Congregation of the Holy Spirit

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Congregation of the Holy Spirit
Holy Ghost Fathers seal.png
The seal of the Congregation depicts the Immaculate Heart of Mary, and the Holy Spirit proceeding from the Trinity.
MottoCor unum et anima una ( Latin )
One heart and one spirit ( English )
Formation27 May 1703;316 years ago (1703-05-27)
TypeClerical Religious Congregation of Pontifical Right (for Men)
HeadquartersClivo di Cinna 195, 00136 Roma, Italy
2,705 members (2,075 priests) (2016)
Superior General
Fr. John Fogarty, C.S.Sp.

The Congregation of the Holy Spirit (full title, Congregation of the Holy Spirit under the protection of the Immaculate Heart of the Virgin Mary, or in Latin, Congregatio Sancti Spiritus sub tutela Immaculati Cordis Beatissimae Virginis Mariae, and thus abbreviated C.S.Sp.) is a Roman Catholic congregation of priests, lay brothers, and since Vatican II, lay associates. Congregation members are known as Spiritans in Continental Europe, and as the Holy Ghost Fathers in English-speaking countries, although even there they are becoming known as Spiritans. A Spiritan priest or brother has the abbreviation C.S.Sp. after his name.



Claude Poullart des Places

Claude Poullart des Places founded the Congregation of the Holy Spirit on Whit Sunday 1703. Claude Poullart des Places.png
Claude Poullart des Places founded the Congregation of the Holy Spirit on Whit Sunday 1703.

Claude Poullart des Places was born on February 25, 1679, in Rennes, the capital city of Brittany, France, the eldest child and only son of Francis des Places and Jeanne le Meneust. Claude was tutored at home before being enrolled at the age of nine or ten as a day student in the nearby Jesuit College of St. Thomas, thus beginning his lifelong association with the Society of Jesus. Graduating at 16, Claude studied at the University of Caen, Normandy, before graduating at 22 with a Licentiate in Law from the Law School of Nantes. [1]

In 1701 Claude des Places commenced his studies for the priesthood, as a boarder at the Jesuit College in Paris. However, soon he left his college room to share lodgings with the poorer day students who often struggled to find food, lodgings, and facilities to do homework. It was with a dozen of these gathered round him that he opened the Seminary of the Holy Spirit, which afterwards developed into a religious society. [1] [2]


The Spiritans were founded in Paris on Whit Sunday (Pentecost), 1703. Having opted for the priesthood himself, Claude Poullart des Places wanted to form a religious institute for young men who had a vocation to become priests but were too poor to do so. He became especially interested in poor, deserving students, on whom he freely spent all his own private means and as much as he could collect from his friends. In 1707 Claude was ordained a priest. The work grew rapidly; but the labours and anxieties connected with the foundation proved too much for his frail health. Father Poullart des Places developed pleurisy and died on 2 October 1709, in the thirty-first year of his age. [3]

After the founder's death, the Congregation of the Holy Spirit continued to progress; it became fully organized, and received the approbation of the civil and ecclesiastical authorities. [2] The community, formed in dedication to the Holy Spirit to minister to the poor and to provide chaplains in hospitals, prisons, and schools, soon developed a missionary role – some volunteered for service in the Far East and North America – and in 1765 the Holy See entrusted it with direct care of South American missions, in colonies such as French Guiana. Spiritans also sent missionaries to China, Cambodia, Vietnam, Thailand (Siam), and India under the auspices of the Paris Foreign Missions Society. [3] In 1779 the first Spiritan missionaries arrived in Senegal, Africa. [4]

Those in France served in various dioceses or alongside the de Montfort missionaries, due to the close friendship between Poullart and Louis de Montfort. The Congregation had trained 1,300 priests in the years leading up to 1792, when the seminary was suppressed by the French Revolution. Some Spiritans sought refuge in England, Switzerland, and Italy. [5]


After the French Revolution, only one member, Father James Bertout, remained. He had survived miraculously, as it were, through a series of vicissitudes – shipwreck on the way to his destined mission in French Guiana, enslavement by the Moors, and a sojourn in Senegal where he had been sold to the English who then ruled there. On his return to France, after peace was restored to the Church, he re-established the congregation and continued its work. But it was found impossible to recover adequately from the disastrous effects of the dispersion caused by the Revolution, and the restored society was threatened with extinction. [3] The congregation's numbers in Europe declined sharply until 1802, when the Napoleonic government allowed the seminary to reopen and the congregation was asked to focus on supplying priests for work in the French colonies in Africa, the West Indies, and the Indian subcontinent. In 1824, Rome approved the “Rules” of the Congregation of the Holy Spirit; prior to that it had been a diocesan congregation.

