The Society of the Propagation of the Faith was founded in Lyon in 1819 by Pauline Jaricot (1799-1862), a lay woman who dedicated her life to works of charity. Before the Revolution, the missions had been supported by the generosity of kings and rulers and by the Church. After the financial support of the colonial powers disappeared and the Church had been stripped of its goods by secularization, the Society of the Propagation of the Faith became the organization through which, for the first time, the ordinary faithful could make their contribution to supporting the missions.
Bishop de Mazenod does not mention Pauline Jaricot in his writings, but, from 1823 on, as vicar general, he urged his uncle Fortuné to establish the Society in Marseilles. The Society collected 1,000 francs the first year. The amount rose from year to year to reach 79,021 francs in 1861. The Society was well organized in the parishes with an active program of recruitment for members and the missionary education of the faithful. The Founder wrote about this in his circular letters to his clergy and in his pastoral letters. He enjoyed presiding over the meetings of the members. From 1838 on, the feast of the Epiphany was chosen to be the solemn feast for the missions with exposition of the Blessed Sacrament, adoration and prayers for the conversion of pagans.
Bishop de Mazenod was often in correspondence with the centres in Lyon and in Paris from 1841 on. We have found 106 letters addressed to these centres. Although they generally bear the stamp of business affairs, they are redolent of a love of the missions and also betray the disciplined spirit of a missionary religious dedicated to the poor, the respect for the pennies of the poor, the concern to maintain poverty among the missionaries. In 1852, the council of Lyon decided to send to the Bishop of Marseilles the entire sum ear-marked for the Oblate missions, relinquishing to him the task of distributing it to the various missions.
The Congregation received 12,500 francs for its missions in 1843. This amount grew each year to reach 190,000 francs in 1859. We can understand why the Founder judged this society’s work essential and that he called it “the Work of Works” (August 6, 1851), “the living Providence of the foreign missions” (November 17, 1851), “the great Work... to which no other could be compared” (April 14, 1856).
In order to show the Society how much he appreciated it, Bishop de Mazenod very soon made available to it the collaboration of his missionaries in the Annales, complaining sometimes that those letters had not been published and that the readers were only kept informed of what was going on in the Far East. He saw to it that the General Chapter of 1846 should pass a motion inviting the priests who were preaching missions in France to make the work of the society of Lyon known and often got missionaries on home leave to rest do this work, even going so far as to prolong their stay to achieve this.
What Bishop de Mazenod was for the Society of the Propagation of the Faith, he was as well for the Holy Childhood. The Holy Childhood, founded by his friend, Bishop Charles de Forbin-Janson, initially appeared to him as being prejudicial to the Society for the Propagation of the Faith. For twelve years he hesitated, but as soon as the Society of the Propagation of the Faith, which was also guarded about it, had finally accepted the principle of the usefulness of this new form of help to the missions, he made up his mind. From 1857 on, Marseilles was giving a large sum of money and the first Oblate beneficiaries were Jaffna and Saint Boniface who received contributions for their schools.
Yvon Beaudoin, o.m.i.
Sources and Bibliography
KOWALSKY, Nicolas, o.m.i., “Mgr de Mazenod et l’Œuvre de la Propagation de la Foi” in Études oblates, 11 (1952), p. 239-260.
PERBAL, Albert, o.m.i., “Eugène de Mazenod reste marqué par sa vocation missionnaire” in Études oblates, 19 (1960), p. 23-73; p. 33-36; The Founder and the Missionary Works.
MAZENOD, Eugene de, Letters to the S. Congregation of Propaganda Fide and to the Society of the Propagation of the Faith, 1832-1861, Oblate Writings I, vol. 5, p. 326.