Initiation into the Missionary Life, Manual for the Claretian Novice

This manual presents the summary of the main topics and formation suggestions that the novices in the congregation must learn and assimilate during the novitiate.

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  5. Chapter 5: Our History
Chapter 5: Our History

The novices, upon entering our Institute, enter into direct contact with the professed Claretians of a provincial organism and a specific local community.  But they are going to be part of a wider Congregation that has inherited a universal and missionary spirit. Its charismatic roots are sunk in its Founder, St. Anthony Mary Claret, and it has been tied throughout its history to a congregational tradition.  We cannot simply gloss over this fact. The history of this Congregation — of its members and its works—is our own history.  We need to be familiar with it.

In order to gain a knowledge of our Congregation’s history—even though it may be in a condensed form—we offer this chapter.  It does not reflect the total richness of our history.  It is a summary, a very concise synthesis of our history.  There will be time later to deepen that knowledge by reading other, broader studies. We will develop our presentation according to the following outline:



1. Claret and the Generalate of Fr. Esteban Sala (1850-1858)

            It all began on the afternoon of 16 July 1849 in Vic (Barcelona). Five young priests, all around 30 years of age, hurried along the road to the diocesan seminary.  They were Esteban Sala, José Xifré, Jaime Clotet, Manuel Vilaró and Domingo Fábregas. They had been called together by Fr. Anthony Claret, an enterprising apostolic missionary, 42 years old.  Claret wanted to found a congregation of missionaries who be called, and truly be, Sons of the Immaculate Heart of Mary.  At 3 in the afternoon, once they were all gathered, Fr. Claret began the Spiritual Exercises with these words:

“Today a great work is beginning”.  Fr. Vilaró responded with a laugh: “How important can it be, since we are so young and so few?”  “You’ll see”, said Fr. Claret.  “If we are few, then God’s great power will shine forth even more resplendently”[1].

            The circumstances that led Claret to decide to found a new missionary congregation can be summarized in the disastrous situation the laws of Spain’s liberal government had left the Christian people in.  Native-born evangelizers had disappeared; at the moment they were left in the hands of less than true popular evangelizers.  The idea of the foundation had been gestating for some time; it was not an improvisation.  That man had already felt the personal need to dedicate himself to being a missionary, but he knew he could not do it alone.  He needed to join together with others that had been given a spirit like his[2]. The means he would employ would be the most effective ones of his times: popular missions, spiritual exercises and catechesis.  It seemed like a dream, but the plan was already being implemented.

But nothing prepared that group of young missionaries for the disconcerting news that arrived without warning scarcely 20 days after the founding of the Congregation: Fr. Claret was proposed for the office of Archbishop of Santiago, Cuba, off in the Antilles.  This would mean a difficult period for the newborn Congregation.  The Founder himself knew this and intended to refuse this appointment that would apparently scuttle all his plans. But to no avail.  The proposal became an official appointment.  On 4 October he saw himself as obliged to accept the appointment out of obedience to the Church. Having taken care of various affairs and, above all, having firmly established the initial groundwork for the ccommunity he had founded, a year later, on 6 October 1850, Mosén Claret was consecrated bishop in the Cathdral of Vic.

Before parting from them and leaving for America, Claret had to solve a dificult matter: naming a replacement.  He looked for a person that was the one most suited to the time and one who inspired confidence: Fr. Esteban Sala. With Sala at the helm, the Congregation still passed through a time of paralysis. Ten years later, at the time of Fr. Sala’s premature death, the Congregation had grown hardly at all.  It only had one house, La Merced in Vic, and a total of 10 members.

Fr. José Xifré, likewise belonging to that initial group of co-founders, quickly assumed the directorship of the small community that would begin to grow and multiply.  But, before discussing the period of expansion that the Congregation experienced under his mandate (from 1858 to 1899), we need to consider the role played by Founder during those years once he returned from Cuba.

2. The Founder’s Presence and Decisive Influence (1857-1870)

Archbishop Claret was back in Spain in May, 1857. Having completed his task of missionary shepherd on the island of Cuba, he was recalled to Spain and appointed confessor to Queen Isabella II. Despite his serious responsibilities in the Spanish Court and other concerns, he never divorced himself from “his own”.  He made sure he was always close to them both spatially and emotionally until he died.  He actually took part in the major events of the Congregation: ha attended the general chapters, contributed spiritually and financially to its needs, worked on the development and approval of the Constitutions, fostered and gave direction to the setting up of the first formation structures—the novitiate and scholasticate in Vic—and the first foundations: Gracia, Segovia, Huesca, Jaca, La Selva del Campo.