Venerable Francis Libermann, often called the Congregation's "second founder", was also its eleventh superior general (1848-1852). Francois Libermann.png
Venerable Francis Libermann, often called the Congregation's "second founder", was also its eleventh superior general (1848–1852).

In 1842, Francis Libermann, had founded the "Society of the Holy Heart of Mary" a society dedicated to serve mainly the emancipated black slaves in the French colonies. The taking-up of the African missions by Ven. Francis Mary Libermann was due to the initiative of two American prelates, under the encouragement of the first Council of Baltimore. Already in 1833, John England, Bishop of Charleston, had drawn attention to the West Coast of Africa, and had urged the sending of missioners to those regions. This appeal was renewed at the Council of Baltimore, and the assembled Fathers commissioned Edward Barron to undertake the work at Cape Palmas. Barron went over the ground carefully for a few years, and then repaired to Rome to give an account of the work, and to receive further instructions. He was consecrated bishop and appointed Vicar-Apostolic of the Two Guineas. [6] But as he had only one priest and a catechist at his disposal, he repaired to France to search for missioners. Ven. Francis Mary Libermann supplied him at once with seven priests and three coadjutor brothers. By 1844, five members of this first group had died, either in Africa or at sea. [5] The deadly climate played havoc with the inexperienced zeal of the first missionaries. All but one perished in the course of a few months and Dr. Barron returned in despair to America, where he devoted himself to missionary work. He died from the effects of his zeal during the yellow-fever epidemic in Savannah, in 1853, aged 52.

In 1848, the Holy See requested Libermann to merge the relatively new Society of the Holy Heart of Mary with the older Congregation of the Holy Spirit since the object of both societies was similar. Ven. Francis Mary Libermann was made first superior general of the united societies, and the whole body became so infused with his spirit and that of his first followers that he is rightly regarded as the renewer of the Congregation of the Holy Spirit, then called also "...under the protection of the Immaculate Heart of Mary" after Libermann and his followers joined the Congregation. [2]

The first care of the new superior general was to organize on a solid basis the religious service of the old French colonies, by securing the establishment of bishoprics and making provisions for the supply of clergy through the Seminary of the Holy Ghost, which was continued on the lines of its original purpose – to serve as a colonial seminary for the French colonies. There had already been opened to him the vast domain of Africa, which he was, practically, the first to enter, and which was to be henceforth the chief field of labour of his disciples. Libermann recruited and educated missionaries, both lay and clerical. He negotiated with Rome and with the French government over the placement and support of his personnel. [7]

Father Libermann and his associates had retained the African mission; new missionaries volunteered to go out and take the places of those who had perished; and gradually there began to be built up the series of Christian communities in Africa which form the distinctive work of the Congregation of the Holy Spirit. It has proved a work of continued sacrifice. By 1913, nearly 700 missionaries had laid down their lives in Africa. Still, their work resulted in the Diocese of Angola and the eight Vicariates of Senegambia, Sierra Leone, Gaboon, Ubangi (or French Upper Congo), Loango (or French Lower Congo), on the West Coast; and Northern Madagascar, Zanzibar, Bagamoyo, on the East Coast. There are, moreover, the Prefectures of Lower Nigeria, French Guinea, Lower Congo (Landana), and a mission at Bata in Spanish West Africa. [2]

