The Congregation of Missionaries Sons of the Immaculate Heart of the Blessed Virgin Mary, also known as Claretian Missionaries was founded on July 16, 1849 in Vic, Spain by St. Anthony Mary Claret and five other young priests, Fr. Joseph Xifre, Fr. Stephen Sala, Fr. Dominic Fabregas, Fr. Manuel Vilaro, Fr. Jaime Clotet.


St. Anthony Mary Claret

Anthony John Adjutor Claret y Clara was born in Sallent (Barcelona) on December 23, 1807, in a family of a textile manufacturer. He is the fifth of eleven children. He was sent to Barcelona to study in view of their business. Despite some offers to set up his own factory, he refuses to satisfy his father’s wishes and he decides to give everything up to become a Carthusian. But he ended up entering the seminary of Vic and ordained as a Diocesan priest. Although he had not completed his theological studies, on June 13, 1835, he was ordained a priest because his bishop, Paul of Jesus Corcuera, saw something extraordinary in his personality. He went to Rome to offer his services directly to Propaganda Fide, then in charge of the task of evangelization in the whole world. While in Rome, he entered the Society of Jesus as a novice but after four months he was asked to leave and go back to Spain.

After going back to Catalonia, he dedicated himself to popular missions. For the sake of communion with the hierarchy and the pastoral faculties involved, he asks Propaganda Fide for the title of “Apostolic Missionary” which he fills with spiritual and apostolic content. He walks across much of Catalonia between 1843 and 1848, preaching the Word of God, always on foot, not collecting money or gifts for his ministry. It moves him to imitate Jesus Christ and the apostles. In 1848 he founds the Religious Library, a publishing house which in its first eighteen years launches 2,811,100 copies of books, 2,509,500 of small books and 4,249,200 leaflets. He founded the Confraternity of the Immaculate Heart of Mary and wrote the book “Daughters of the Blessed and Immaculate Heart of Mary”, which eventually inspired the foundation of the secular institute of Cordimarian Filiation. He was sent to the Canary Islands and was called “el Padrito”. He became so popular that he is co-patron of the diocese of Las Palmas along with the Virgen del Pino.

He founded the Congregation of the Missionary Sons of the Immaculate Heart of Mary on July 16, 1849, and a few days later he was appointed Archbishop of Santiago de Cuba and consecrated bishop on October 6, 1850, at the Cathedral of Vic. He was a missionary bishop. In six years, he visited his vast diocese three times. He feels concerned about the spiritual and pastoral renewal of the clergy and the founding of religious communities. Along with Antonia Maria Paris he founded the Religious of Mary Immaculate Claretian Missionary Sisters. He fought against slavery, created a farm school for poor children, set up a savings bank with a marked social character, founded Popular libraries, wrote two books on agriculture, etc.

Queen Isabel II personally chooses him as her Confessor in 1857 and therefore he must move to Madrid. In 1859 the Queen appointed him Protector of the church and hospital of Montserrat, Madrid, and Chairman of the monastery of El Escorial. His union with Jesus Christ reaches a peak in the grace of the sacramental species conservation, granted in La Granja (Segovia) on August 26,1861. Following the revolution of September 1868, he goes with the Queen into exile. In April 1869, he left the royal court and attended the Vatican Council I where he intervenes passionately in favor of papal infallibility.

Going back in France, due to the continuous persecutions, he was forced to flee as a criminal and take refuge in the Cistercian monastery of Fontfroide, near Narbonne. In this hidden monastery, surrounded by the love of the monks and some of his missionaries he dies, at 62 years and 10 months of age, on October 24, 1870.

His remains were moved to Vic in 1897. He was beatified by Pope Pius XI on February 25, 1934 and canonized by Pius XII on May 7, 1950.

