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A Brief History

A Brief History The Society of the Priests of Saint Sulpice in Canada


Jean-Jacques Olier

In March 2013, the Canadian Province of Saint Sulpice counts 92 members: 51 Canadians, 31 Colombians, 7 Japanese, 1 Ecuadorian, 1 Argentine and 1 Chilean. The Province also has 2 Colombian candidates. In addition, there are currently 4 Colombian aspirants under the responsibility of the Province and 19 aspirants (1 Argentines, 1 Canadian, 5 Brazilians and 12 Colombians).

The origin of the Society is closely linked to the great movement of Christian evangelization and renewal that has developed in France in the seventeenth century, and more immediately to the pastoral and missionary activity of Father Jean-Jacques Olier.

A disciple of Father Vincent de Paul and of Father Charles de Condren, Jean-Jacques Olier (1608-1657) took part in "missions" organized by them in France. He notes that this apostolic effort would not have a future without a reform of the clergy. On the advice of Father de Condren, he does not accept a bishopric offered to him because he feels called to "bear contemplation in the priesthood." Indeed, he will accomplish two important works: "One is the renewal of the Church in its districts, the other establishing a new church in Canada, where a Christian city will build, which is a work of a wonderful importance” (Dominique Deslandres, John A. Dickinson and Ollivier Hubert, Les Sulpiciens de Montréal. Une histoire de pouvoir et de discrétion 1657-2007, Montréal, Éditions Fides, 2007, p. 30; our translation).

In December 1641, with two other priests, he founds in Vaugirard, then a village near Paris, a formation house that receives young people preparing to become priests. Appointed a few months later pastor of the Parish of Saint Sulpice, he moves this small community to Paris, near the rectory. Other priests join him for the service of the seminary and the parish. Since then the members of the formation team are called the Messieurs de Saint Sulpice or Sulpicians. Thus was born the "Society of the Priests of Saint Sulpice”.

In the mind of Jean-Jacques Olier, this Small Society was to be limited to a small group of priests bound not by vows, but by priestly charity and by a gift of themselves in the service of formation of priests. They were to be nourished by a spiritual life characterized simultaneously by an apostolic spirit, a sense of adoration and an interior life, as well as by a strong missionary zeal (cf. Constitutions, Art. 1-5). The seminary is primarily a community of fraternal life among the candidates for ministry and the educators; the latter are above all spiritual masters exercising the ministry of spiritual direction.

The Old Saint Sulpice Seminary adjacent to the Notre Dame Basilica of Montreal. A residence of the Sulpicians since 1685.

Father Jean-Jacques Olier, preacher of popular missions, is very interested in the colony of New France. In 1639, he is one of the founders of the Notre-Dame-de-Montréal whose goal is to establish a colony in Ville-Marie (Montreal) in 1642 and to evangelize the Native People. Shortly before his death in 1657, Father Olier sends to Montreal four Sulpicians who take the succession of the Jesuit priests and provide ministry in the growing town. Father Gabriel Thubières de Levy de Queylus is the superior of this small team in charge of the Notre-Dame Parish to which 11 more rural parishes of the Island of Montreal will be added. The cult of the Virgin Mary, which occupies a central place in the Society leads the Sulpicians to take care of two chapels dedicated to Mary:
Beginning in 1668, several Sulpicians go off to evangelize the Native People: the Iroquois in the Bay of Quinte, north of Lake Ontario, the Mi'kmaq in Acadia, the Iroquois on the present site of Ogdensburg in the State of New York and, finally, the Algonquins in Abitibi and Témiscamingue.

Missionaries, explorers, priests and lords, the Sulpicians worked for the indigenous people, the population of Montreal and the nuns. Educators and humanitarians, they established schools, from primary to university levels, hospitals, institutions for the poor, libraries to encourage reading. Mindful of artistic beauty, they have supported artists who have marked the domains of painting, sculpture, architecture and music. Thus, they have contributed to the development of religious, social, economic and cultural life of Montreal. More than 70 names of avenues, streets, parks and squares in the city highlight the contribution of Sulpicians.

It was not until 1840 that at the request of His Excellency Ignace Bourget, Bishop of Montreal, the Sulpicians founded the Major Seminary of Montreal. To date over 6,000 priests have been formed in this House.

In 1888 opens in Rome the Pontifical Canadian College which hosts the Canadian priests and some priests candidates to Saint Sulpice who are studying in various universities in Rome.

