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Society of Saint-Sulpice

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Founded at Paris by M. Olier (1642) for the purpose of providing directors for the seminaries established by him (see OLIER). At the founder's death (1657) his society, approved by religious and civil authority, was firmly established. The Paris seminary and three in the provinces (Viviers, Le Puy, Clermont) were opened to young ecclesiastics to give them besides the elements of the clerical sciences lessons and examples in sacerdotal perfection. The work in Montreal was inaugurated and four priests appointed to carry it on, while a novitiate called the Solitude had been opened to recruit directors for the seminaries. Alexandre Le Ragois de Bretonvilliers, the successor of Olier (1657-76) drew up the Constitution of the Society and secured its approval by Cardinal Chigi, legate a latere and nephew of Alexander VII. The object of the society was to labor, in direct dependence on the bishops, for the education and perfection of ecclesiastics. They were to be taught philosophy and theology, chant and liturgy, but especially mental payer and the Christian virtues. Several chapters dealt with the organization and government of the society. The number of subjects should be restricted, fervour being worth more than number. The spiritual and temporal government is vested in a superior general assisted by twelve assistants, like him elected for life. Together they constitute the general assembly empowered to elect by majority of votes the superior-general, his assistants, and among the latter four consultors, who shall be his constant advisers, sign the public acts, and represent the whole society. The other members are admitted by the superior and his council. They take no vows, but renounce all prospect of eccelesiastical dignities. Changes and appointments are made by the superior-general. Every Sulpician should be animated by great zeal for the glory of God and the sanctification of the clergy, should profess detachment and abnegation, practice poverty, be submissive especially to bishops.

De Bretonvilliers transferred the Solitude of Vaugirard to the Château d'Avron, which was a family possession, where it remained until M. Tronson, his successor, established it at Issy, where it is at present. He enacted that the community of priests of the parish of Saint-Sulpice should continue subject to a superior. This community numbered from sixty to eighty members until the French Revolution. There Fénelon exercised the sacred ministry for three years and he spoke from experience when he declared that there was nothing he venerated more than Saint-Sulpice. M. Tronson assumed the direction of the society in 1676 and retained it until 1700. He was remarkable for the breadth of his knowledge, his practical mind, and his deep piety. He was jealously vigilant to ward off the Jansenistic scourge from his society and the ten seminaries under his care. At a time when the error since called Gallicanism spread everywhere he was a Roman, as the present expression is, in as far as was compatible with the submission to the bishops which his society professed.

During the eighteenth century the society carried on its work amid the difficulties which Jansenism and philosophism, by corrupting minds, incessantly aroused. François Leschassier (1700-25) had to defend the seminary of Paris against Archbishop de Noailles, an avowed and militant Jansenist. Under his successors, Maurice Le Peletier (1725-31) and Jean Couturier (1731-70), although new seminaries were opened in the dioceses of France, the spirit of the age crept into that of Paris, in consequence of the weakening of morals at the Court, contact with the world, and the great number of sons of the nobility who had become seminarians. At this period Saint-Sulpice was charged with the spiritual direction of schools of philosophy and even of petits séminaires both at Paris and Angers, always with the object of preparing the pupils for the priesthood. When the Revolution broke out the seminary of Paris alone had trained more than five thousand priests, and more than half the bishops who faced that dreadful tempest (about fifty) had been in Sulpician seminaries Claude Bourachot (1770-77) and Pierre Le Gallic (1777-82), who governed with the mournful presentiment of the Revolution, were succeeded by Andre Emery, the man providentially chosen to guide the society during those dark days. He beheld the seminaries closed, his brethren scattered, hunted, and compelled to seek safety in exile, but he had the great consolation, at a time of frequent defections, of seeing them all faithful to their promises. Not one of them took the oath to the Civil Constitution of the Clergy, and eighteen of them died for their faith. The life of this illustrious priest belongs to the whole Church, whose rights he defended with unshakable firmness against Napoleon I (see EMERY). After the Concordat he reopened the seminary of Paris. He should be regarded as the restorer of the Society of M. Olier.

