Anniversary of the Foundation of the Congregation in 1849
Proper Office, Spiritual Directory 151
The following is a series of texts from the Founder and Co-Founders about the founding of the Congregation, which may edify members of the Congregation.
Purpose of Founding the Congregation
“Given the great lack of evangelical and apostolic preachers in our Spanish territory, the strong desire that the people have to hear the Divine Word and many requests from throughout Spain to visit their towns and villages to preach the Gospel, I decided to gather and prepare a few zealous colleagues, in order to do together with them what I cannot do alone” (Fr. Founder to the Apostolic Nuncio, Vic 12 August 1849).
“Toward the middle of May I arrived in Barcelona and returned to Vic, where I discussed with Canons Soler and Passarell my plan to form a Congregation of priests who would both be and be called Sons of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Both of them approved of my plan and the rector of the seminary of Vic, told me that as soon as the seminarians went home for the summer vacation, we could meet in the seminary and live there until God found some other place for us” (Aut 488).
“I presented the same plan to the Bishop of Vic, Dr. Luciano Casadevall, who had always been very fond of me. He was enthusiastic about the plan and agreed to our living in the seminary during the summer vacation, while the Monastery of Our Lady of Mercy, which the government had left at his disposal, was being rehabilitated. While the bishop saw to the repair of the monastery, I talked with a number of priests, to whom the Lord had given the same spirit that motivated me. These were Fathers Stephen Sala, Joseph Xifré, Dominic Fábregas, Manuel Vilaró and Jaime Clotet. I, Anthony Claret, was last of all. And indeed, they were all the better educated and more virtuous than I, so that I felt happy and content to consider myself their servant” (Aut 489).
“On July 16, 1849, after gathering with the bishop’s and rector’s approval at the seminary, we began the Spiritual Exercises and followed with all exactness and fervor. Because July 16 is the feast of the Holy Cross and Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, I based my first sermon on the words of the twenty-third psalm: Your rod and your staff give me courage (v. 4), alluding to the devotion and confidence we should place in the Holy Cross and the Blessed Virgin Mary and applying it also to the project we were about to undertake. We completed the Exercises full of fervor, bound and determined to persevere, and, thanks be to God and Mary Most Holy, all have persevered. Two have already gone to the glory of heaven, enjoying God and the reward of their apostolic labors and praying for their brethren” (Aut 490).
“This is how we began and how we continued, living together strictly in community. All of us continued to engage in sacred ministry. At the end of the Spiritual Exercises with our tiny, newborn community, I was asked to direct the Exercises with the clergy of Vic in the seminary chapel. On August 11, as I was coming down from the pulpit after the closing service, low and behold, I was called to the bishop’s palace, where I was handed a letter dated August 4, informing me of my royal appointment as Archbishop of Cuba. I could have died at the news. I said I would not accept under any circumstances and begged the bishop to be good enough to answer on my behalf, saying I would not accept under any circumstances” (Aut 491).
“My God, may you be blessed for condescending to choose your humble servants to be Sons of the Immaculate Heart of your Mother!” (Aut 492).
“Most Blessed Mother, may the courtesy of your Immaculate Heart, in accepting us as your Sons, be praised a thousand times! Mother, make us cooperate with such kindness by becoming daily more humble, fervent and zealous for the salvation of souls” (Aut 493).
“I tell myself: A Son of the Immaculate Heart of Mary is a man on fire with love, who spreads its flames wherever he goes. He desires mightily and strives by all means possible to set the whole world on fire with God’s love. Nothing daunts him; he delights in privations, welcomes work, embraces sacrifices, smiles at slander, and rejoices in suffering. His only concern is how he can best follow Jesus Christ and imitate Him in working, suffering, and striving constantly and single-mindedly for the greater glory of God and the salvation of souls” (Aut 494).
Letters from Our Founder
“The Missionaries are doing very well and couldn’t go any faster than they are now going. We are very busy from 4:00 in the morning until 10:00 at night. Indeed, we work together like links in a chain. We devote ourselves to mental and vocal prayer, divine office, conferences on catechesis, preaching, hearing confessions, moral, mystical and ascetical Theology. We deliver conferences both inside and outside the house. The seven of us living in the college strive to practice all the virtues, especially humility and charity, and we live a truly poor and apostolic life in community. Fifty-six clerics have attended conferences for externs, some of whom will turn out to be well-qualified preachers. Some of them have even asked to live with us, but we are going rather slowly in this regard, carefully weighing their physical and moral abilities, since we cannot be too cautious in such matters. One mangy sheep can infect the entire flock” (to Don Josep Caixal. Vic, September 5, 1849).
“Yes, our Congregation is tiny; but that is of no importance. It is better to be only a few, united and fervent, than many yet divided. With time we will increase” (to Don Josep Xifré. Madrid, May 7, 1858).
“Pray to the heavenly Father to send laborers, because, indeed, the laborers are few and the harvest in Spain and elsewhere is very large…Recall what our divine Teacher says to the Apostles and to us through them… seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all else will be given… Do not hesitate to accept anyone you might consider qualified because of his knowledge and virtue and who shows promise, even if he is young and not yet ordained. I also prefer there be no more than twelve priests, including young and old, in the same house – in honor of the twelve Apostles. We should imitate beekeepers, forming new hives until there is one in every diocese, while having some to send abroad” (to Don Josep Xifré. Madrid, November 30, 1858).
“The enemy has much to fear of these holy Constitutions, and that is why he opposed them. Let us guard them faithfully and God will bless us with everything good” (to Don Josep Xifré. San Ildefonso, July 13, 1859).
