Clerics of Saint Viator

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The Viatorians, or Clerics of Saint Viator (CSV), are a Roman Catholic religious institute founded in Lyon, France, in 1831 by Father Louis Querbes. Its patron, Saint Viator, was a 4th-century catechist in Lyon. The institute soon spread from its origins in France to the United States and now has provinces and missions all over the world. They are a teaching order and are thus involved in parish ministries and all levels of education, from grade school through university.

The Congregation of the Clerics of St. Viator[edit]

The religious Congregation of the Clerics of Saint Viator, founded by Father Louis Querbes, approved by Archbishop Gaston de Pins, Apostolic Administrator of Lyons, in 1831 and Pope Gregory XVI in 1838, finds its identity and spirit expressed today in a Constitution, complemented by the General and Particular Regulations.

According to the legislation of the Church, the Congregation of the Clerics of Saint Viator is recognized as an apostolic, clerical, and religious institute of pontifical right. Viatorian religious life necessarily includes an active apostolate, which may be exercised throughout the whole Church and remains under the jurisdiction of the local Ordinary.

The Congregation of the Clerics of Saint Viator is identified by a seal whose different parts come from Father Querbes. It is the monogram HIS surmounted by a cross, framed by the motto Sinite parvulos venire ad me, centered in a crown of thorns. All the members of the Congregation, whether or not they have received instituted or ordained ministries, are religious with the same standing within the Congregation. They all profess poverty, chastity, and obedience and work together in the same Viatorian mission.

A ring, which is given to members at the time of his perpetual profession, is the exterior sign of his belonging to the Congregation. Worn on the right hand, the ring has ten notches, and engraved on its bezel is the monogram HIS topped by a small cross.

Since the beginning of the Congregation, this ring has expressed the definitive commitment of the Cleric of Saint Viator and his devotion to the Mother of God.

The mission of the Congregation[edit]

To fulfill their mission, the Clerics of Saint Viator should take into account the following characteristic elements in choosing their apostolic commitments:

  • Working in Christian education
  • Establishment and development of Christian communities
  • Promoting the quality of liturgical life
  • Making young people a priority
  • Being concerned for the most underprivileged

Viatorian community life[edit]

According to an expression of Father Querbes, the community life of the Viatorians should be lived in mutual harmony based on charity. Such a participation demands the establishment and maintenance of authentic fraternal relationships and the absence of any kind of privilege.

Viatorians usually live in local communities in order to lead a life of fraternal communion. Each member is responsible for his faithful presence and active participation in community life. These are indispensable conditions for the dynamism and growth of the local community. A Local Superior is to take responsibility for encouraging the development of religious life and supporting fraternal relationships within each local community.

The exercise of authority[edit]

In our Congregation, the pastoral service of authority is exercised at different levels of government:

  • General Chapter and General Direction
  • Provinces
  • Regions
  • Local communities

In a spirit of co-responsibility and according to his opportunities, each Cleric of Saint Viator collaborates with those who are charged with this authority. In so doing, all contribute to the unity and growth of the Congregation so that it might accomplish its mission in the world.

Fr. Louis Querbes, the founder of the Clerics of St. Viator[edit]

On August 21, 1793, during the French Revolution, Louis Querbes was born in Lyon, France. He was baptized in Saint Nizier Parish in the shadow of the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Fourviére. Both were central in his personal, Christian, and priestly formation.

Early life[edit]

As a boy he participated in the choir and attended the clerical school in Saint Nizier Parish. One day he made a vow of chastity before the statue of Our Lady of Grace. He kept the scrap of paper on which he wrote his vow until the end of his life.

He entered Saint Irenaeus Seminary and was ordained in 1816. He returned to Saint Nizier as a parochial vicar where he gained the respect and love of the parishioners. He quickly became known for the quality of his preaching.

He became administrator of the clerical school at Saint Nizier, which cemented the two priorities of his life: education and liturgy.


In 1822, Louis Querbes was named pastor of Vourles, a parish both physically and spiritual1y in need of renewal due to the Revolution.

He embraced the challenge of rebuilding the church and the spiritual lives of the faithful. The lack of education of the children troubled him, inspiring him to search for a solution.

