Spiritans - Priests, Brothers and Lay Associates owe their origin
to a young French nobleman, Claude Poullart des Places, who gave
up the practice of law to study for the priesthood. His
apostolate began among the chimney sweeps of Paris, and his small
seminary, founded in 1703 and dedicated to the Holy Ghost, marked
the beginning of the Congregation of the Holy Ghost. Before long,
the Spiritans, as they came to be called, were actively engaged
in apostolic work throughout Europe, India, Africa, North and
Diminished by the
French Revolution, the Congregation was renewed in 1848 when Fr.
Francis Libermann , the son of a Jewish rabbi, joined his new
Congregation of the Holy Heart of Mary to the Holy Ghost Fathers,
bringing with him a number of priests and seminarians dedicated
to the poor and underprivileged. It is the writings and the
example of Fr. Francis Libermann that set the tone for today's
Spiritans as they follow an apostolate dedicated to, and guided
by, the Holy Spirit.
Claude Poullart des Places
Poullart des Places, our first founder grew up as the eldest son
of a wealthy lawyer in Rennes, Brittany. Having finished high
school at fifteen, he then graduated top of his class at college.
He would surely fulfill his father's ambition and become a
Claude was ambitious
-- but for something else. During a retreat he knew he wanted to
become a priest and use his public speaking skills to convert
thousands to Christ. Although this decision deeply upset his
father, he knew he could not keep his son at home. Claude left
for Paris to study theology at the Jesuit seminary.
labour was a common sight in Paris in pre-French Revolution days.
Illiterate, homeless chimney sweeps from rural France hired
themselves out for a few cents a day. Claude became aware of how
exploited they were. His heart went out to them and he fed,
housed and gave them some basic religious education.
he saw how many of the other seminarians were living a
hand-to-mouth existence. He gave them his meals and lived on the
leftovers of the Jesuits for his own food. But his social
conscience told him handouts were not enough, so on Pentecost
Sunday, 1703, he opened a hostel for four or five of these poor
students. Unknown to Claude, the future Holy Ghost Congregation
had been born.
The priests he trained
began to work among the poor in the French countryside and in
parishes no other priest would choose, living like those they
ministered to. Claude was 24 years old when he opened the Holy
Spirit community house. In 1707 he became a priest. Two years
later he got pleurisy and died. The talented firstborn son of
wealthy parents was buried in an unmarked pauper's grave in
Paris. Spiritans celebrate the life and death of des Places every
here for the spirituality of Fr. des Places
Libermann, the son of a Jewish rabbi, was born in Saverne in
Alsace (France) in 1802. He was converted and was baptized a
Catholic in 1826. He then entered the seminary of Saint-Sulpice
in Paris. When he suffered his first epileptic seizure a year
later, it was the beginning of twelve years of obscurity. In
retrospect, these years would better be described as "the
making of an apostle" for they were prologue to a creative
outburst that took everyone by surprise. Founder of a missionary
congregation, Superior General, renowned spiritual director,
confidant of government officials Libermann had discovered his
missionary vocation to the most abandoned. He was to revitalize
the African missions.
He died in
1852 but he is still a source of strength and encouragement for
Spiritans and for many others. For Libermann, the great enemy in
the Christian life is discouragement. When he suffered his first
serious epileptic seizure, he refused to be downcast. His hopes
of ordination to the priesthood were dashed. Because of his
illness no planning for the future was possible, everything was
tentative. Constantly vulnerable, he accepted his nervous
fragility and came to terms with uncertainty. In accomplishing
this there were some dark moments and once he was tempted to
suicide as he crossed a bridge in Paris. He tells us that he
overcame the temptation by turning his attention to Christ, the
living witness to the Father's love. Francis' conviction of
Christ's living and compassionate presence gave birth to a deep
inner peace, that remained unshakable throughout his troubled
life. It was not some sort of acquired calm but God's gift: "the
peace of God that surpasses all understanding".