“Tell them [the missionaries] to read regularly the Rules or Constitutions of the Congregation and to observe them faithfully. History shows that all religions communities have grown in numbers not only in their country of origin but in different parts of the world as well. So, why shouldn’t we expand at least in Spain?” (to Don Jaime Clotet. Madrid July 1, 1861).
“I understand what you are saying about expanding our Congregation, and it makes sense to me to focus on the interior of Spain because the need there is greater…Meanwhile, tell my beloved brothers, the Missionaries, to take heart and do as much as they can because God and the Blessed Virgin will reward them. I have such affection for priests who dedicate themselves to the missions that I would give them my blood and my life, I would wash and kiss their feet a thousand times. I would make their beds, prepare their meals, and wait on them at table. I care about them so much that, when I consider how they work to make God known and loved for the salvation of souls in danger of being condemned, I do not know what I feel…as I write this, I have to put my pen down to dry my eyes… Oh, Sons of the Immaculate Heart of my beloved Mother!… I want to write but I cannot because my eyes are filled with tears. Preach and pray for me. Farewell, dear brother. I wish every one of our Missionaries would copy this letter and carry with him” (to Don Josep Xifré. Rome, August 20, 1861).
“It was twenty years ago today that Jesus and Mary founded the Congregation, and it survives, even though the Lord is allowing us to suffer persecution at this time, not in order to disband the Congregation but to increase its numbers and expand it. At the beginning of the revolution last year, I compared the Congregation to snow falling on a planted field. The snow does not kill the wheat, but causes it to sprout. It will be the same as a result of the revolution. The revolution will not kill the Congregation. It will strengthen it and allow it to expand. Its members will be stronger and more productive. How? Let us see… Every member will observe perfectly the Rules and Constitutions. Haec est voluntas Dei sanctificatio vestra.
Number 63 (c. 16) of the same and the words I will catechize children and the uneducated will provide our inspiration…
As Superior General, when circumstances permit and you believe it opportune, appoint one or two qualified members to establish a school for children like those the Brothers of the Christian Schools have established throughout France, Italy and other countries. I believe they are doing exceptionally good work on behalf of the Church and will meet with even greater success in the future.
In Spain, God and the Blessed Virgin have reserved this same mission to the Congregation…I am not saying that all should teach in these schools, only that a start be made with a few, even very few, and that you select the more dedicated or those who volunteer.
These schools will grow to the extent that they respond to God’s grace. God and the Blessed Virgin will bless those involved with success to the extent that, without losing sight of their primary objective, they devote themselves to this undertaking. Haec oportet facere, et illa nom ommittere” (to Don Josep Xifré. Rome, July 16, 1869).
“What I am saying is that America is a vast and extremely fertile field and that over time more souls for heaven will come from America than from Europe. This part of the world is like an old vine providing little fruit, while America is a young vineyard” (to Don Josep Xifré. Rome, November 16, 1869).
“Six good priests in a small seminary room with only a rickety table, a painting on the wall, and two wooden benches are involved in discussion of how to carry out the grandest enterprises that can be conceived for the glory of God and the salvation of souls. The wise of this world would consider their discussion little more than wishful thinking… Indeed, those beginnings were so humble that those present had no idea of the marvelous outcomes of that gathering.
…at three in the afternoon we gathered in the seminary. Before beginning the Spiritual Exercises, Mossèn Antón Claret said: “Today we begin a great work”. Father Manuel Vilaró laughed, “What can we do, being so young and so few?” “You will see,” replied the Servant of God, “if we are young and few, the power and mercy of God will shine all the more. You don’t expect to see it?” .Indeed, he has seen it.”
The Congregation began to function by everyone fervently invoking the Holy Spirit, and placing himself under the protection of Jesus and Mary. This felicitous idea was suggested by the Founder, using as the text for his beautiful reflection the historic words: “Virga tua et baculus your ipsa me consolata sunt”, which he accommodated to the festivities of the Virgen of Carmel and the triumph of the Holy Cross, solemnly observed on that day. He also applied them to the newly born Congregation, whose spirit and orientation began that afternoon to outline” (A story from Fr. Jaime Clotet).
“The Founders prepared themselves with ten days of formal Exercises, which were observed in absolute silence, fervor and devotion. Father Founder directed the Exercises, preaching twice a day, and edifying the others with numerous acts of humility and mortification. He spoke of how the Missionaries must live the apostolic life both privately and in public; offered practical guidance for both the spiritual and intellectual life, which the Missionaries were to foster both at home and away, in order to be well-prepared for preaching.” (A story from Fr Josep Xifré).
“All lived poor and detached from the world, simple and obedient; and at the three conferences each day they were as docile as children in accepting instruction hanging on the lips of their Master. They were delighted to serve each other at table and to accept the humblest responsibilities. Since there were no servants or coadjutor brothers, they met one another’s needs in a manner worthy of saints, particularly when one of them fell ill early on. The effects of Jesus’s love for them and the protection of the Blessed Virgin Mary were visible and admirable. After being trained in the practice of ministry and of proven virtue, the priests went out to preach missions and lead the Spiritual Exercises that the results of their work proved amazing. Years later, Fr. Domingo Costa, OP, a missionary in California told this writer: “Those priests seemed to have come from the Upper Room. I saw it. It was an image of Pentecost.” (A story from Fr. Jaime Clotet).
“In imitation of our beloved Father Founder, we went to the missions on foot, even though the towns where we were sent would take many hours. We received no money or thing equivalent for our apostolic work; in some towns, not being hosted in the house of the parish priest but in another room that he pointed out so that we would be free and we could continue our regulation as at home, we lived on alms, or to say, frugal food that kind people spontaneously brought us. After the mission, we would distributed the remaining between the poor” (Story of Fr. Jaime Clotet).