Besides the missions in Africa, the Congregation of the Holy Spirit started missions in Mauritius, Réunion, the Rodriguez Island s, Trinidad, Martinique, Guadeloupe, Haiti, and Amazonia, while conducting some very important educational institutions, such as the French Seminary at Rome, the colonial seminary at Paris, the colleges of Blackrock, Rockwell, and Rathmines in Ireland, St. Mary's College in Trinidad, the Holy Ghost College of Pittsburgh, (now Duquesne University) Pennsylvania, and the three colleges of Braga, Porto, and Lisbon in Portugal. [2]

20th century

By the early 20th century the congregation was organized into the following provinces: France, Ireland, Portugal, United States, and Germany. These several provinces, as well as all the foreign missions, are under the central control of a superior general, residing in Paris, aided by two assistants and four consultors – all chosen by the general chapter of the congregation. The whole society was under the jurisdiction of the Cardinal Prefect of the Propaganda. Houses have been opened in England, Canada, Belgium, and the Netherlands, intended to develop into distinct provinces, so as to supply the colonies of these respective countries with an increase of missionaries. [2]

On December 31, 1961 twenty Spiritan – nineteen Belgians and one Dutch, were killed in Kongolo in what is now the Democratic Republic of the Congo by government troops during the Katanga secession rebellion. [8]

In Rome, on April 24, 1979, Pope John Paul II presided over the beatification ceremony for Jacques-Désiré Laval, the first member of the Spiritans to be so honoured.

Marcel Lefebvre

On July 26, 1962, the Chapter General of the Congregation of the Holy Spirit elected the former Archbishop of Dakar, Marcel Lefebvre, as Superior General. Lefebvre was widely respected for his experience in the mission field [9] and his ability to deal with the Roman Curia. On August 7, 1962, Lefebvre was given the titular archiepiscopal see of Synnada in Phrygia.

Lefebvre first instituted a major reform of the seminaries run by the Spiritans. He transferred several Modernist (liberal) professors to non-educational posts. He ordered books by certain modern theologians, including Yves Congar and Marie-Dominique Chenu, to be removed from the seminary library, finding them too Neo-Modernistic. Lefebvre was increasingly criticized by pro-reform members of the congregation who considered him out-of-step with modern Church leaders and the demand of bishops' conferences, particularly in France, for reform. A general chapter of the Congregation of the Holy Spirit was convened in Rome in September 1968. The first action of the chapter was to name several moderators to lead the chapter's sessions instead of Lefebvre. [10] Finding it impossible to lead the congregation, Lefebvre then handed in his resignation as Superior General to Pope Paul VI. [11]

He would later say that it had become impossible for him to remain Superior of an institute that no longer wanted him nor listened to him. To replace him, on October 28 a new superior general was elected more amenable to calls for reform. Lefebvre's tenure as Superior saw the congregation at its zenith in terms of numbers, missions, and missionary activity.[ citation needed ] Lefebvre left the Spiritans and went on to found the Society of Saint Pius X in Écône (Diocese of Fribourg), Switzerland.


The core of mission remains constant—the proclamation of the Good News of Jesus to those who have never heard it at all and to those who have heard it inadequately. But the manner in which this is accomplished varies according to context and opportunity. The goal is always to establish a viable local faith community with its own leadership, incorporating the language and customs of the people.

Spiritans live in community and practice the evangelical counsels. The congregation's international headquarters is in Rome. The 2019 General Chapter was held in Tanzania. As of 2019, there are more than 2,800 spiritans serving in 62 countries on five continents. [7] They are often associated with schools and chaplaincy, and missionary work.

Some famous English-speaking Spiritans in the late 20th-century include Fathers Vincent J. Donovan, Adrian Van Kaam, and Henry J. Koren. Father Donovan (1926–2000) wrote Christianity Rediscovered. He worked in Tanzania, most notably among the Maasai, from 1955-73. During this period, the Maasai Creed was composed with support from the Spiritans as a culturally-relevant creed. [12] Father Van Kaam was notable for his work in psychology and spirituality. He also wrote a key work on one of the Spiritan's founder's Venerable Father Libermann. Father Koren was a historian of the Congregation and a philosopher.