During the nineteenth century the Society of Saint-Sulpice has quietly continued its work of clerical training while sharing all the vicissitudes of the Church in France. The following superiors general have governed it: M. Duclaux (1811-26); Garnier (1826-45), a noted Hebrew scholar; de Courson (1845-50); Carrière (1850-64), an eminent theologian; Caval (1864-75); J. H. Icard (1879-93); and Captier (1893-1900), the founder and first superior of the procure of Saint-Sulpice at Rome. Living within the walls of its seminaries, which, constantly increasing, numbered twenty-six in 1900, the Society of Saint-Sulpice has, so to speak, no history. Its members, absorbed in their professional duties, share the life of the seminarians, being solicitous to train them not only in the ecclesiastical sciences, but also in priestly virtues, and this more by their own daily examples than by the lessons which they teach. A good Sulpician constitutes himself everywhere and always the companion and the model of the future priests, in their pious exercises, recreations, meals, and walks, briefly in all the details of their life.

That such a life is eminently fruitful is proved by the numerous prelates, distinguished priests, founders of religious orders, missionaries and religious from Sulpician seminaries, but it will be readily understood that it furnishes few facts of history. For the Church of France Saint-Sulpice has been a great school of ecclesiastical dignity, love of study, regularity, and virtue. Pius X paid the society this tribute: "Congregatio Sulpicianorum fuit salus Galliae" (Audience of 10 Jan., 1905, to the pastors of Paris). The recent persecutions brought about in France by the separation of Church and State did not fail to attack it. A circular of Minister Combes (1904) declared Saint-Sulpice unfitted to teach in seminaries. At the same time the old seminary of Paris was taken away from it. Nevertheless the society was not dissolved. It subsists in its essential organs, and its members, in most instances in the seminaries of their native dioceses, continue work of devotion to the clergy and the Church.

At different dates the society extended branches to American soil, to Canada in 1657, to the United States in 1791. (See SULPICIANS IN THE UNITED STATES.)

M. Olier had desired to go to Canada to work for the conversion of the savages; this he was unable to do, but in union with several pious persons, among them Jérôme Le Royer de la Dauversière, he founded the Society of Notre-Dame de Montréal. The undertaking was inspired by the desire to found a city in honor of the Blessed Virgin (Villemarie in the Island of Montreal) which should serve as headquarters for the Indian missions and as a stronghold against the Iroquois. The manner in which Maisonneuve accomplished this foundation is well known. In 1657 the dying Olier sent four of his disciples to the mission of Villemarie, where the colonists were asking for them. They were led by M. De Queylus and thenceforth the Sulpicians shared the vicissitudes of the Montreal colony. Two of them, Vignal and Lemaitre, were slain by the Iroquois (1660). In 1663 the associates of Notre-Dame, reduced to eight by death and weary of a colony which yielded only expenses, ceded their rights and duties to the Society of Saint-Sulpice, which was thenceforth owner and lord of the Island of Montreal. It paid 130,000 livres in debts and pledged itself never to alienate the property of the island. M. de Bretonvilliers gave no less than 400,000 livres of his personal fortune for the maintenance of the colony and M. Faillon has calculated that from 1657 to 1710 the seminary of Paris transmitted to that of Montreal not less than 900,000 livres or one million dollars. Personal devotion was added to these expenses. Eleven Sulpicians were laboring at Montreal in 1668, teaching boys, exercising the sacred ministry, or doing missionary work among the savages. MM. Trouvé and de Fénelon founded the mission of Kenté on Lake Ontario. Dollier de Casson and Brehan de Gallinée explored the region of the Great Lakes (1669), of which they made a map. In 1676 was opened the mission of the Mountain on the site of the present seminary, where M. Belmont built a fort (1685). The brandy traffic necessitated the removal of this fixed mission and in 1720 it was transferred to Lac-des-Deux-Montagnes, where it is at present. At the end of the seventeenth century the Sulpicians had created and organized in the vicinity of Montreal six parishes which they zealously administered, besides supplying them with churches, presbyteries, and schools.

