The Congregation of the Holy Spirit (Spiritans) is a Religious-Missionary Congregation in the Catholic Church made up of men (lay and priests) who have taken the vows of celibacy, obedience, and poverty. The members take the vow of celibacy as a free response to the invitation of Jesus in Matthew 19:12 for some people to opt for the celibate life for the sake of the kingdom of Heaven, and as a fore taste of the life here after where people do not marry (Matt. 22:30). The vow of obedience makes a member open to the mission of Christ as entrusted to the Congregation through the Church. The vow of poverty encourages members to pull their talents and resources together for the good of the mission of Christ. This is reminiscent of the nascent Christian community in Jerusalem (Acts 4:32-37) where Christians pulled their resources together and gave to each member according to need. The Spiritans are inspired by this communal attitude of the early Christians and have chosen a life in community as a constitutive part of being a Spiritan. The pivot of this community life is One Heart and One Soul (Acts 4:32).
The Congregation of the Holy Spirit was founded in France by a French seminarian called Claude Poullart des Places. Claude was from an aristocrat family, his father wanted him to become a lawyer, but he opted for the priesthood. While in the seminary, he was accosted by the abject poverty of some of the seminarians that he hired a hostel to accommodate them. He undertook fundraising to take care of these seminarians in the hostel. It was these seminarians that he dedicated to the Holy Spirit on Pentecost Sunday 1703; and this marked the beginning of the Congregation of the Holy Spirit. Claude des Place was ordained a priest in 1703, and he died less than three years later during the France harsh winter of 1709 that caused the dead of about 32,800 people. However, the new group he has founded helped by the Spirit flourished and grew from strength to strength.
Another major tragedy to befall the Congregation of the Holy Spirit was the French revolution. The number of the members plummeted due to the assassination of some of the members by the revolutionary elements in France. The question was would the Congregation float or sink due to the losses it incurred due to the French revolution. The events that kept the Congregation afloat when it was at the cross-road remained a clear testimony that the mission entrusted to the Congregation was not yet exhausted. A Jewish convert to Catholicism by the name of Francis Libermann, became a priest as he struggled with epilepsy, and founded the Congregation of the Holy Heart of Mary to work in Africa. Fr. Libermann was a great spiritualist and administrator. However, his Congregation lacked the material resources to carry out their mission in Africa. The congregation of the Holy Spirit which mission was focused on evangelization of the poor peoples of the world had material resources but depleted membership due to the negative effects of the French revolution.
In 1848, the two congregations merged together in order to maximize human and natural resources. Congregation of the Holy Spirit was retained as the name of the Group, and Fr. Francis Libermann became the 11th leader of the Congregation. His leadership brought life and focus to the Congregation again.
The three fundamental options of the Spiritans in missionary work are (1) Preaching the Gospel through catechesis and formal education to those who have not heard it or have scarcely heard it. (2) Working with those who are oppressed or most disadvantaged like refugees and victims of structural oppressions in order to give them a voice. (3) Availing ourselves to work in places where the church finds it difficult to find workers.
The Congregation of the Holy Spirit is made up of about 3,000 members from all over the globe. At present the members work in sixty three countries which include Australia, Papua New Guinea, Taiwan, Philippines, Pakistan, Madagascar, Mauritius, Algeria, Nigeria, Senegal, Ethiopia, Belgium, Germany, Ireland, France, Barbados, Bolivia, Brazil, Haiti, Trinidad, Canada, United States of America, and Mexico.
The members of the Congregation of the Holy Spirit are happy to welcome new members. If you are male and single, and you are looking forward to dedicating your life as a lay religious or priest, contact the vocation director at 0393092575.
Fr. Chinua Okeke CSSp.