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Stephen Sala

He was born on 28 May 1812 in a farm that belonged to the parish of Saint Martin of Sescors (Barcelona), distant one hour from Manlleu and three from Vic. In 1828 he began the study of Philosophy in the seminary of Vic and, later on, took up Theology in Cervera. In 1839 he was ordained a priest. In 1843 he met Fr. Claret during the Spiritual Exercises that the latter gave to priests in Gombreny. These Exercises meant a radical change for Fr. Sala. Fr. Benito Vilamitjana, future Archbishop of Tarragona, who shared the room with Fr. Sala, gave testimony of his conversion. From then on, he accompanied Fr. Claret in many of his missions. He was the first person Fr. Claret recruited for the foundation of the Congregation which his brother Bernard was also to join later on. When Fr. Claret went to Cuba as Archbishop, he appointed Fr. Sala his successor as Superior General of the Congregation. He also directed the newly founded Congregation of the Carmelite Sisters of Charity. Fr. Xifré wrote about him: “he was of regular height and pleasant figure; with a clear voice and good diction. He was well mannered and educated… His modesty was well known: his mere presence was enough to soothe everyone… He was most humble and meek of heart, zealous and, above all, so chaste and pure of heart that we do not hesitate to assert that he never in his life lost his baptismal grace. He was one of the best talents in the then University of Cervera. As a preacher he was among the best reputed of his time in the principality of Catalonia.” Fr. Claret managed to have him named his successor in the archdiocese of Cuba, but the sickness and death of Fr. Stephen Sala on 18 April 1858 prevented that wish from becoming a reality. He was 45 years old.

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Joseph Xifre

He was born in a farm in the neighbourhood of Vic (Barcelona) on 18 February 1817. In 1829 he started his ecclesiastical career in this same city. At that time it was not possible for anyone to be ordained priest in Spain because of the civil war situation. As a consequence, Joseph Xifré went to Rome in 1839 and lodged at the convent of Saint Basil. There he providentially met Fr. Claret who had gone there with the intention of joining the Propagation of the Faith. On 16 February 1840 he was ordained priest and returned to Spain. His apostolic spirit was very similar to Claret’s. From a very early stage he felt the desire to devote himself to preaching, leading a poor life and travelling by foot; for several years he followed this style of apostolate. Together with Fr. Claret, he founded the Congregation of Missionaries. He possessed a sharp talent and intelligence, was tall and slender, of dark complexion and bright eyes, quite a character. Beneath an austere appearance he concealed a big, magnanimous heart, imperturbable in dangers, an ardent entrepreneur. After the death of Fr. Stephen Sala, he was designated third Superior General on May 1st, 1858 and held this office until his death. While the Founder was still alive, Fr. Xifré always considered him as the Superior, and maintained with him continuous correspondence; it was he who ordered Fr. Claret to write his Autobiography. Exiled in France after the revolution, he accompanied Fr. Claret during the last days of his life in Fontfroide, gave him the last sacraments and received his religious profession. From then on, his entire life was a continuous dedication to the Congregation, making it grow to its greatest expansion up to the very day of his death, which occurred in 1899 in Cervera.

Pictures | Circulars and Messages | Bicentennary of his birth

Manuel Vilaro

Was born in Vic (Barcelona) on 22 September 1816. He was short in stature but of pleasant bearing, kind, cheerful and modest. He was among the first to accompany Fr. Claret in his apostolic works. Because of his outstanding qualities, he was chosen for the foundation of the Congregation. It was that upon hearing Fr. Claret’s statement, “Today we start a great work,” with a humorous smile, retorted: “What can we do since we are so young and so few?” Claret answered, “You will see. If we are young and few, the more God’s power and mercy will shine.” Father Vilaró was also chosen to accompany Fr. Claret when the latter went to Santiago de Cuba as Archbishop. There he worked tirelessly preaching missions, retreats, and conferences but, a victim of his great zeal, he had to return to Vic in 1852. There, at the request of his family, he stayed in his house and not with the community; he did this perhaps in order not to distract the attention of the missionaries caring for him, since they were very few. But in his heart, he was always with them till his death which occurred a few months later. In his sickness, he was always attended by Fr. Clotet whose arms very likely he died. Due to the last events of his life, Fr. Xifré considered him excluded from the Congregation. The General Chapter of 1922 rehabilitated him and put him again on a level with the rest of the cofounders.

Fr. Claret writes in his Autobiography about Fr. Vilaró (n. 592): “I made him my secretary and he fulfilled this job very well. Besides acting as my secretary, he also preached and heard confessions frequently. He was well educated, virtuous, zealous, and a hard worker. He fell ill and because the doctors in Cuba could do nothing for him, they ordered him back to Spain, where he died in his hometown of Vic.”


Dominic Fabregas

Was born in Orís (Barcelona) on 10 July 1817. He was rather short, simple and timid, of a somewhat melancholic character, industrious, with a clear and penetrating voice that drew large audiences to his sermons. Like Xifré, and perhaps together with him, he also had to go to Rome and stay at the convent of St. Basil. There for the first time he had contact with the famous “Mosén” Claret, whom very likely he already knew, since he was only two years ahead of him in the seminary. He was ordained priest in Rome. Back in Spain, he devoted himself to the cure of souls until one day he was called by Msgr. Casadevall who invited him to get in touch with Mosén Claret. On 16 July 1849 he founded the Congregation together with Claret and the other companions. He was general counsellor of the Congregation. He was responsible for the foundation of the house of Segovia in 1861 and dedicated himself to preaching throughout the entire region. He was also tasked with the foundation of Huesca. After several appointments throughout Catalonia, already advanced in years, death caught up with him in Solsona in the year 1895.


