Society for the Propagation of the Faith

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The Society for the Propagation of the Faith is an international association for the assistance by prayers and alms of Catholic missionary priests, brothers, and nuns engaged in preaching the Gospel in non-Catholic countries. The official Latin designation for it is the society "Propagandum Fidei".

Origin and development[edit]

The Society was founded in Lyon, France, in 1822, as a result of the distress of missions in both East and West. In 1815, Bishop Louis William Valentine Dubourg of New Orleans, Louisiana was in Lyon 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 Lyon 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 Paris Foreign Missions Society. 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 Lyon 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 discontinues its aid, because demands are many and resources inadequate. In 1823, a delegate was sent to Rome and Pope 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 third of the Plenary Councils 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 Society for the Propagation of the Faith assists every mission bishop with the day-to-day expenses of operating the diocese, as well as with special projects. The Society 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. These councils, one of which is in Lyon 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. 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 for the Evangelization of Peoples.

The Lyon 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.

The Society works in England and Wales with the Mill Hill Missionary Society, the only major men's missionary society to have been formed in England. Mill Hill was one of the first societies to introduce lay missionaries, and its priests, lay brothers and associates work in 27 countries and every continent.

In England and Wales funds for the Missions are collected through the famous Red collection Boxes. These can be found in 200,000 homes and they have helped raise millions of pounds for the missions.

The Association publishes a magazine: Mission Today.

External links[edit]