Society of Saint-Sulpice

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Society of Saint-Sulpice
The seal of the Society of Saint-Sulpice
The seal of the Society of Saint-Sulpice
Abbreviation P.S.S. (American Sulpicians retain the original form, S.S.)
Motto Auspice, Maria (Guide us, Mary)
Formation 1641
Type Roman Catholic Society of Apostolic Life
Headquarters 6, Rue du Regard
Paris, France
Membership approx. 330
Superior General Rev. Ronald D. Witherup, P.S.S.
Website Society of the Priests of Saint-Sulpice

The Society of Saint-Sulpice (French: Compagnie des Prêtres de Saint-Sulpice, Latin: Societas Presbyterorum a Santo Sulpitio) is a Catholic Society of Apostolic Life named for the Church of Saint-Sulpice, Paris, in turn named for St. Sulpitius the Pious, where they were founded. Typically, priests become members of the Society of St. Sulpice only after ordination and some years of pastoral work. Uniquely, Sulpicians retain incardination in their own dioceses even after joining the society. The purpose of the society is mainly the education of priests and to some extent parish work. As their main role is the education of those preparing to become members of the presbyterate, Sulpicians place great emphasis on the academic and spiritual formation of their own members, who commit themselves to undergoing lifelong development in these areas. The Society is divided into three provinces, operating in various countries: the Province of France, Canada, and the United States.

In France[edit]

The Society of Saint Sulpice was founded in France in 1641 by Father Jean-Jacques Olier (1608–1657), an exemplar of the French School of Spirituality. The French priesthood at that time suffered from low morale, academic deficits and other problems. Envisioning a new approach to priestly preparation, Olier gathered a few priests and seminarians around him in Vaugirard, a suburb of Paris, in the final months of 1641. Shortly thereafter, he moved his operation to the parish of Saint-Sulpice in Paris, hence the name of the new Society. After several adjustments, he built a seminary next to the current church of Saint-Sulpice. The Séminaire de Saint-Sulpice thereby became the first Sulpician seminary. There the first seminarians got their spiritual formation, while taking most theology courses at the Sorbonne. The spirit of this new seminary and its founder caught the attention of many leaders in the French Church; and before long, members of the new Society staffed a number of new seminaries elsewhere in the country.

The Séminaire de Saint-Sulpice was closed during the French Revolution, and its teachers and students scattered to avoid persecution. That Revolution also led to the secularization of the University of Paris. When France stabilized, theology courses were offered exclusively in seminaries, and the Sulpicians resumed their educational mission. Sulpician seminaries earned and maintained reputations for solid academic teaching and high moral tone. In the 18th century they attracted the sons of the nobility, as well as candidates from the common class, and produced a large number of the French hierarchy. The Society spread from France to Canada, the United States and to several other foreign countries, including eventually to Vietnam and French Africa, where French Sulpician seminaries are found even today.[1]

In Canada[edit]

New France[edit]

Saint-Sulpice Seminary in Old Montreal.

The Sulpicians played a major role in the founding of the Canadian city of Montreal, where they engaged in missionary activities, trained priests and constructed the Saint-Sulpice Seminary.

In 1657 Olier, shortly before his death, sent four priests (Gabriel de Queylus, Souart, d'Allet, and Galinier) to take over from the Jesuit Fathers.[2] As the new feudal lords of Montreal, the society granted easy terms to settlers. They tried to encourage settlement of villages around the city as a first line of defense against attacks by native peoples.[3]

At the same time the Sulpicians strongly encouraged the Mohawk to move to a new settlement west on the Ottawa River, which came to be called Kanesatake. It was their former hunting ground. In 1716 the French Crown granted a large parcel of land to the Mohawk north of the Ottawa River, and a smaller adjacent grant to the Sulpicians. The latter had the grant changed so that all the land was in their name, depriving the Mohawk of their own place.[4]

In 1794 after the French Revolution, twelve Sulpicians fled persecution by the National Convention and emigrated to Montreal, Quebec. According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, the Sulpicians of Montreal would have died out had not the English Government opened Canada to the priests persecuted during the French Revolution. Under the previous French Colonial government, the King of France had granted the Sulpician Society large parcels of land in Montreal.

After lengthy disputes, in 1840 the British Crown recognized the possessions of the Sulpicians, though English business agents coveted them. This enabled the Sulpicians to keep all their holdings and continue their work for the Church and society. Their vast land-holdings included the property through which entrepreneurs constructed the Lachine Canal in 1825. After convincing the government to designate the property on the banks of the canal as industrial zones, the Society began selling off parcels for industrial development at enormous profits, which helped finance their good works. As a result of the 1840 arrangement, the Sulpicians, under the auspices of the local bishop, were now able to construct and direct a seminary. This resulted in the famous Grand Seminary of Montreal, otherwise known as the Séminaire de Saint-Sulpice. This operation enabled the Canadian Sulpicians, after a long delay, to finally engage in their primary work: the formation of priests. That they did in admirable fashion, training innumerable priests and bishops, Canadian and American, down to the present day.