Jaime Clotet

He was born in Manresa (Barcelona) on July 24, 1822. He studied philosophy and theology in Barcelona, then moved to Vic, studying morals. He went to Rome, where he was ordained to the priesthood. When he returned to Spain, he held various pastoral positions but soon realized that his vocation was not the care of souls. On the advice of Mr. Passarell, secretary of the bishop of Vic, he met with Father Claret, whom he only knew by hearsay. It was June 1849. He joined Fr. Claret in July to found the Congregation. He soon took charge of the first Brothers of the Congregation. In 1858, he was named Sub-Director General of the Congregation. In 1870, he accompanied Fr. Claret in Fontfroide during his last days, writing a summary of his life. In 1888 he ceased to be Sub-Director General and became Secretary. He wrote books on the catechesis of the deaf and dumb and promoted the Cause of the Beatification of Father Claret. In 1898 he died in the house of Gracia (Barcelona) with a reputation of sanctity. His cause of Beatification is introduced in Rome.

A brief portrait of a biographer: “loved and venerated by all, indefatigable forger of his own Christian and religious perfection; solicitous of the welfare of each one; who passed through the earth leaving behind him a soft perfume of holiness. He had no enemy whatsoever”.

The Immaculate Heart of Mary

Our Constitutions refer to Mary 15 times, almost always under the title of the Virgin Mary, although she is also given other titles.

In addition to those references in the Constitutions, Mary has been preeminently seen in our tradition as mother, foundress, formatrix and protectress. Behind each of them is a specific characteristic of Mary and of our relationship to her.

All these characteristics are contained in her Heart. And thus it is that the name of the Heart of Mary is the symbol that best expresses our Marian spirituality.

Mary, Mother of the Missionary

In the Experience of the Fr. Founder

Anthony Mary Claret lived his relationship with Mary so intensely that, at his consecration as bishop, he incorporated the name of the Virgin into his own. He called Mary by many names, but of all the titles that taken together form a summary of Claretian Mariology, that of mother is the one that best summarizes Claret’s experience. From the time he was a boy he really saw Mary as his heavenly mother. He cultivated his relationship with her by praying the rosary, the Angelus and visits to the hermitage of Fusimaña. This relationship was characterized by intimacy, trust, filial love and devotion. His entire childhood was illuminated by the motherly smile of the Virgin of Fusimaña.

As a young man he forcefully experienced her motherly love as protection from dangers.

His response to Mary’s motherly love was always a son’s love. In the prayers he wrote as a Jesuit novice he expresses in passionate words this love by which he professes Mary to be his mother.


In Our Missionary Life

We, Claretian Missionaries, are and are called sons of the Immaculate Heart. In our spirituality, Mary acts as our mother and we are related to her as sons. This sonship is not merely a title. It is “an existential dimension of our missionary life. It is a gift of the Holy Spirit to be lived and experienced, that configures our interior being and dynamizes it for the apostolic mission.”

In our history our Cordi-Marian sonship has been very much emphasized.[10] Some of our brothers have intensely lived this dimension of our Marian spirituality. We recall the names of Fr. Antonio Naval, Br. Manuel Giol, Fr. Martín Alsina, Fr. Ezequiel Villaroya, Br. Francisco Vilajosana, the student Pedro Mardones, the martyrs of Barbastro and others.
Mary’s spiritual motherhood is a maternity that gives birth to us as missionaries. For this reason, the meaning of being a Son of the Immaculate Heart of Mary is essentially missionary. As Mother, the Heart of Mary is the setting in which the Father, through the Spirit, conforms us to Christ. This motherhood continues in our mission. In the Founder’s words, we are like “the arms of Mary.”


Mary, Foundress of the Congregation

In the experience of Fr. Founder

In the exercises that the Fr. Founder preached to the Congregation in 1865 he expressly alluded to Mary as foundress. We know this directly from some of his points and indirectly from Fr. Clotet. In the outline of his talk on zeal, Claret writes:
“The Most Holy Virgin founded this Congregation so that her Heart might be Noah’s Ark, David’s tower, a city of refuge and the holy mercy seat.”

