop to assist the military vicar, Cardinal Francis Spellman. Redemptorists from the United States established their first houses in Canada at St. Patrick's, Quebec, in 1872 and at Ste-Anne-de-Beaupré in 1878. Redemptorist fathers and brothers in the United States are divided into two provinces, Baltimore and Denver, and two vice-provinces, Richmond and New Orleans. There are three provinces in Canada: the English-speaking Edmonton-Toronto province, the French-speaking Ste-Anne-de-Beaupré, and the Ukrainian province of Yorkton.
The foreign mission field has been staffed with many missionaries from these provinces. In the 1900s Redemptorist fathers and brothers from the United States and Canada went overseas on missions to: Puerto Rico 1902; Virgin Islands 1917; Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia 1925; Mato Grosso, Brazil 1929; Asunción, Paraguay 1934; Amazon region 1943; Dominican Republic 1946; Thailand 1948; Japan 1948; Uruguay 1968; Haiti 1980; Nigeria and St. Lucia 1987. Since 1950 the congregation worldwide has made foundations in: Lebanon 1952; Angola and Guatemala 1954; Nicaragua 1955; Indonesia and Siberia 1956; Malaysia and Zimbabwe 1960; Iraq 1962; Panama 1964; Madagascar 1967; Kenya and Byelorussia 1990; Korea 1991; China (Hong Kong); Russia, Kazakhstan, and the Ivory Coast 1993; Ghana 1994; Congo 1995; and Cuba 2001.
Bibliography: g. bass Working for Plentiful Redemption: History of the Redemptorist Vice Province of New Orleans, 1952–1995 (New Orleans 1995). j. f. byrne, The Redemptorist Centenaries (Philadelphia 1932). f. chiovaro, ed. The Origins (1732–1793), v. 1 of The History of the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer, tr. and ed. r. fenili (Liguori, Mo. 1996). m. j. curley, The Provincial Story: A History of the Baltimore Province of the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer (New York 1963). e. day, "The Beginnings of the Redemptorists in the United States: 1832–1840," Diss. CU (Louvain 1948). m. de meulemeester, Bibliographie générale des écrivains rédemptorists, 3 v. (Louvain 1933–39). j. p. dolan, Catholic Revivalism: The American Experience 1830–1900 (Notre Dame, Ind. 1978). f. donlan, Southeastern Redemptorist Heritage, 1926–1986 (privately printed 1986). j. gauci, Redemptorist Apostolates in the Caribbean of the Nineteenth Century (Puerto Rico 1989). p. geiermann, Annals of the St. Louis Province of the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer, 3 v. (St. Louis 1923). g. lauenstein, Fully Devoted: the Hispanic Apostolate in the St. Louis Province of Redemptorists (Denver 1996). p. laverdure, Redemption and Renewal: The Redemptorists of English Canada, 1834–1994 (Toronto 1996). n. muckerman, Redemptorists on the Amazon: The First 50 Years (privately printed 1992). t. skinner, The Redemptorists in the West (St. Louis 1933). Spicilegium Historicum CSSR (Rome 1953– ). j. wissel, The Redemptorist on the American Mission, 3 v. (New York 1978). j. wuest, Annales Congregationis SS. Redemptoris, Provinciae Americanae, 5 v. in 11 parts (Ilchester, Md. 1888–1924).
[m. j. curley/