            Soon the Congregation was subjected to another great trial: the revolution of 1868.  The Founder, as royal confessor, had to go into exile and the Congregation was suppressed by the government on 18 October 1868.  The Congregation’s first martyr, in the house of La Selva del Camp, Fr. Francisco Crusats, was a victim of that revolution.

Our missionaries took refuge in France, in the little town of Prades, which became the center and heart of the Congregation during those years.  The first foundations in Africa and America, in Algeria and Santiago de Chile respectively, as well as the one in Barbastro in Spain, were set up from there. It was there that the news of the final approval of the Constitutions was received on 11 February 1870.  And it was there that the Founder returned when he came back from Rome where he had been attending the 1st Vatican Council.

The Fr. Founder was tired, sick and appeared prematurely old from undergoing the trial of persecution.  In Prades, among his own, he would remain for a little time.  But soon it was necessary to take flight again and so he took up his last refuge in the Cistercian monastery of Fontfroide, where he died on 24 October 1870.  He died having seen the Congregation expand to around 80 members at the time of his death.  Once the final approval of the Constitutions was obtained, he officially made his religious profession.  He willed all his goods, which were few, to the superior of the Institute; but, above all, he left his spirit.  And his spirit was embodied in a special way in those notes that Fr. Xifré had asked him to write down and that we preserve today as a priceless treasure: his Autobiography[3]. Today we can consider it as a true programatic Charter for the Congregation and a source of inspiration for all his missionaries.


1. The Generalate of Fr. José Xifré (1858-1899)

            The ship of the Congregation did not capsize with the death of its Founder.  For 12 years the helm had already been in the hands of a man of simple demeanor and fierce temperament: Fr. José Xifré. He had gotten to know Fr. Claret as a young man in Rome and like him had the desire to dedicate himself to missionary preaching in the manner of the Apostles. He was also part of the small group of co-founders. Now the fate of the Congregation rested in his hands.  He remained calm in the face of danger and had a courageous and enterprising personality.  Under his severe outward appearance hides a great and magnanimous heart[4]. From the time of his election in 1858 until his death in 1899, he dedicated himeself body and soul for 40 long years to the task of governance.  When he assumed directorship of the Congregation it had only 1 house and 10 members.  When he died, the Institute was composed of 61 houses and 1,300 members.

2. Some Events During His Term of Office

  •      He made the decision to transfer the community of Prades to Thuir (France), where he founded a high school seminary.  And once the pre-revolutionary houses were recovered after the restoration of the monarchy in 1875, a glorious period began marked by numerous foundations throughout Spain and in other countries.  He opened missions in Cuba (1880), Equatorial Guinea (1883) and Mexico (1884). The fate of these foundations was very different.  The one in Cuba ended tragically with the death from disease of almost all the missionaries (of 11 only 2 survived), but in Mexico the Congregation grew strong and opened the doors of the United States to the Congregation.
  •      Much has been written about the missions in Guinea.  Wrapped in the mantle of missionary heroism, it was considered the paradigmatic mission of the Congregation.  A great number of missionaries died there, falling victim to an inhospitable climate and the hardships of their apostolic labors.  Some of the Congregation’s most beautiful history would be written there[5].  And the first bishop of the Congregation after the Founder would be appointed there: Fr. Armengol Coll.
  •      Some new foundations were motivated by the internal growth of the Institute: the number of students—semianrians or missionaries in formation—was growing year by year and larger and more suitable places were required for their formation.  And so were born the schools at Santo Domingo de la Calzada and Cervera, which were so significant in the formation of entire generations of Claretians during the first century of the Congregation in Spain.
  •      But the very fact of the extension of the Congregation into different regions and into new countries also required being present in vital nerve centers.  And so it was not long before foundations were set up in Madrid (1877) and Rome (1884).
  •      In 1889 the first issue of the Annals of the Congregation was published.  This is the official publication in which important documents of the Church and of our Congregation are collected, along with information of interest to all Claretians[6].
  •      The expansion of the Institute, accompanied by new foundations, advised its division into several juridical organisms.  It was no longer possible to support the Congregation’s skeletal structure on only one foot.  The structural basis needed to be broadened.  And so in 1895 came the first division of the Congregation into two Provinces: Catalonia and Castille. Likewise, other Delegations or Visitorships[7] were created or would be created (in Chile, Equatorial Guinea, Mexico and Brazil).
  •      During this first stage of the Institute’s expansion we should also highlight the relevance of various people outstanding in holiness as well as in their missionary boldness, their wisdom or governmental acumen.  At the risk of omitting the names of Claretians that deserve to be mentioned, whose memory is preserved in our archives with great care and devotion, we venture to list certain famous ones: Pablo Vallier, Donato Berenguer, Miguel Xancó, Mariano Avellana, Antonio Pueyo, Isaac Burgos, Ramón Genover, Diego Gavín, Manuel Giol, Félix A. Cepeda…, and so many others.