On his part, Fr. Clotet refers to the following words of the Founder during one of his talks:
“Yours is the Congregation, You founded it: Don’t you remember, my Lady, don’t you remember? He said it in such a tone of voice and with such feeling that it was easy to see that, at that moment, he was once again experiencing the command, the words and the presence of the Mother of God.”


In Our Missionary Life

The General Plan of Formation, recalling our heritage, alludes to Mary as foundress of the Congregation. What is this expression trying to say? From a theological point of view, it is clear that the one who gives rise to different forms of life in the Church is the Holy Spirit. Mary, then, does not take the Spirit’s place. Also, to say that she is our Foundress does not mean that she started our Institute juridically. The expression must be understood in the context of Claret’s spiritual experience. He, as a missionary, felt he was Mary’s instrument within the mysterious spiritual communion that exists between the pilgrim Church and the Church in glory to which Mary belongs. It is not strange, then, that he might experience the founding of the Congregation as a particular manifestation of Mary’s spirituality motherhood, of her missionary impetus.

We can say that, as on Pentecost, Mary keeps reuniting us so that we that we may receive the Spirit who launches us on mission. In this sense, she founds our missionary community. As the mother to us that she is, she gathers us together and disposes us to welcome the Spirit.


Mary, Formatrix of Apostles in the Forge of Her Mercy and Love

In the Experience of the Fr. Founder

Claret also experiences Mary as formatrix of his apostle’s heart. It is a title closely linked to the previous one. If “the virtue that an apostolic missionary needs most is love” it is logical that Claret considers that Mary has been the one who has formed him in this essential virtue because she is a true forge of mercy and love. Our Founder specifically used the allegory of the forge to explain his process of formation as apostolic missionary.

This allegory is not merely one among many Claret used. In fact, in the prayer he used to pray at the beginning of missions, he recalled Mary, knowing well that he was her son and minister, formed by her in the forge of her mercy and love.
Within the allegory, Mary is represented by the fire of love. Claret considers that the experience of Mary’s love has been for him a true school in which his missionary’s heart has been formed. This fire of love has purified him, inspired him and set him on fire. Beginning with this experience of the forge, he understood himself as a son of the Immaculate Heart of Mary “who is one fire with love and spreads that love wherever he goes.”


In our Missionary Life

The General Plan of Formation refers to Mary as formatrix on two occasions: in nos. 13 and 99. Number 13 states that Mary has an essential mission as formatrix. Number 99 develops the implications for formation that this reality involves. This formation task of the Virgin’s is also interpreted, in no. 23 of the Plan, more poetically, i.e., out of the allegory of the forge used by the Fr. Founder.

How does Mary carry out this role as forge? In the following way:

•shaping us in her heart and making the characteristics of the perfect disciple of Jesus grow in us;
•forming us to welcome into our hearts, like she did, the Word of God, of which we are ministers;
•forging in us that apostolic love that impels us to work tirelessly to the point of exhaustion for the Kingdom;
•and joining us in the apostolic mission with her motherly office in the Church.


Mary, Protectress on Mission

In the Experience of the Fr. Founder

The image of Mary as protectress is one that dominates Anthony Mary Claret’s young manhood, a period in which he intimately experiences the dangers that are present in life.

This protection extends to various aspects of his life: physical health, reputation, moral integrity, etc.
Mary’s protection is especially manifested in his missionary work, which Claret understands as the struggle between good and evil, or between the Woman and her offspring against the dragon.

This experience was heightened when he was a seminarian in his second year of philosophy in 1831. Claret was 23 years old. While he was in bed with a cold, he experienced a strong temptation against chastity. All his efforts to resist it were in vain. But help came to him from the Lord, through Mary’s mediation, who appeared him, most beautiful, freeing him from the temptation.

It is worth reading the passage referring to the vision in his Autobiography and to try to understand the meaning it had for our Founder. Claret, in fact, referred to it many times throughout his life.

What is the meaning of this vision that had such an impact? In his first years in the seminary in Vic, Claret powerfully felt his apostolic vocation. He found it reflected in the texts of the prophets (e.g., Is. 41:8-9), in which the prophet feels chosen by grace. He found particular illumination in the well-known text of Is. 61:1: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, thus the Lord has sent me to proclaim Good News to the poor and heal the broken-hearted.” In light of this experience, the temptation and the vision must be interpreted as a true sign of vocation. Claret is a witness to a manifestation of Mary, in which he himself, out of his situation as a sick man being tempted, pictures in his mind Mary’s protection. In the first place, he experiences the power of evil, represented by demons—a formidable power he cannot vanquish by his own resources. Secondly, Mary appears to him, the beautiful woman, the power of good, the new Eve. Claret lets himself be swept away by the irresistible power of her enchantment. Now, Mary does not appear alone, but in the company of a group of saints. Finally, Claret sees himself as a child who resemble the child he himself has been.

