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Religious Congregations of the Holy Ghost

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The Congregation of the Holy Ghost and of the Immaculate Heart of Mary

This Congregation was founded on Whit Sunday, 1703, for the purpose of preparing missionaries for the most abandoned souls, whether in Christian or pagan countries. Its founder was a young, holy ecclesiastic of noble Breton birth and of brilliant talents, Claude-François Poullart des Places, who, three years previously, in the twenty-first year of his age, had given up the bright prospects of a parliamentary lawyer to embrace the ecclesiastical state. From the very beginning of his ecclesiastical studies he manifested a particular attraction for lowly and neglected works of charity. 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. It was with a dozen of these gathered round him that he opened the Seminary of the Holy Ghost, which afterwards developed into a religious society. The work grew rapidly; but the labours and anxieties connected with the foundation proved too much for the frail health of the founder. He died on 2 October, 1709, in the thirty-first year of his age, and in only the third of his priesthood. The portraits which remain of Father Poullart des Places depict a distinguished and intelligent countenance, combining energy with sweetness.

After the founder's death, the Congregation of the Holy Ghost continued to progress; it became fully organized, and received the approbation of the civil and ecclesiastical authorities. It sent missionaries to the French colonies, and to India and China, but suffered much from the French Revolution, and, when that scourge had passed away, only one member, Father Berout, remained. He had survived miraculously, as it were, all manner of vicissitudes — shipwreck on the way to his destined mission in French Guiana, enslavement by the Moors, 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. It was at this juncture that there came to its relief Father Libermann, and his fellow-missionaries of the Society of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, which he had founded in 1842. Since the object of both societies was the same, the Holy See requested the founder of the new society to engraft it on the older Congregation of the Holy Ghost. This was done in 1848. Ven. Francis Mary Libermann was made first superior general of the united societies, and the whole body became so impregnated with his spirit and that of his first followers that he is rightly regarded as the chief father and founder of the Congregation of the Holy Ghost and of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, such as it exists today.

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. But the new superior general set himself to cultivate still wider fields of missionary enterprise. 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. It is a fact to be noted that 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, Dr. England, Bishop of Charleston, had drawn the attention of the Propaganda to the activity of heretics on the West Coast of Africa, and had urged the sending of missioners to those benighted regions. This appeal was renewed at the Council of Baltimore, and the Fathers there assembled commissioned the Rev. Dr. Barron, who was then Vicar-General of Philadelphia, to undertake the work at Cape Palmas. That zealous priest 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. 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. 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, in the fifty-third year of his age. Father Libermann and his disciples 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 darkest Africa which form the distinctive work of the Congregation of the Holy Ghost. It has proved a work of continued sacrifice. Nearly 700 missionaries have laid down their lives in Africa during the past sixty years. Still, the spiritual results have compensated for it all. Where there was not a single Christian among the thirty millions of people who inhabit the districts confided to the Holy Ghost Fathers, there are today some hundred thousand solid, well-instructed Catholics. These Christians are spread over 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 missions at Bata, in Spanish West Africa, and at Kindou, in the Congo Independent State.

Besides the missions in Africa, the Congregation of the Holy Ghost has missions in Mauritius, Réunion, the Rodriguez Islands, Trinidad, Martinique, Guadeloupe, Haiti, and Amazonia. Moreover, the congregation conducts 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 Pittsburg, Pennsylvania, and the three colleges of Braga, Oporto, and Lisbon in Portugal. The congregation is 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, who resides in Paris, and who is aided by two assistants and four consultors — all chosen by the general chapter of the congregation. The whole society is under the jurisdiction of the Cardinal Prefect of the Propaganda. Recently, houses have been opened in England, Canada, Belgium, and Holland, and it is hoped that they will develop into distinct provinces at no distant date, so as to supply the colonies of these respective countries with an increase of missionaries. The province of the United States was founded in the year 1873. It comprises today 74 professed fathers, 19 professed scholastics, 30 professed coadjutor brothers. It is equipped with a novitiate and senior scholasticate, at Ferndale, in the Diocese of Hartford, an apostolic college at Cornwells, near Philadelphia. The main object of these institutions is to train missionaries for the most abandoned souls, especially for the coloured people. The province has already established two missions for the coloured race, one in Philadelphia, the other at Rock Castle, near Richmond. Others will be established as quickly as missionaries are formed. Moreover, missions for various nationalities have been established in the following dioceses, at the urgent request of the respective bishops: Little Rock, Pittsburg, Detroit, Grand Rapids, La Crosse, Philadelphia, Providence, and Harrisburg. In all there are twenty-three houses.