In other countries, such as Mexico, the Spiritans were invited by the local Catholic bishops to minister to Catholics in remote areas where there were not enough diocesan priests to serve the growing numbers of faithful. Today, Mexican-born Spiritans outnumber Spiritan missionaries from other countries. The seminary program is a vital aspect of the Spiritan presence in Mexico.

Superiors general

The Congregation has had twenty-four superiors general in its 317 years of existence: [13]

No.NameYears servedNationality
1.Fr. Claude Poullart des Places 1703–1709French
2.Fr. Jacques Garnier1709–1710French
3.Fr. Louis Bouic1710–1763French
4.Fr. Julien-François Becquet1763–1788French
5.Fr. Jean-Marie Duflos1788–1805French
6.Fr. Jacques Bertout 1805–1832French
7.Fr. Amable Fourdinier 1832–1845French
8.Fr. Nicolas Warnet 1845–1845French
9.Fr. Alexandre Leguay 1845–1848French
10.Bp. Alexandre Monnet 1848–1848French
11.Ven. Francis Libermann 1848–1852French
12.Fr. Ignace Schwindenhammer 1853–1881French
13.Fr. Frédéric Le Vavasseur 1881–1882French
14.Fr. Ambroise Emonet 1882–1895French
15.Abp. Alexandre Le Roy 1896–1926French
16.Abp. Louis Le Hunsec 1926–1950French
17.Fr. Francis Griffin 1950–1962Irish
18.Abp. Marcel Lefebvre 1962–1968French
19.Fr. Joseph Lécuyer 1968–1974French
20.Fr. Frans Timmermans 1974–1986Dutch
21.Fr. Pierre Haas 1986–1992French
22.Fr. Pierre Schouver 1992–2004French
23.Fr. Jean-Paul Hoch 2004–2012French
24.Fr. John Fogarty 2012–presentIrish

Spiritans around the world


In 1732 the first Spiritan missionaries arrived in North America under Father Louis Bouic, to work among the Miꞌkmaq and Acadians in French Canada. [14] Unfortunately, the settlers and natives of this region were caught in the political and military clash between the French and the British. One of the most famous Spiritans was Pierre Maillard, named "the Apostle of the Micmacs". After arduous learning over eight years, he wrote the first Micmac grammar. Through this he was able to introduce to them the Catholic faith which they kept even without a priest for a long time.

Father Maillard tried to attenuate the savagery of brutal warfare (instigated at times by the French and the British). Many more missionaries, such as John Le Loutre, came but later had to flee with the Micmacs as the British conquered these areas. Fr. Maillard himself was captured in Louisbourg and deported to a Boston jail.

In 1791, the British expelled the Spiritans, who were all from France, from Canada. But they continued their apostolate in the islands of Saint Pierre and Miquelon. [5]

Province of Ghana

The Spiritan mission in Ghana was started in 1971 by a group of Irish Spiritans who left Nigeria after the civil war. With more than forty years of Spiritan mission, Province of Ghana continues to flourish with more than 100 members working both at home and abroad. Ghana is a democratic constitutional republic divided into ten administrative regions, with a multi-ethnic population of around 24 million as of 2010. Fourteen percent of the population is estimated to be Catholic. Located along the Gulf of Guinea and Atlantic Ocean, in West Africa, Ghana has a land mass of 238,535 km2, with 2,093 kilometres of international land borders. Its varied geography includes savannas, woodlands, forests, a coastal line, springs, cave systems, mountains, estuaries, wildlife parks, and nature reserves. In Ghana, Spiritans are ministering in sixteen parishes in nine of the eighteen dioceses. Many of the parishes are in a situation of primary evangelization in rural and deprived areas. The Province gives attention to basic and primary education in all of its twelve parishes. The Spiritan Technical Vocational School in Ada Nkwame, the Computer school in Kumasi, the Libermann Senior High School in Elubo, and the Spiritan University College in Ejisu are all examples of the Spiritan commitment to evangelization through education. Thirty-five Spiritans from Ghana are on mission outside their home country in fifteen different countries.