Starting with this vision, Claret considers himself an offspring of the Woman. As a result, he will understand his apostolic mission as a struggle against everything opposed to the Kingdom of God. Mary, whom he has seen as a mother since childhood, appears now as one who fights at his side and protects him from evil.


In Our Missionary Life

This vision of Mary as protectress is emphasized during the period of postulancy, but it has been a constant in our history, especially in the experience of our martyrs. This is closely linked to our missionary task and the dangers it entails. Mission, when it comes from Jesus, always is a risk that demands courage and preparation. This risk can only be assumed in union with Jesus and Mary, as done by our Founder and our martyrs.


Heart of Mary, an Official Title

This final name of Mary is the one that is part of the title of our Congregation and the one that summarizes all the others. It is the title in the Constitutions. Thus it requires a broader treatment.


In the Experience of the Fr. Founder

When Anthony Mary Claret went to Italy for the first time in 1839, he came in contact with a Marian devotion very widespread at that time: Mary as Mother of Beautiful Love or Mother of Divine Love. Mary was represented with a heart. The theology of the time said that the object of devotion to the Heart of Mary was her love for God and human beings. That explains why the Marian prayers he composed during his stay in Rome as a Jesuit novice highlight the theme of “apostolic love,” a gift he asks from Mary.

Back in Spain, in 1847, Claret founded in Vic the Archconfraternity of the Heart of Mary with a strongly apostolic character. Claret had heard of the conversions that had taken place in Paris through the prayers of the Archconfraternity of Our Lady of Victory.

In the same line, and based on his great devotion to the Virgin, it is not surprising that he calls our Congregation, founded two years later, in 1849, the Congregation of Sons of the Immaculate Heart of Mary.

How does Claret live and understand his Cordi-Marian experience? In his time the Mary’s physical heart was venerated because it was thought that the heart was the seat of love, the source of blood and of life. Claret shares this way of thinking and, consequently, uses it to explain the very special link between the Heart of Mary and her divine Son, Jesus Christ. According to this conception, Jesus’ body would have been formed, then, from the most pure blood of the Heart of Mary.
Now, in addition to that physical or material reality of the heart—and of the Heart of Mary—, Claret sees it as a spiritual reality, as a symbol of interiority and of love and charity:

“Mary is all love. Where Mary is, there is love… The world is like a huge family. Every family has to have a center of direction or head and a center of love or heart… In the Christian world, the head is Jesus Christ and the heart is the Virgin Mary. Mary is, then, the heart of the Church. This is where all works of charity come from.”

The first time Claret mentions the Heart of Mary in his Autobiography is in chapter 30 which talks “On Love of God and Neighbor.” It contains a beautiful prayer that reveals who Mary is for him:

“O Mary, my Mother, Mother of Divine Love, I can ask for nothing more pleasing to you, nor anything that you are more ready to grant, than the love of God. Grant me this, my Mother and my love. Mother, I am hungry and thirsty for love; help me, satisfy my need. O Heart of Mary, furnace and instrument of love, kindle in me the love of God and neighbor!”


In Our Missionary Life

In our history, the title of Heart of Mary applied to the Virgin has been strongly emphasized and, consequently, our Cordi-Marian sonship.

Before we were canonically recognized as a religious institute, the bond that linked together the first missionaries was an act of dedication to God and to the Heart of Mary: “I dedicate myself and consecrate myself to the special service of God, Jesus Christ and Mary Most Holy.”

After Vatican II and the first General Chapters of renewal (1967, 1973), our understanding of our Cordi-Marian sonship was enriched through a better biblical and charismatic grounding. The circular letter of Fr. Antonio Leghisa on The Heart of Mary and the Congregation Today (1978) represented a point of arrival for this new understanding and a point of departure for later developments.

Our Constitutions do not talk about the Heart of Mary in physical terms. They adopt a spiritual and symbolic perspective. Besides the six numbers that expressly allude to the (Immaculate) Heart of Mary, the Constitutions use other linguistic devices to express various aspects contained in the title Heart of Mary. It is a new way of speaking about the Heart of Mary, emphasizing aspects contained the heart symbol: interiority, total self-giving, depth, cordiality, tenderness, etc.