The latest statistics for the entire congregation, published in April, 1908, give 195 communities, 722 fathers, 210 professed scholastics, 655 professed brothers, 230 novices, 595 aspirants. About half the professed members are engaged in the African missions. The congregation is slowly but steadily forming a native clergy and sisterhood in Africa. A dozen negro priests and about one hundred negro sisters are at present working in the several missions.

Congregation of the Daughters of the Holy Ghost

This congregation was founded in Brittany, in the year 1706, by two pious ladies, Renée Burel and Marie Balavenne, under the direction of a zealous missionary, Father Leuduger. Its principal object is the education of children; but it also undertakes all kinds of charitable work. The congregation developed rapidly, and the "White Sisters", as its members were called, from the colour of their habit, became very numerous all over the northwest of France. It suffered the fate of all religious societies at the Revolution; but it quickly recovered, and increased a hundredfold during the course of the nineteenth century. The iniquitous French anti-congregation legislation of 1902 has caused the congregation to disperse. While still in possession at its mother-house at Saint-Brieuc, in Brittany, and in several other of its houses in France, in the face of bitter persecution, several hundreds of the Sisters of the Holy Ghost have gone to England, Belgium, and the United States. The late Bishop Tierney invited them to his Diocese of Hartford in 1902, and from there they have already spread to Springfield, Providence, Fall River, Burlington, and Ogdensburg. There are 22 houses at present in these several dioceses and over 200 sisters. The provincial house is at Hartford.

Sisters of the Holy Ghost (Dubuque)

This congregation was founded in 1890, by the late Most Rev. John Hennessey, Archbishop of Dubuque. Its object is twofold, the cultivation of devotion to God the Holy Ghost, and the education of youth. The mother-house is in St. Anthony's parish, West Dubuque, Iowa.

Sister-Servants of the Holy Ghost

This congregation was founded at Steyl, Holland, in 1889, by the late Very Rev. Father Janssen, as auxiliary to his other foundation, the Society of the Divine Word. It was introduced into the United States in 1901, and has a convent at Techny, Illinois, and a school for negro children at Vicksburg, Mississippi.

Sisters of the Holy Ghost (for Coloured People)

This congregation was first established in 1886 at San Antonio, Texas. So far, it has only two houses, one at San Antonio, and the other at Victoria, Texas.


I. LE FLOCH, Vie de Poullart des Places (Paris, 1906); PITRA, Vie du Vén. Père Libermann (Paris, 1876); GÖPFERT. Life of Ven. Father Libermann (Dublin, 1880); LE ROY, Les Missions des pères du St-Esprit in Annales de La Propagation de la Foi (Paris, 1904); LIMBOUR, La Congrégation du St-Esprit (Paris, 1909).
II. Notice sur La Congrégation des Filles du St-Esprit (Saint-Brieuc, 1888).
III. Catholic News (New York, 28 Sept., 1901); Constitutions of the Sisters of the Holy Ghost (Dubuque, 1908).
IV. Die Missionsgenossenschaft von Steyl (Steyl, 1900).

About this page

APA citation. Murphy, J.I. (1910). Religious Congregations of the Holy Ghost. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.

MLA citation. Murphy, John I. "Religious Congregations of the Holy Ghost." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 7. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1910. <>.

Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by Douglas J. Potter. Dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus Christ.

Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. June 1, 1910. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York.

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