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HISTORY OF THE CONGREGATION (MSFS)

The Congregation of the Missionaries of St. Francis de Sales (MSFS/Fransalians) was founded at Annecy in France on 24 October, 1838 by the Servant of God, Fr. Peter Marie Mermier under the patronage of St. Francis de Sales.  It was the realization of the long-cherished desire of Fr. Mermier, an apostle of parish missions.  The political disturbances in the country, especially the French Revolution had its impact on the spiritual realm too as it left the people in a deep spiritual crisis and indifference towards their religious duties.  Sensing the need of the time Fr. Mermier took upon himself the task of a spiritual renewal in his people by preaching parish missions.  This special apostolate in turn gave rise to a community of preachers gathered around Fr. Mermier.  His firm missionary zeal was amply clear from his slogan, “I want mission.”

The newly formed community of missioners, consisting of six members, began to live together at La-Roche-Sur-Foron in 1834.  Realizing the need to give a formal shape to the team Fr. Mermier went ahead with the plan of forming it into a religious society.  A rule of life was drawn up by him in 1836 and the community moved into a new house, La Feuillette at AnnecyMsgr. Pierre Joseph Rey, Bishop of Annecy who was a source of constant support and inspiration  to the missioners conferred the canonical approval on the young congregation on 24th October, 1838 and entrusted it to the care and patronage of St. Francis de Sales, naming the congregation, Missionaries of St. Francis De Sales.  The bishop exhorted the members to study the saint’s works, cultivate his spirit and adopt his method in their dealings with souls

The mission plan of Fr. Mermier included foreign missions too and he made known to the Sacred Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith his desire and willingness to take up missions in Africa.  However contrary to all expectations Rome entrusted his little congregation with the vast mission territory of Visakhapatnam in India in 1845.  Accepting the challenge, Fr. Mermier prepared his best six men to be set out for the new mission.  The pioneering team consisting of Fr. Jacques Martin, Fr. Joseph Lavorel, Fr. Jean Marie Tissot, Fr. Jean Thevenet, Bro. Pierre Carton and Bro. Sulpice Fontanel bid farewell to their confreres and homeland and boarded the ship on 8th June 1845 and arrived at Pondicherry after three months, 8th September.

The mission entrusted to the MSFS was a large territory including parts of the present day states of Andhra Pradesh, Orissa, Madhya Pradesh, Chattisgarh and Maharashtra.  The missionaries rendered their services from the four mission centers of Visakhapatnam, Yanam, Kamptee and Aurangabad.  Fr. Mermier, realizing the urgent needs of the Visakh mission left no stone unturned in finding finance and personnel for the same. Poverty and pain, humiliation and heroism were the foundation stones upon which the Missionaries built up the two large dioceses of Visakhapatnam and Nagpur in India.

Gradually the missionaries began to extend their missionary work to other countries as well.  The MSFS mission in England began thanks to the generosity of Captain Charles Dewel who was in the military unit at Kamptee in India.  He offered his house and property at Malmesbury, back in his home country, England to the MSFS and Fr. Francis Larive who was instrumental in initiating the process was sent from Kamptee to England in 1861 to open the new mission.  The work of the pioneering missionaries bore rich fruit and the English mission, in the course of time, developed into a full-fledged province.

Fr. Mermier, wanting to see his young congregation grow steadily went to Rome to seek the approbation of the Holy See.  He obtained the final decree of approval in 1860, and the Constitutions were approved in 1899.  In 1862, on the morning of September 30th, about 9 O’clock, Fr Mermier, the holy founder, left for his eternal reward, leaving all his confreres grief -stricken.

Many of the missionaries who came to India learned many Indian languages and some of them were so proficient that they wrote many books in many of these languages.  They worked hard, facing all the difficulties.  Sicknesses, inclement weather and hard work took away the lives of many young, zealous missionaries.  The vast territory of Visakhapatnam was divided into two in 1887, forming the new diocese of Nagpur , with Alexis Riccaz msfs as its first bishop.  However the vastness of the territory and the increase in the need for more personnel and resources led to the division of the original Visakhapatnam mission into many dioceses and were handed over to other religious congregations in the course of time.  The Fransalians too, in turn, grew large and began to spread out to the other parts of India. In 1965 both the regions of Visakhaptnam and Nagpur became provinces known as Province of Viskhapatnam and Province of Maharashtra-Goa respectively. And today it has five provinces in India, viz., Visakhapatnam, South-West, North-East, Nagpur and Pune and one Region Tamilnadu.  

Back in France, in 1903, the MSFS lost their mother house at Annecy along with the tombs of the holy founder and other early missionaries as it became the property of the state.  Hence another house adjacent to it was bought making it the mother house and christened it as `Proupeine. ’  About six decades later, the state authorities, while digging at the site of the old mother house found the tombs of Fr. Mermier and other early MSFS confreres.  It is said that when the grave of Fr. Mermier was opened in the presence of the ecclesiastical and civil authorities his body was found incorrupt, with even the vestments intact.  Soon the mortal remains of the venerable founder and the other holy men were transferred to the new house on 24th October, 1960.  The confreres in France and Switzerland were directly under the Superior General till 1959.  It became a region in 1960 and a Province in 1965 and was known as France-Suisse Province .

The Fransalians have established their missions in the American continents too.  In 1926 the mission in Brazil was begun at the invitation of the Archbishop of Sao Paulo.  In the course of time it took deep root and grew into a province in 1965 .  The mission in the United States was begun in 1972 and it became an autonomous Mission in 1990 and today it has spread to a large number of dioceses rendering valuable service to the Church there.  In 1975 MSFS went to North-East India for missionary work and it became a province in 1990 .  In 1994 an MSFS mission was opened in Chile .

The original desire of the founder, to take up a mission in Africa was materialized when a team of four MSFS missionaries from Visakhapatnam landed in Tanzania in 1988 .  The MSFS Foundation there grew into the Province of East Africa in 1996, extending their services to all the East African countries.

In 1991 the Province of Visakhapatnam was divided and the new Province of South West was erected.  In 1996 the Province of Maharashtra-Goa was bifurcated and the two new Provinces of Pune and Nagpur were erected.   The mission in Philippines was opened in 1993 under the aegis of South West Province.  The Vizag province took up the mission of West Indies (Caribbean Islands) in 1998. The Province of North-East took up the mission of Namibia and South Africa in 1998 and 1999 respectively and the Province of Nagpur took up the mission in Mozambique in 2000.  Mission in Romania too was begun in 2000.  In 1999 the South West Province took up the West African mission comprising of the Francophone countries of Chad, Cameroon, Congo Brazaville, Gabon and the Republic of Central Africa.

Besides these established provinces and Regions there are many MSFS foundations in countries like Germany, Italy, Spain, Austria, Australia, West Indies, Ireland, Poland etc.

Thus today the Missionaries of St. Francis De Sales (MSFS) is a large congregation spread over many countries in the world, rendering valuable services to the humanity by holding on to its charism of preaching, parish missions and education of the youth.

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Arrival of MSFS - Pondicherry Beach