Canadian Sulpicians may be found operating in seminaries in Montreal and Edmonton. In 1972 the Canadian Province established a Provincial Delegation for Latin America, based in Bogotá, Colombia. In Latin America, the Society functions in Brazil (Brasilia and Londrina) and Colombia (Cali, Cucuta and Manizales). They have also served in Fukuoka, Japan since 1933.

In the United States[edit]

On 10 July 1791 four Sulpicians established the first Catholic institution for the training of clergy in the newly-formed United States: St. Mary's Seminary in Baltimore. They were the Abbés Francis Charles Nagot, Anthony Gamier, Michael Levadoux, and John Tessier, who had fled the French Revolution.[5] Purchasing the One Mile Tavern then on the edge of the city, they dedicated the house to the Blessed Virgin. In October they opened classes with five students whom they had brought from France, and hereby established the first community of the Society in the nation.

In March, 1792 three more priests arrived, Abbé Chicoisneau, Abbé John B. David and Abbé Benedict Joseph Flaget. Two seminarians arrived with them, Stephen T. Badin and another named Barret. They were joined in June of that same year by the Abbés Ambrose Maréchal, Gabriel Richard and Francis Ciquard. Many of these early priests were sent as missionaries to remote areas of the United States and its territories. Flaget and David founded the Catholic Seminary of St. Thomas, at Bardstown, Kentucky. It was the first seminary west of the Appalachians. Their St. Thomas Catholic Church, built there in 1816, is the oldest surviving brick church in Kentucky. In 1796, Louis William Valentine Dubourg arrived and became the president of Georgetown University. Later he became the first bishop of the Louisiana Territory.

A decade later, Dubourg was instrumental in the transfer from New York City of the widow and recent convert Elizabeth Seton, who had been unsuccessful in her efforts to run a school, in part to care for her family. With his encouragement, she and other women drawn to the vision of caring for the poor in a religious way of life came to found the first American congregation of Sisters in 1809. The Sulpicians served as their religious superiors until 1850, when the original community located there chose to merge with another religious institute of Sisters.

The Society helped to found and staff for a time St. John's Seminary, part of the Archdiocese of Boston (1884–1911). In that same period, for a brief time they also staffed St. Joseph Seminary, serving the Archdiocese of New York (1896–1906). The Sulpicians who staffed that institution chose to leave the Society and become part of the archdiocese. Among their number was Francis Gigot.

In 1898, at the invitation of the Archbishop of San Francisco, Patrick William Riordan, the Sulpicians founded what continues to be their primary institution on the West Coast, Saint Patrick Seminary, Menlo Park, California. From the 1920s until about 1971, the Society operated St. Edward Seminary in Kenmore, Washington. The grounds now form Saint Edward State Park and Bastyr University. For a brief period in the 1990s, the Sulpicians were also involved in teaching at St. John's Seminary in Camarillo, the college seminary for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.

In 1917, the construction of the Sulpician Seminary began in Washington, D.C., next to The Catholic University of America. The seminary, which became an independent institution in 1924, changed its name to Theological College in 1940.[6] It has graduated over 1,500 priests, including 45 bishops and four cardinals.[7] American Sulpicians gained a reputation for forward-thinking at certain points of their history, to the suspicion and dissatisfaction of more conservative members of the hierarchy. They were on the cutting edge of Vatican II thinking and thus gained both friends and enemies. A constant in the Sulpician seminaries has been an emphasis on personal spiritual direction and on collegial governance.[8]

As of 2014 the American Province has several seminary placements in Zambia and a number of new Zambian Sulpicians and Candidates.

The American Province has also distinguished itself by producing several outstanding scholars and authors in the field of theology and scriptural studies. Among the most well-known is Scripture scholar Raymond E. Brown, S.S., whose fame goes well beyond Catholic circles.

Sulpicians today[edit]

A community of Sulpician priests has been established in Japan, under the Canadian Province. The 2012 Annuario Pontificio gave 293 as the number of priest members as of 31 December 2010.

Famous Members[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Jean Gautier (1957), Ces Messieurs de Saint Sulpice, Paris: Fayard.
  2. ^ Francis Parkman, La Salle and the Discovery of the Great West, France and England in North America 3, Williamstown, Massachusetts: Corner House Publishers, 1980), 10.
  3. ^ Parkman, 11.
  4. ^ Alanis Obomsawin, Kanesatake: 270 Years of Resistance, National Film Board of Canada, 1993, accessed 30 Jan 2010
  5. ^ Wikisource-logo.svg "Sulpicians in the United States". Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. 1913. 
  6. ^ "Mission and History". Theological College. Retrieved February 18, 2012. 
  7. ^ "Theological College, Washington, D.C.". What We Do. Sulpician Order. Retrieved February 18, 2012. 
  8. ^ Christopher Kauffman (1988), Tradition and Transformation in Catholic Culture: The Priests of Saint Sulpice in the United States from 1791 to the Present, New York: Macmillan.

External links[edit]