See Heilig-Geist-Gymnasium

Irish Province

The first Spiritan house was opened in 1859 by Fr. Jules Lenan. The Spiritans run six schools in Ireland:

Spiritans of the Irish Province and Spiritan Associates serve in some 20 countries including Ireland. They administer a number of parishes in west Dublin as well as one in the Diocese of Elphin. [4] St. Mary's School, Nairobi, founded in the Parklands area of Nairobi in 1939 from Blackrock College in Dublin, Ireland.

Notable Irish Spiritans include William Patrick Power, first head of Duquesne University, Pittsburgh; John Charles McQuaid, Archbishop of Dublin 1940–73; Fr Denis Fahey, founder of Maria Duce; Fr Aengus Finucane, who organised food shipments to the Ibo during the Biafra War; John C. O'Riordan, former Bishop of Kenema, Sierra Leone; Robert Ellison, current Bishop of Banjul, Gambia.


Spiritans in the 1840s dedicated themselves to working with newly freed slaves on the islands of Haiti, Mauritius and Réunion. The Spiritans created the College du Saint Esprit, a French and English speaking college in Mauritius.

Trinidad and Tobago

The Spiritans run these schools in Trinidad and Tobago:

British Province

The Spiritans came to Britain 200 years after their foundation when the anti-Catholic government in France was starting to close convents and monasteries. In 1903 they rented Prior Park, a mansion near Bath in Somerset as a refuge abroad. In 1907 Castlehead at Grange-over-Sands, Lancashire, opened as a junior seminary. Father John Rimmer from Widnes was the first British Spiritan, having joined in France in 1894. He was appointed as Superior of Castlehead and gradually under his leadership the school flourished and boys were put through their secondary studies before going to France for the novitiate and training for the missionary priesthood. The school was closed in 1978 due to declining vocations. [15]

In 1939, the Spiritans brought a property in Wiltshire to act as a senior seminary but the house was requisitioned as a military hospital during the Second World War. [15] In 1940, 30 seminarians escaped from France aboard a Polish troopship. The refugees from France shared Castlehead for two years with the junior students. Then they moved to Sizergh Castle near Kendal and continued their studies for the priesthood. On average, four new priests were ordained every year and posted to missions in Sierra Leone, Nigeria, and East Africa. When the war ended, the senior students moved into Upton Hall near Newark. Later, as vocations declined, the seminary was sold and our students joined the Missionary Institute in London. [15]

In 1947, a house was acquired in Bickley, Kent, and used as headquarters for the English Province and a centre for late vocations. Ex-servicemen were applying to join and some needed help to complete their studies prior to going to the novitiate. In the early 1990s with elderly missionaries living longer and returning home, the Bickley community centre of Provincial administration was converted to a retirement home. The Administration moved to Northwood, in North West London, and then to Burnt Oak, north London. [16]

Recognising the importance of Scotland, as both a place for missionary vocations as well as support for missionary work, in 1956 the Holy Ghost Fathers set up a community at Uddingston on the outskirts of Glasgow. In 1970 the Congregation transferred to the Old parish house and church in Carfin. It was also opposite the Carfin Grotto, a place of Catholic pilgrimage which had been established during the 1920s. The Carfin community continues to serve the people of Scotland and witness to Missionary commitment.

After the Second Vatican Council the various missionary societies in England pooled their resources and started the Missionary Institute, London (MIL) in 1969. As one of the founding members, the Holy Ghost Fathers closed their center in Willesborough, moving their students to London and opened a community house in Aldenham Grange, near Watford, Hertfordshire.

From the late 1980s there was a decision to concentrate on work with young people, in order to develop strong committed young catholic leaders. The "Just Youth" ministry was established in order to foster these aims. It provides chaplaincy facilities for several high schools in the Salford Diocese and undertakes outreach work in schools throughout the north of England. Since early 2008 Just Youth has been based in Lower Kersal, Salford, at the former Catholic University Chaplaincy, now re-opened as the Spiritan Youth Centre.

From the Salford community has also grown the group of Lay Spiritans. These are married or single Catholics inspired by the Spiritan way of life and wishing to share in it. They bring their professional skills to the various ministries.