To meet the educational needs of the city, Saint Sulpice founds in Montreal two classical colleges that, even today, continue their activities under the responsibility of private corporations distinct from the Society. As early as 1767, Father Jean Baptiste Curatteau of Blaiserie, PSS, accomplishes a pioneer work and opens the College of Montreal in his rectory of Long Point. This establishment moves in 1862 to a building nearby the Major Seminary and becomes, in 1968, an educational institution of secondary education.

In 1927, the Society of the Priests of Saint Sulpice establishes a non-resident classical college, the André Grasset College in the north of Montreal. This college adopted in 1970 the new formula of the CEGEP (Collège d’enseignement général et professionnel), offering a curriculum preparing for university, as well as some technical programs.

The missionary radiance of the Canadian Sulpicians to Japan in 1933 and then to Latin America in 1949, has been a great challenge for the Province. Pius XI, the great Pope of the Missions, knew very well Father Jean Verdier, Superior General of the Society of the Priests of Saint Sulpice (1929-1940), who later became cardinal archbishop of Paris, and he asked for his help. He thus continued the initiative of his predecessor, Benedict XV, to firmly establish indigenous churches in every country in the world, especially in Asia. He himself had appointed and ordained the first Japanese and Chinese bishops. At his request, he sensibilized all spiritual families to be interested in missionary work. Thus bishop Jean de Guébriant, Superior General of the Foreign Missions of Paris, former student of Saint Sulpice and missionary in China, strongly suggested to Pope Pius XI to accept help from Saint Sulpice for the formation of clergy in Asia.

In 1932, his excellence Albert Breton, bishop of Fukuoka, invites Saint Sulpice of Canada to establish in southern Japan a seminary for the formation of clergy for this region of Japan. Already before this, cardinal Verdier had assured the departure of the first two French Sulpicians for the founding of the Major Seminary of Hanoi, in Tonkin. During a visit to Canada in the summer of 1932, he urged the Provincial of the time, Father Roméo Neveu, to found a Seminary in the Country of the Rising Sun. He himself, during the following year 1933, will oversee the foundation of the  Major Seminary of Yunnan-fu in China.

In Canada and abroad, we witness the resumption of the missionary movement under the leadership of the already mentioned Pope Pius XI and the superior general, the future cardinal Jean Verdier. The Society undertakes the direction of several seminaries devoted to the formation of priests:

  • Canadian West
    • Saint Boniface in Manitoba - 1954-1968
  • Congo
    • Kinshasa - 1968-1972
  • Central America
    • Guatemala (Guatemala) - 1965-1970
    • Panamá (Panamá) - 1977-1988
    • Chitré (Panamá) - 2004-2007
  • Colombia
    • Manizales - 1949-2004
    • Bogotá - 1960-1980
    • Girardot - 2005
  • Argentine
    • Rosario - 1969-1973
  • Venezuela
    • Cumaná - 1971-1975
  • Honduras
    • Teguacigalpa - 1973-1975
  • Brazil
    • Londrina - 1994-2002

Other institutions where the Sulpician ministry of formation continues: In addition, the Sulpicians of the Province of Canada collaborate since 1980 with the Instituto de Teologia Pastoral para América Latina (ITEPAL), especially by providing leadership during the period of 1981-1988. Many Sulpicians are collaborating there since 1989 as invited professors for various courses and sessions.

In 1972, the Provincial Delegation of the Priests of Saint Sulpice in Colombia for the Region of Latin America is established. It has its headquarters in Bogota, the capital of Colombia.

The year 2007 marked the 350th anniversary of the arrival of the first Sulpicians in Montreal. The General Council, the provincial superiors, the Sulpicians of the Montreal area, the religious communities linked with the Canadian Province of the Priests of Saint Sulpice, the Catholic Bishops Conference of Canada, the local church, the public authorities and the Montreal population have participated in the celebration of this anniversary. Several Eucharistic celebrations, conferences, exhibitions, radio broadcasts, concerts and other events of commemoration have been organized. An important book, Les Sulpiciens de Montréal. Une histoire de pouvoir et de discrétion 1657-2007, was published in order to present in a scientific manner the presence and activity of the Society of the Priests of Saint Sulpice in Canada.

In 2008, (reported to February 2009), the Canadian Province celebrated the 75th anniversary of the arrival of Canadian missionaries in Japan and the 60th anniversary of the founding of the Saint Sulpice Seminary of Fukuoka. This year also marked the 400th birthday anniversary of Father Jean-Jacques Olier.

In 2009, the Society commemorates the 60th anniversary of the arrival of the first Canadian Sulpician missionaries in Colombia.

ed @ Peter Krasuski Source

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