This society is an international association for the assistance by prayers and alms of Catholic missionary priests, brothers, and nuns engaged in preaching the Gospel in heathen and non-Catholic countries.
It was founded in Lyons, France, in 1822, as a result of the distress of missions in both East and West. In 1815, Bishop Dubourg of New Orleans was in Lyons collecting alms for his diocese, which was in a precarious condition. To a Mrs. Petit, whom he had known in the United States he expressed the idea of founding a charitable association for the support of Louisiana missions, which suggestion she cordially embraced, but could procure only small alms among her friends and acquaintances. In 1820, Pauline Jaricot of Lyons received a letter from her brother, a student at the Seminary of St-Sulpice, in which he described the extreme poverty of the members of the Foreign Missions of Paris. She conceived the idea of forming an association whose members would contribute one cent a week for the missions. The membership rose to a thousand and the offerings were sent to Asia. In 1822, Father Inglesi, Vicar-General of New Orleans, was sent to Lyons by Bishop Dubourg to visit his benefactors and reanimate their zeal. Seeing the success of Miss Jaricot, they thought at first of establishing a similar society for American missions, but decided to unite, instead of dividing, efforts.
A meeting of the friends of the missions called by Father Inglesi was attended by twelve ecclesiastics and laymen, and on 3 May, 1822, the Society for the Propagation of the Faith was formally established. Its object was declared to be to help Catholic missionaries by prayers and alms. It was understood that the new association should be catholic, that is, endeavour to enlist the sympathy of all Catholics, and assist all missions, without regard to situation and nationality. However, it is not the aim of the society to help " Catholic countries", no matter how great their needs may be, for that reason France, Italy, Austria, Spain, Portugal, etc. have never received help from it. For the same reason, as soon as missions are able to exist by their own efforts the society withdraws its aid, because demands are many and resources inadequate. In 1823, a delegate was sent to Rome and Pius VII heartily approved the new undertaking and granted the indulgences and other spiritual privileges that permanently enrich the society, which judgment has been ratified by all his successors. In 1840, Gregory XVI placed the society in the rank of Universal Catholic institutions, and on 25 March, 1904, in the first year of his pontificate, Pius X recommended it to the charity of all the faithful, praising its work, confirming its privileges, and raising the feast of its patron, St. Francis Xavier, to a higher rite. A large number of provincial and national councils (especially the III Council of Baltimore, 1884), as well as thousands of bishops from all parts of the world, have likewise enacted decrees and published letters in favour of its development. It receives contributions from all parts of the Christian world.
The organization is extremely simple. To become a member it is necessary to recite daily a prayer for the missions, and contribute at least five cents monthly to the general fund. As the society is ordinarily organized in the parishes, the usual method for gathering the contributions is to form the associates into bands of ten, of whom one acts as a promoter. These offerings are turned over to some local or diocesan director and finally forwarded to the general committee. Besides the ordinary members, there are special members who contribute personally six dollars a year, and perpetual members who contribute at one time a sum of at least forty dollars. The official organ of the society is the "Annals of the Propagation of the Faith ", the first number of which appeared in France in 1822. At present 350,000 copies of that publication are printed bi-monthly in French, English, German, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch, Polish, Flemish, Basque, Maltese, and the dialects of Brittany. The "Annals" contains letters from missionaries, news of the missions, and reports of all money received and apportioned by the society. An illustrated magazine, "Catholic Missions", is also published by the society in Italy, France, England, Germany, Holland, Spain, Poland, Hungary, and the United States.
The Society for the Propagation of the Faith takes no part in selecting missionaries, appointing them to their field of work, or training them for it, and does not concern itself with the administration of the missions. Its aim is merely to assist missionaries chosen, trained, and sent forth by the usual authorities of the Church. The society is administered by two central councils, each composed of twelve clergymen and laymen of recognized ability and knowledge of business affairs, and distinguished for zeal and piety. These councils, one of which is in Lyons and the other in Paris, are self-recruiting, and the work performed by their members is entirely gratuitous. They keep in close touch with the missions, serve as headquarters for the distribution of the alms received from the delegates of the society, to whom they pass successively from the diocesan and parochial directors, and the promoters of bands of ten. Every year, at the end of January, the offerings of the members of the society all over the world are forwarded to these central bureaux, and the total amount is divided among all the missions of the earth. With conscientious care and impartiality the reports of the superiors of the missions, bishops, vicars and prefects Apostolic are studied and all allotments recommended, in accordance with the extent and necessities of each mission, and in consideration of the desires of the pope and the data furnished by the Congregation of the Propaganda. The Lyons Central Council first goes over this work. The result of its labours is revised by the Paris Central Council, which, with close attention and solicitude, approves, augments, or reduces the sum recommended as it considers necessary or advisable. Then both councils agree upon the allotments which are sent to each mission. It is a law of the society to make its affairs public, and each year an integral account of all money received, all appropriations made, and all expenditures is published in the "Annals". The society does not deal in investments and has no permanent fund. At the beginning of each year the total sum collected during the past year is distributed, and the missions are always at the mercy of the faithful.
In 1822, the society collected a little more than $4000.00. The sum was divided in three parts, of which one was assigned to the Eastern missions, the other two to Louisiana and Kentucky. At present about three hundred dioceses, vicariates and prefectures Apostolic receive assistance and the total amount collected up to 1910, inclusively, is $78,846,872.51. The following will show the part each country has taken in furnishing this sum. and in what year the society was established there:
Society established: —1822 France $48,829,632.53 1825 Belgium 4,421,992.00 1827 Germany and
The foregoing sum has been distributed as follows: —To Missions in America $10,747,397.45 To missions in Europe 11,066,975.88 To missions in Asia 32,061,680.43 To missions in Africa 11,552,228.26 To missions in Oceanica 7,309,152.81 Special donations,
On 25 March, 1904, Pius X addressed an encyclical letter to the Catholic world recommending the Propagation of the Faith to the charity of all the faithful, in which he says: "If the messengers of the Catholic doctrine are able to reach out to the most distant lands, and the most barbarous peoples, it is to the Society for the Propagation of the Faith that credit must be given. Through that Society salvation began for numberless peoples . . ., through it there has been gathered a harvest of souls. . . ." In 1884, His Eminence Cardinal Gibbons, writing to the directors of the society in the name of the American hierarchy assembled at Baltimore for the third national Council, said: "If the grain of mustard seed planted in the virgin soil of America has struck deep roots and grown into a gigantic tree, with branches stretching from the shores of the Atlantic ocean to the coasts of the Pacific, it is mainly to the assistance rendered by your admirable Society that we are indebted for this blessing."
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