Clerics of St. Viator[edit]

Louis Querbes formed an association of catechists for rural schools: "The Catechists of Saint Viator".

He chose Viator, a fourth-century saint who was a lector and helper with the Bishop Just of Lyon, as patron for his catechists.

In 1831, he received diocesan authorization for his society, which was made up of parochial clerics and lay catechists.

Seven years later, he presented his society to the Pope, but as counseled by advisors, he dropped the inclusion of lay members. It would not heve been approved. He was ahead of his time in wanting to form a community of lay and religious members.

On September 21, 1838, he received pontifical approval for the religious institute of the Parochial Clerics or Catechists of Saint Viator.

The Viatorians opened schools and worked in parishes first in France and later in Canada and the United States.

Father Louis Querbes died in Vourles September 1, 1859, but his work and charity continued after his death. His motto, "Adored and Loved be Jesus", sums up the power of the Gospel that Father Querbes wanted to pass on to his successors.


At the death of its founder, the Congregation numbered between 250 and 300 members, including some fifty in Canada, who constituted four provinces: Vourles, Saint-Flour, Rodez, and Canada. The initial proposal to associate lay catechists with the congregation did not come to fruition. Nevertheless, Father Querbes continued to hope that those "secular catechists" would one day become a reality.

In France, the typical Cleric of Saint Viator served in small rural parishes, where he was, according to the wishes of the founder, "the cantor, sacristan, catechist, table-mate, and companion" of the priest and of course, the principal of the school. The Province of Canada, from its earliest years, went in a different direction, directing primary schools as well as a secondary schools, accepting responsibility for a parish, and creating an Institution for the Deaf.

19th century[edit]

After the death of Father Querbes (1859) and up until about 1880, development was rapid and consistent. Afterwards, as the country entered an era of political turbulence, the growth rate slowed down for fifteen years. Religious congregations that, up until that time, could direct public communal schools had to abandon them and open parish schools, which were free but poor. Members were obliged to do military service. Those entering novitiates became fewer and fewer. In 1900, there were approximately 500 French members out of the 760 members in the entire Congregation.

In Canada, the development of the Congregation proceeded based upon apostolic works that, while not numerous, were solidly implanted. In 1897, a half-century after its founding, the Canadian Province was composed of 215 members. In 1865, three Canadian members founded a school in Bourbonnais, Illinois, United States. A novitiate was opened, and in 1882, the members of the United States formed the Province of Chicago. At the end of the century, the Chicago Province was composed of some forty members.

Until the beginning of the twentieth century, the Congregation presented what might be called a "French face", with the members of France forming the predominant group. Except for the Chicago Province, the other provinces were engaged in apostolic works that fit into the same framework: elementary schools, some of which were small boarding schools, which represented the principal commitment of the Congregation; several secondary schools, which involved a small number of members; social works (orphanages in France, Institution for the Deaf in Montréal); and sacristan duties in several parishes. Small or medium-sized local communities predominated and consisted for the most part of religious brothers.


In May 1903, in France, the government decreed the closing of 11,000 schools and hospitals administered by religious congregations.

Within the space of two months, the Clerics of Saint Viator of France saw their provincial houses, juniorates, novitiates, and residences for retired members closed and their personnel dispersed. All primary and secondary schools were affected. Many of them disappeared. All properties of the Congregation were seized by the State and lost forever. Communities fell apart. Certain members went before tribunals and were sentenced to prison. Other members, especially those who were somewhat older, left for other countries.

In the three provinces, people had seen the storm coming, but no one thought that it would be so severe. Belgium became a possible place of refuge for the members of the Province of Vourles, while Spain played the same role for those of the Province of Rodez. With the Province of Canada having indicated that, in case of necessity, it would welcome French confreres, 31 accepted Canada's hospitality.

The provinces tried to re-establish themselves little by little. All the schools were now free and run by laypeople. Certain "business enterprises" furnished some resources (gardens, farming operations, tailor shop for religious garb, and sale of objects of piety). In Brussels, Belgium, and Vitoria, Spain, new schools were opened. Just as a bit of progress was being made, World War I broke out, and people were once again uncertain of what the future would bring. Almost half of the French members were drafted, with 29 of them being killed in battle. The Congregation was literally decimated.

