Fr. Peter Marie-Mermier
(Founder of the Missionaries of St. Francis de Sales)
The Guiding Light …
In order to better understand the personality of Fr. Peter Mermier and to admire his works it is necessary to remember
that at the time he lived and worked, the population of Savoy was almost rural. The towns and villages had only a few craftsmen and shopkeepers.
At the cost of hard work and strict economy, the people eked out their living by the cultivation of their land and by grazing
their cattle on the mountains.
In this milieu was born on 28th August 1790, one year after the outbreak of the French Revolution, the
one who became the Founder of two religious congregations: the Missionaries of St. Francis de Sales of Annecy, and the Sisters
of the Cross of Chavanod.
Peter Mermier was the son of a peasant and he had the qualities of a peasant: good sense, practical mind, prudent
audacity, tenacious and calm perseverance. His father, Francois Mermier belonged to a race of landowners and a family of good
standing. He married Antionette Bastian whose family was to have in its ancestry Canons and eminent religious men, and
lawyers of illustrious memory.
It was the time of the “Reign of Terror” and of persecution in Savoy.
Churches and parish schools were closed. However, Peter’s brave mother undertook his primary education.
When peace returned to Savoy in 1800, he was sent for his Secondary School studies as a boarder. Later
he completed his formation at the Major Seminary and was ordained a priest in 1813. After three years, he was asked to teach
and be Prefect of Discipline at the boarding School where he had studied.
When Fr. Mermier was about 30, he was appointed Parish Priest of a large Parish. It was here that the
Lord disclosed to him his life’s mission. Fr. Mermier realized that most of the people were indifferent to Catholic
Faith and practice. This was due to the influence of Jansenism which discouraged the people from receiving the Sacraments
frequently. Even more, it was the result of the lack of religious instruction during the persecution following the French
The urgent need of the time was the religious education of the people in order to renew their faith. From
1821, taking the help of other diocesan priests, Fr. Mermier began the apostolate of Parish Missions. With the permission
of the Bishop, they went from parish to parish, motivating the people to receive Sacraments regularly and encouraging them
to live genuine Christian lives.
It was not long before Fr. Mermier felt the need of a Religious Congregation meant exclusively for the
ministry of Parish Mission. In 1832, he decided to form a community of religious priests who would work together as
a team of friends preaching Missions in the parishes of Savoy.
In this project, Fr. Mermier was given every encouragement by Bishop peter Rey of Annecy, who was a successor
and admirer of St. Francis de Sales. On 24th October 1838,
Bishop Rey officially established the Congregation of the Missionaries of St. Francis de Sales. He told Fr. Mermier and his first five Priest companions: “Your duties can be stated briefly: Study St. Francis
de Sales, Imitate his virtues, Form your method of guiding people on his – full of gentleness towards sinners.”
Other than founding the MSFS, he also founded the Sisters of the Cross of Chavanod for the education of needy girls.
Fr. Mermier was a man of zeal, sacrificing himself for others, because he was a man of prayer and close to the
Lord. He invites each one of us to be like him a man of zeal and a man of prayer. In one of his Circulars, he
says: “The obstacles to a spirit of prayer can be overcome only by a strong spiritual motivation, in the determined
effort to die to oneself and to unite oneself closely to our Lord.”
- extract from Father Peter
by Jean Rey MSFS, Visakhapatnam: SFS Publications, 1980;
- Fr. Armind Nazareth msfs, Father Peter Mermier
(Founder of Two Religious Congregations),
in Fransalian International, Jan. 1999