When we turn
to Libermann from the midst of the tensions and pressures of the
modern world, we should first of all learn from his painful
struggle for self-acceptance. Out of suffering came peace. Our
suffering may be a physical illness or a nervous disorder. It may
be the painful effort to accept the consequences of some
undeserved misfortune. We turn to Libermann because he has
travelled this road and for him it became the road to peace. Only
by the grateful acceptance of ourselves and of our present
situation can we follow in his footsteps. As we fight against
discouragement and feelings of revolt, Christ holds out his hand
to us. And when we take his hand in ours, he gives us his peace,
peace that no one can take from us.
Apostle of Mauritius
he died in Mauritius in 1864, there were 40,000 people at his
funeral. In the crowds who continually throng to pray at his
tomb, Catholics brush shoulders with Moslems, Hindus and
Buddhists. In 1977, the government of Mauritius made 9th
September, the anniversary of his death, a national holiday.
April 24th, 1979 is the date of the ceremony of his beatification
in Rome. Jacques Laval is the first Holy Ghost Father to be so
Jacques was born in Normandy
(France) in 1803. His father was a prosperous farmer. His mother
died when he was 7, but not before she had given him striking
example of generosity to the poor. In his later missionary work
in Mauritius, Jacques was guided by the formula: "Succeed in
having good parents and you will have good children." From
his own parents, he inherited a vigorous Christianity that was
direct and daring. As a boy, he said he would like to be a priest
or a doctor. In Paris in 1830, he qualified as a doctor.
he returned to Normandy to set up medical practise, there was a
noticeable change in his behaviour. Handsome, successful, a
skilled horseman, he was much in demand at fashionable
gatherings. He became immersed in the social scene and abandoned
the practise of his religion. A series of events culminating in a
brush with death when he fell from his horse led him to
completely re-examine his life. A few months later, he entered
the seminary and within four years he was ordained a priest.
After two years as a parish priest in Normandy, he handed over
all his possessions to Francis Libermann, leader of the
missionary Society of the Holy Heart of Mary (which fused with
the Congregation of the Holy Ghost in 1848) and left for
In Mauritius, the slaves
had recently been liberated. Among them Jacques was to spend the
last 23 years of his life without ever seeing his native France
again. He immediately set up a Mission for the Blacks. His heart
went out to these people, now free but still treated as inferior.
To get to know them, he learned their language. To be like them,
he fasted every day and slept on a bed made from a wooden packing
case. He refused to accept the common opinion that regarded them
with contempt. He tried to awaken them to their personal worth by
telling them of God's great love for each of them. He made
considerable demands on them. He tested them and then he trusted
them. He gave them responsibility for the animation and
instruction of small groups. What started in the city of Port
Louis spread across the island. A new enthusiasm for the Church
As a doctor, Jacques was
known as a friend of the poor. At the seminary, he became a man
of prayer. Now he had become one of the poor. In long hours of
prayer, God came close to him. He guided and strengthened him, He
gave him the courage to continue to trust the people and so
become the "Apostle of Mauritius".
here for more on Fr. Laval).
Brottier was born on 7 September 1876 in Ferte-Saint-Cyr in the
diocese of Blois, northern France. Quite early on he showed an
interest in religious things.
surprisingly, he entered the seminary and was ordained a priest
on 22 October 1899. However, not content with working for the
Catholics of France, he decided to give his life to bringing the
gospel to unbelievers. With this in mind he entered the
congregation of the Holy Ghost Fathers. He was sent as a
missionary to Senegal, W. Africa where he worked with great drive
and commitment in the parish of St. Louis. (For
an African perspective on Brottier, click here.)
recalled to France in 1911 and became involved in raising funds
for the cathedral of Dakar, capital city of Senegal. The First
World War intervened. He was enlisted in the French forces and
worked in the Red Cross with the function of chaplain. He took
part in this capacity in the battles of Lorraine, the Somme,
Verdun and Flanders. One of the fortunate few to survive the war,
he founded the National Union of Ex-Servicemen shortly after
leaving the French forces.