The provinces that came forth from those fifteen or twenty challenging years were exhausted. That period corresponded to the entire disappearance of the French influence upon the Congregation. By 1907-1908, the number of North American members was greater than the number of European members.


From the 1920s until the 1960s, the number of Canadian members grew steadily and eventually constituted two-thirds of the Congregation's membership (1,146 out of 1,760 in the year 1960). That dynamism made it possible to develop several well-reputed classical secondary schools (in Joliette, Rigaud, and elsewhere), as well as specialized institutions for the hearing impaired (in Montreal and Quebec) and for the blind (in Montreal). It brought members to the east toward the mouth of the Saint Lawrence River, to the north toward the regions of Abitibi and Témiscamingue, and to the west toward the Province of Manitoba and even further afield, since several members, in 1931, went abroad to found a school in Manchuria. The Canadian Province had to be divided up, for a first time in 1938 (Montreal and Joliette) and for a second time in 1955 (Abitibi and Saint Lawrence). Over the years, Canadian members introduced the Congregation to Japan (1948), Taiwan (1953), Peru (1959), and Haiti (1965).

The Province of Chicago developed in a way that was specific to itself and that put its highly qualified personnel at the service of large educational institutions, universities, chaplaincies, and parishes. The Chicago Province founded a school in Bogotá, Colombia, in 1961.

Coming forth from the major difficulties that had struck them, the French provinces re-organized themselves little by little. Their apostolic commitments remained in consonance with their past history, which made it possible to become involved with parishes and collaborate with the diocesan clergy. In 1955, French members founded a school in Bouaké, Côte d'Ivoire.

The foundational beginnings in Spain proceeded slowly at first but more solidly after 1920. In spite of the interruptions caused by the Civil War (1936-1939), the local communities in Spain formed a vice-province in 1937; ten years later, they became a full-fledged province. Starting in 1957, Spain founded several establishments in Chile.


Vatican Council II brought the breath of fresh air that Pope John XXIII wanted and made it possible to better situate religious life in the Church. But added to the updating desired by the Council, renewed emphasis was placed on the questions and challenges that were present everywhere in the late 1960s. A crisis of institutions, a break-down of communities, and a large number of departures brought forth much soul-searching about the identity of the Clerics of Saint Viator.

Nevertheless, reflections that began at the 1969 and 1972 General Chapters and that were subsequently proposed to the entire Congregation, pastoral leadership that was concerned about people, and the drafting of a renewed Constitution (1978) made it possible to slowly but surely rediscover the essential elements of the mission and the religious life of the Clerics of Saint Viator.

Over the course of the renewal process, lay associates were very naturally rediscovered. "In conformity with an idea cherished by our Founder," their Constitution states, "our Congregation agrees to accept other persons who desire to participate in its mission, its spiritual life, and its community life." Thus the stepping stones laid down by Father Louis Querbes made it possible, 150 years later, to add the complementary element that he had felt to be indispensable for his proposal. Lay men and women now share the mission of the Congregation, live out its spirit, and participate, to a certain degree and in conformity with models specific to different countries, in the life of the local communities.


"Announcing Jesus Christ and his Gospel and raising up communities where faith is lived, deepened, and celebrated" is the way that their Constitution now translates the mission of the Clerics of Saint Viator, which Father Querbes defined as "the teaching of Christian doctrine and the service of the holy altar". In his time, the dynamism of Father Querbes launched the Catechists of Saint Viator according to that manner of service, especially with the young and in close collaboration with the laity and the diocesan clergy.

At the present time, as stated by the 1984 General Chapter, in faithfulness to the intentions of Father Querbes, that mission sends members forth toward all people but principally toward needy young people, whether in schools or outside of schools, in parishes or in new Christian communities, in non-Christian places or nominally Christian places. New commitments were accepted, at the dawn of the 21st century, in Belize, Bolivia, Burkina Faso, and Honduras. The Viatorian Community is presently composed of 479 religious members and 289 lay associates. It has provinces and foundations in sixteen countries.

Viatorian schools[edit]






United States[edit]

External links[edit]