In 2001, two Lay Spiritans of the Salford community founded Revive, a voluntary social work agency committed to the long-term support of asylum seekers and refugees. This work, in conjunction with the Roman Catholic Diocese of Salford and the British Red Cross, involved the support of all asylum seekers, including the destitute whose asylum claims had been refused. Revive also had a significant role in the training of student social workers to work with asylum seekers and refugees in partnership with Manchester University, Manchester Metropolitan University, and Salford University. Revive is based in Salford and is considered to be a missionary work of the Congregation, who are its principal funders. [17]

In 2009, a report from Caritas - Social Action highlighted the work of Revive as an example of good practice with asylum seekers and refugees in the Catholic Church in England and Wales. [18]

Lay Spiritan involvement in the management of Revive ceased in 2009. The project is now managed by a Spiritan priest. [19]

One former Lay Spiritan, Ann-Marie Fell, was the recipient of a Catholic Women of the Year award in 2010 for her work as a prison chaplain. [20]

The UK Spiritan Provincial Fr Philip Marsh CSSp spent much of his time travelling and meeting with the various communities and works of the Province, with a base in Whitefield, Bury, where the small Provincial Residence Community is located.

United States Province

Duquesne University, founded in 1878 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, is the only Spiritan institution of higher education in the world. Duquesneoldcampus.png
Duquesne University, founded in 1878 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, is the only Spiritan institution of higher education in the world.

It was in 1794 that a Spiritan refugee of the French Revolution in Guiana started a new mission in the U.S. [14] However, it was only when Archbishop John Baptist Purcell repeatedly asked (between 1847–1851) for personnel to staff a seminary in Cincinnati that Spiritans steadily arrived. Other dioceses such as Savannah, Florida, Philadelphia, and Natchez also requested personnel.

The province of the United States, founded in 1873. It had a novitiate and senior scholasticate at Ferndale in the Diocese of Hartford, and an apostolic college at Cornwells near Philadelphia. The main object of these institutions was to train missionaries for among the poor, especially ethnic minorities. [2] For the sake of maintaining a community life the Spiritans concentrated on the Pittsburgh area. Despite knowing of four failures of setting up a Catholic college in Pittsburgh, the Spiritans persisted in setting up an institution which became Duquesne University.

In East Africa, where most of the American Spiritans now serve, they began to work in the 1860s by buying men and women out of slavery in Zanzibar. They opened schools and hospitals, taught people marketable skills, and gave property to those who needed it. The Spiritans pioneered modern missionary activity in Africa and ultimately sent more missionaries there than any other religious institute in the Catholic Church.

For decades the Spiritans worked closely with Katherine Drexel in the apostolate to African-Americans in the urban North and in small towns and cities of the South and Southwest. The Spiritans in America concentrate on work among immigrants, black parishes, and education in Duquesne University along with Holy Ghost Preparatory School (near Philadelphia). Historically, they have supplied missionaries for Sierra Leone, Tanzania, Puerto Rico, Latin America, and Ethiopia. Today, Spiritans are focusing on Brazil, Mexico, the Philippines, and Taiwan. In 1964 there was a separation between a Western Province and an Eastern Province (at the Mississippi River) but both provinces are now reunited. Candidates in theological formation are sent to Catholic Theological Union in Chicago where several Spiritans teach.


The Spiritans arrived in Vietnam in September 2007. In September 2017, the Congregation celebrated its 10th anniversary in Vietnam. At present, the Congregation have three communities in Ho Chi Minh City. There are more than 40 members.

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Vincent Joseph McCauley, C.S.C. was an American prelate of the Roman Catholic Church. A member of the Congregation of Holy Cross, he was the first Bishop of Fort Portal, having served as the ordinary of the diocese from 1961 to 1972. Later, he served as executive director of the Association of Member Episcopal Conferences in Eastern Africa from 1972 to 1979. A Servant of God, his cause for canonization was introduced in the Congregation for the Causes of Saints in August 2006.


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  11. "Back at the Mother House, I wrote a nice letter to the Pope saying that I was tendering my resignation because of what was going on in the Congregation." July/August 2003 Archived 2004-03-19 at the Wayback Machine Monsignor Lefebvre in his own words, Society of Saint Pius X - Southern Africa
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