In 1923, he
was named by Cardinal Dubois as director of an institute which
provides accommodation and education for orphans, known in French
as L'Oeuvre d'Auteuil. Daniel Brottier had an enormous faith in
the intercession of St. Therese of the Child Jesus, the Little
Flower. Trusting in her intercession he succeeded in expanding
the work of Auteuil many times over in the course of 12
He died exhausted by his
efforts on 28 February 1936 leaving behind the reputation of a
man of God and a great Christian. Fr. Brottier's body was exhumed
in 1962 with a view to his beatification. It was found perfectly
preserved, 26 years after his death.
Brottier was declared "Blessed" by our Holy Father in
Rome on November 25th, 1984.
GOD, you filled the heart of your servant Daniel with a great
spirit of charity. You drove him forward into doing great things,
to relieve the unhappiness of many of your children. He worked,
we know, for your glory as well as the well being of those he
served. Grant us now, we ask you the gift of living that same
life of generosity and caring charity to help our fellow brothers
and sisters in distress. And we pray you to honour your servant,
Daniel, here on earth by granting us the graces which we so much
need. (Here name your intention). Amen.
was given a second burial. The solemn but joyous ceremony was
performed for every qualified elder (men) of the Igbos, to ensure
that their names are entered into the canon of ancestors and
ancestresses. Bishop Shanahan (1871 - 1943) of Southern Nigeria
was the only non-Igbo to be afforded this honour. His bones were
disinterred and in 1955 were laid to rest in Onitsha cathedral in
the heart of the land of the Igbos. Who was this man so beloved
Joseph Shanahan was born, the third of ten
children of a poor farm labourer in Co. Tipperary, Ireland. His
uncle, Pat Walsh, who lived with the Shanahans, left the home in
Gortnalaura in 1875 to join the congregation of the Holy Ghost,
now called the Spiritans. It was an old French religious order
recently given a new lease of life by the dynamic Francis
Libermann, a convert from Judaism whose special ambition was to
bring the good news of Christ to the peoples of Equatorial
In 1886 young Joe followed his uncle to France where
he joined the Spiritans and began his studies for the priesthood.
He was ordained a priest in 1900. In October 1902 his life's
dream was fulfilled. He was on a boat bound for Nigeria. Thirty
five days later he arrived in Onitsha, a name that would be
forever linked with his own.
Shanahan joined a group of French
Spiritans who had arrived in Eastern Nigeria seventeen years
From the very beginning Shanahan made a big
impact. He was big, strong, handsome. He was friendly, kind,
energetic. The Igbo people couldn't but admire and love him. And
he served them with every ounce of his being until he returned in
1932. He had served for thirty years, twenty five as leader of
the mission. Few Europeans could survive more than a decade in
Nigeria where conditions were often harsh at that time.
life is one of the great success stories of missionary history.
He was a truly charismatic figure, a man of exceptional courage
and vision. He travelled the country on foot, by bicycle, by
canoe. He walked boldly in areas where no white man had set toot
before. He saw the importance of education and built up a huge
network of schools.
He recruited missionary priests, brothers,
sisters and lay persons for Southern Nigeria. He founded one
religious order and was the inspiration behind the setting up of
As is the case for all saints, he suffered
greatly. He was rejected by some of his own fellow missionaries
and forced into an unwanted and early retirement. He was rejected
by a missionary order of sisters he founded in Ireland. He spent
his final years in exile from his beloved Igbos, years of
frustration false accusations and loneliness.
Today he is seen
as a luminary of the Church and of the Spiritans, a wonderful
model for all who are called to be missionaries. The Cause of his
Canonization was introduced in Rome in 1997. Another St. Joseph
may yet be added to the Church's litany of saints.