During the eighteenth century the history of the society in Canada continued closely linked with that of Montreal, in all of whose works it assisted by its resources and devotion. The number of priests increased to meet the needs of the time, and at the conquest (1760) they numbered thirty. They were headed by worthy men: Vachon de Belmont (1700-31), who succeeded Dollier de Casson; Louis Normant du Faradon (1731-59), who assisted Ven. Mère d'Youville in the foundation of the Grey Nuns; Etienne Montgolfier, who had the difficult task of governing his community during the period of conquest. To the Sulpicians who remained after the Treaty of Paris (1763) the seminary of Saint-Sulpice ceded its possessions in Canada on condition that they would carry on the work of M. Olier. Being unable to recruit their numbers the Sulpicians of Montreal would have become extinct had not the English Government humanely opened Canada to the priests persecuted by the French Revolution. Twelve Sulpicians reached Montreal in 1794. After lengthy disputes the possessions of the society coveted by the English agents were recognized by the British Crown (1840) and the Sulpicians were free to continue undisturbed their work for the Church and society. Besides the Collège de Montréal, founded in 1767, and which performed important services after the conquest, they founded a higher seminary (1840) for the education of the clergy. In this house several thousand priests have been trained for the priesthood. They have since founded (1894) for the benefit of the clergy a seminary of philosophy at Montreal, opened the Canadian College at Rome for higher ecclesiastical study, and quite recently (1911) have organized the School of St. John the Evangelist for the recruiting of clergy in the Archdiocese of Montreal. Since 1866 the society has gradually abandoned the administration of its parishes in Montreal, at present retaining only those of Notre-Dame and Saint-Jacques in the city and that of Oka in the diocese. That it does not, nevertheless, stand aloof from any of the great undertakings in the city which it founded is manifested by the Laval University and the public library.

Separated from Saint-Sulpice as regards material possessions, the Montreal community maintains its spiritual alliance with Paris. The superior-general or his representative makes periodically the canonical visitation of the Canadian houses. They are governed by a superior elected every five years, who is assisted by a council of twelve, four of whom, called assistants, are his habitual advisers.

As will be readily perceived the principal Sulpician work in both France and America is that of seminaries. The Sulpician is either the model of the pastor in the ministry or the trainer of the priest within the seminaries. His manner of life has been described above; his instruction and method will here be treated briefly. The sole directing principle of the studies at Saint-Sulpice is the most filial docility of judgment and will towards the pope, not only when he defines, but when he expresses a preference or gives directions and counsels. Mindful of their responsibility for priestly souls the Sulpicians teach their pupils, not the novelty which may send them astray, nor their personal opinions which have no guarantee of certitude, but the truth stamped with the seal of the Church and issuing thence warranted and authentic. In Holy Scripture they treat the books they explain as Divine books, avoiding the exaggerations of critical research and abiding by the interpretation of the text. In dogmatic theology they set forth the truth, at the same time warning their pupils against Rationalistic and Modernistic theories and minimizing insinuations. In apologetics they follow the historical method; in philosophy they recognize no master save St. Thomas.

