Missionaries of St Francis de Sales (MSFS)
The Congregation of the Missionaries of St Francis de Sales (MSFS), also known as FRANSALIANS, was founded by Fr Peter Marie Mermier in Annecy, France, on October 24, 1838 under the patronage of St Francis de Sales. It is constituted of priests and brothers.
FOUNDING AND GROWTH
The context of the founding of the Congregation was the French Revolution, the emergence of Jansenism and the emigration of Christians from Savoy. The political disturbances in the context of the French Revolution left the people in a deep spiritual crisis and indifferent towards their religious duties. Sensing the signs of the time, Fr Peter Mermier took upon himself the task of a spiritual renewal of his people by preaching parish missions. Thus, the MSFS Congregation was founded at a (historical) critical moment in human history, to address the three-fold issues of de-Christianization and the anti-clerical attitudes developed as a result of the French Revolution; negative influence of Jansenism; and the emigration of the poverty-stricken population to France and Switzerland. Fr Mermier was fully convinced of and advocated â€˜preaching of parish missionsâ€™ as the best solution to bring people back to faith. Parish missions consisted of week-long retreat preaching and visits of families for the purpose of spiritual renewal of the parish. The preachers proceeded from parish to parish, motivating the people to receive sacraments regularly and encouraging them to live genuine Christian lives.
The initial focus of the parish missions was to reform the educational institutions, the clergy and the parishes. Once Monsieur Favre wrote to the missionaries at Annecy, â€˜religion can only pick up again in Savoy by means of the missions.
This special apostolate, in turn, gave rise to a community of preachers who gathered around Fr Mermier. The MSFS Congregation was founded in response to the great desire of St Francis de Sales to establish a society of missionary priests. Nearly two centuries after the saintâ€™s death, Msgr Joseph Rey, a successor of the saint, in the see of Annecy, broached the subject of such a society to Fr Peter Mermier, who had been considering the same idea. Accordingly, Fr Mermier put the design into execution. In 1830, the institute was formed with La Feuillette as the site of the Mother House.
On September 29, 1836, Bishop Joseph Rey gave a provisional approval to the religious community of priests. On September 24, 1838, after a fervent retreat, six missionaries â€“ namely Peter Mermier, Jacques Martin, Philippe Gaiddon, Joseph Cheminal, AimePetitjean and Joseph Lavorel â€“ made the vow of stability. Bishop Rey received the royal assent for founding the religious Congregation from Charles Albert, King of Sardinia and Duke of Savoy, on September 29, 1838. Then on October 24, 1838, Bishop Rey gave canonical approval to the Congregation, making the MSFS Congregation a diocesan religious institute, thereby becoming the first Congregation to bear the name of St Francis de Sales. On October 24, 1840, FrsMermier, Martin, Cheminal, Petitjean and Lavorel made their final commitment. The approval of the Holy See was granted on June 22, 1843, and the final approval on March 19, 1860.
In 1845, the first group of Missionaries of St Francis de Sales set out for India and landed in Pondicherry (Puducherry) on September 8, 1845. They travelled further to Visakhapatnam, reaching there on February 19, 1846. The Congregation for the evangelization of peoples entrusted the Vicariate of Visakhapatnam to the MSFS on May 2, 1848.
Since March 31, 1848, Fr Mermier sent missionaries regularly to India. The missionaries spread around the Vicariate of Vishakhapatnam and established missions in Orissa. By 1850, the Visakhapatnam mission grew into a full-fledged Apostolic Vicariate extending from Yanam to Visakhapatnam and Cuttack on the East Coast to Kamptee (near Nagpur), Amravati and Jabalpur in the North and Khandwa, Jalna and Aurangabad in the West. They opened mission stations in Surada and Khond in 1854 and many received Christian faith in these places. Missionaries constantly visited villages, establishing Christian communities as well as schools and technical institutes. The first native vocations were found in 1860: one in Visakhapatnam named AnselimChelvum, a Tamil, and another in Kamptee, Patrick Wall, from an Irish family settled in Kamptee. A seminary was opened at Gopalpore in 1890 and in 1915 seven Indian seminarians joined the seminary. In 1925, five Telugus joined and between 1927-1928 the first recruits were taken from Kerala. When the MSFS missionaries landed in India in 1845, the whole central India was before them. Because of the difficulties in travelling and the lack of personnel, MSFS worked and operated from two centres, namely Visakhapatnam and Nagpur, until 1980. From Visakhapatnam, they laboured along the East Coast and the South. From Nagpur, they laboured in the North and Western regions. During the first 50 years, 62 priests, 17 brothers, 15 seminarians, 140 sisters of St Joseph of Annecy (SJA), 25 sisters of the Cross of Chavanod (SCC) and 14 Catechist Sisters (Salesian Missionaries of Mary Immaculate = SMMI) came to work in the vicariate which was under MSFS. Of this, 30 priests and 4 brothers and 30 sisters died in India during this period. In 1886, the Vicariate of Visakhapatnam was divided into two dioceses: Vishakhapatnam and Nagpur. By 1988, the vast territory, once taken care of by the MSFS, consisted of 11 ecclesiastical units. In 1888, the Nagpur region was created by bifurcating the Visakhapatnam region. Both were raised to the status of provinces in 1965. Until 1964, the Archdiocese of Nagpur and until 2012 Archdiocese of Visakhapatnam have been governed by prelates belonging to the Congregation. In 1930, Visakhapatnam and Nagpur were made into â€˜regions,â€™ and Fr Edmund Deage, Superior General, raised them into provinces in July 1965.
The MSFS in India work in seven provinces: Visakhapatnam, Nagpur, Pune, South West India, South East India, Guwahati and Dibrugarh. Visakhapatnam province, erected in 1965 with Fr DavasiaKuzhupil as its first provincial, is the mother province of the MSFS in India. Nagpur province, established in 1965 and later named as Maharashtra-Goa province, was bifurcated in 1996 to erect the present Nagpur and Pune provinces. The North East India province, erected a province in 1990, was bifurcated into Guwahati province and Dibrugargh province on January 24, 2020. The South West India province, consisting of Kerala and Karnataka states, was established in 1991 bifurcating Visakhapatnam province. The South-East province was erected bifurcating Visakhapatnam province to form the Tamil Nadu- Pondicherry region on January 24, 2005. Three years later, on January 24, 2008, this was raised to a province with the name, Chennai province, which was renamed on August 15, 2008 as South-East province.
As of 2020, the MSFS is spread out in five continents, 30 countries, 11 Provinces, 1 Vice Province with a total number of 1471 members (1186 perpetually professed and 285 temporarily professed). Presently the MSFS are working in the following countries: Austria, Australia, Brazil, Cameroun, Canada, Chad, Cameroon, Ecuador, England, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Ireland, Italy, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Netherlands, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines, South Africa, Swaziland, Switzerland, St Lucia (West Indies), Tanzania, Trinidad â€“ Tobago (West Indies), Uganda, the United States and Zambia. The Superiors General since the foundation of the Congregation are Frs Peter Marie Mermier (1836-1862), Philippe Gaiddon (1863-1864), Maurice Clavel (1865-1880), Joseph Tissot (1880- 1894), Eugene Gojon (1894-1904), Constant Bouvard (1905-1920), Alphonse Favrate (1920-1932), Jules Commerson (1932-1947), Alphonse Grorod (1947- 1953), Edmund Deage (1953-1965), Adrien Duval (1965-1977), Emile Mayoraz (1977-2001), Agnelo Fernandes (2001-2013), Abraham Vettuvelil (2013- till date). MSFS headquarters is in Rome, Italy.