Although the kind of instruction given at Saint-Sulpice tends to produce men whose knowledge is more solid than brilliant, more deep than extensive, there has been no lack of remarkable professors in any branch of ecclesiastical learning. Out of the seven hundred and thirty members which the society had numbered down to 1790 no less than one hundred and fifteen had secured their doctor's degree at the Sorbonne. Doctrine is surely more valuable than learning, and no book written by a Sulpician has ever been placed on the Index. Among the theologians were Delafosse (1701-45) and de Montaigne (1687-1767), who wrote remarkable dogmatic treatises published in the theology of Honoré Tournély; Legrand (1711-87), as famous for his dogmatic writings as for his refutation of the philosophical errors of his time, Rey and Rony, authors of valuable treatises published at Lyons; Peala (1787-1853), the continuator of the ecclesiastical conferences of Le Puy; Vieusse (1784-1857), author of the "Compendiosae institutiones theologicae" of Toulouse; Carrière (1795-1864), author of authoritative treatises on marriage, contracts, justice, etc.; Vincent (1813-69), author of the so-called "Clermont Theology". De Lantages (1616-94) and De la Chétardye (1634-1714) wrote justly-esteemed catechisms and conversations or ecclesiastical instructions. Among the Sulpicians whose works were addressed to the general faithful were Blanlo (1617-57), author of "Enfance chrétienne"; Guisain (1627-82), author of the "Sages entretiens" of a soul desirous of salvation; Lasausse (1740 1826), author of many works of piety; Hamon (1795-1874), whose "Meditations" are much used; Riche (1824-92), author of works intended to assist piety. Among those who had chiefly in view the perfection of the clergy were, after Olier himself, M. Tronson (1622-1700), whose "Examens particuliers" is a masterpiece of spiritual psychology and whose "Forma cleri", treatise on obedience, and other works are useful to the clergy; Fyot de Vaugimois (1689-1758), who wrote "Conversations with Jesus Christ before and after Mass" (1721), very popular at that time, and a host of other works for the sanctification of priests; Boyer (1768-1842), the author of ecclesiastical retreats; Vernet (1760-1843), who wrote many works to enliven the piety of religious and priests, such as the "Nepotien"; Hamon (1795-1870), the biographer of Cardinal Cheverus and St. Francis de Sales; Galais (1802-54), "Le bon séminariste" (1839); Renaudet (1794-1880), wrote various works on asceticism, also meditations; Gamon (1813-86), author of the lives of holy priests; Bacuez (1820-92), "Manuel du séminariste en vacances".

Among the scholars and learned men in various branches were: Laurent-Josse Le Clerc (1677-1736), historian, theologian, controversialist, and author of the "Bibliothèque de Richelet" (1727), of a "Lettre critique sur le Dictionnaire de Bayle" (1731), and of various and learned writings; Grandet (1646-1724), who wrote Les saints prêtres français du XVIIe siècle", and numerous historical or devotional works; Emery (q.v.); Gosselin (1787-1858), who published the life and works of Fénelon, and wrote numerous historical works; Le Hir (1811-68), one of the most learned Hebrew scholars of the nineteenth century; Pinault (1793-1870), who composed remarkable physical and mathematical treatises; Faillon (1800-70), author of the lives of de Lantages and Olier, of "Monuments inédits sur l'apostolat de Marie-Madeleine en Provence", and of numerous historical works on Canada and Montreal; Moyen (1828-99), who compiled a "Flora of Canada" and various scientific works; Grandvaux (1819-85), who published Le Hir's works after his death, and was very learned in all branches of ecclesiastical knowledge; Richou (1823-87), noted for his works on church history and Scripture; Brugère (1823-88), a theologian and historian of wide knowledge; Icard (1805-93), known for his writings on catechisms, canon law, and various spiritual subjects. To these names must be added those of Caron (1779-1850), a liturgist, who published the "Manuel de cérémonies selon le rit de Paris" (1846); Parisis (1724-81); and Manier (1807-71), who issued philosophical courses.


GOSSELIN, Vie de M. Emery (Paris, 1861), Introduction, 1-102; ICARD, Traditions de la compagnie des pretres de Saint-Sulpice (Paris, 1886); BERTRAND, Bibliothèque sulpicienne ou Histoire litteraire de la comp. de Saint-Sulpice (Paris, 1900); Bulletin trimestriel des anciens eleves de Saint-Sulpice (1896-1911); Memorial volume of the centenary of St. Mary's Seminary of St Sulpice (Baltimore, 1891); Golden Jubilee of St. Charles' College (Baltimore, 1898); SHEA, History of the Catholic Church in the United States (New York, 1886-92).

About this page

APA citation. Fournet, P.A. (1912). Society of Saint-Sulpice. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.

MLA citation. Fournet, Pierre Auguste. "Society of Saint-Sulpice." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 13. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1912. <>.

Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by Joseph E. O'Connor.

Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. February 1, 1912. Remy Lafort, D.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York.

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