1. The Generalate of Fr. Clemente Serrat (1899-1906)

The dawn of the 20th century would be accompanied by a considerable increase in the number of members, which would entail an increase in organizational complexity.  Fr. Clemente Serrat, the new superior general, in 1902 wrote the circular letter The Religious Vocation, which deals with the problems created in various areas by the complexity attained by the Institute and which urges all members to greater fidelity to their own missionary vocation. Just a year earlier, in 1901, the first history of the Congregation had been published, written by Fr. Mariano Aguilar[8]. The Congregation was looking at itself, turning its gaze on its historical roots, as it completed the first half century of its founding. Those roots had been strongly implanted and had already made a considerable evangelizing development possible. Let us recall some facts:

  •      Its own formation centers that attended to the education of the vocations that were arising were being solidly etablished.  And other organisms were being created outside Spain.
  •      The Visitorship of Equatorial Guinea (then Spanish Guinea), created several years earlier, was being governed by Fr. Armengol Coll, also appointed Vicar Apostolic by the Holy See, who represented the superior general internally with broad powers.  This Visitorship of Guinea, governed by the tireless spirit of Fr. Coll and supported by the dynamic work of zealous missionaries, became, in 1904, an organism of superior rank, i.e., a Quasi-Province.
  •      In America new horizons opened for the Congregation’s expansion: the Visitorship of South America, which at its inception was made up only of the communities in Chile, added on the community of Sao Paulo, the first one in Brazil, founded in 1895. That year that Visitorship, up to then dependent on the General Government, became a dependency of the newly-created Province of Castille.  In 1901, Argentina was added to that Visitorship, with the founding of the community in Buenos Aires.
  •      The Visitorship of North America, dependent since 1895 on the Province of Catalonia, took on an expansionist character stemming from the appointment in 1901 of Fr. Ramón Prat. A result of missionary inroads made into Texas and California in the United States was the founding of the community of San Antonio, in 1902.
  •      The principal ministry in that period continued to be preaching in various modalities, not only popular missions and spiritual exercises. High schools began to be opened and, similarly, various parishes were taken on. Andacollo, in Chile, was the first community that assumed the structure of an active parish, in 1900.
  •      The Claretian inspiration in the apostolate of the written word also continued as publishing activity in various countries expanded.  Journals were created such as Iris de Paz (Rainbow of Peace), Ave María (Hail Mary), La Guinea Española (The Spanish Guinean), El Misionero (The Missionary) and Ilustración del Clero (Priestly Portraits).
  •      The General Chapter 1904 made the decision to create the Quasi-Provinces of Chile and Brazil-Argentina, independent of Catalonia and Castille respectively. That same Chapter ordered the creation of a new Province, that of Bética.

2. The New Acme of the Congregation: The Generalate of Fr.    Martín Alsina (1906-1922)

            On the death of Fr. Clemente Serrat, in 1906, the generalate passed to the man who was sub-director of the Institute at the time, Fr. Martín Alsina. With him at the helm, the Congregation underwent vigorous growth.  If we want to highlight some particular aspect of this expansion of the Institute, we can note that this period saw the development of impulses in a spirit of missions ad gentes (“foreign” missions).  Here are some examples:

  •      There were further inroads into Africa and America.  The Congregation was entrusted with the missionary evangelization of Baja California by the Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith and offered the territories of Rio de Oro in Africa. Requests were pouring in from all over and many had to be refused such as the Prefecture of Arauca, the Vicariate Apostolic of Pará, and the islands of Providencia y San Andrés. But the Congregation had already committed itself to other missions that were great undertakings, such as that of the Chocó, in Colombia. A wide range of circumstances led Fr. Martín Alsina to take up this mission in 1909. The mission of  Chocó was a huge territory made up of two provinces, San Juan and Atrato, whose capitals were Istmina and Quibdó. The initial difficultiues were huge and only men of unflagging zeal could overcome them. The tremendous effort carried out even cost some men their lives, among them the Prefect Apostolic himself, Fr. Juan Gil, who heads an impressive honor roll of heroes who died proclaiming the Gospel in the Chocó[9].
  •      Even though the taking on of new missions was done at the cost of sacrifices and commitment of personnel, the growth of the Congregation in the rest of America could not be restrained.  The Quasi-Province of Chile moved inland into two new nations, Bolivia and Peru, with foundations in Cochabamba and Lima (1910). The Quasi-Province of Argentina-Brazil set up a new foundation in Peñarol, Uruguay (1908). When the feverish growth of these organisms was ascertained, it was decided in 1908 to divide the latter, creating the Quasi-Provinces of Argentina-Uruguay and of Brasil.
  •      The Vice-Province of North America also extended its activity throughout Mexico and the United States.
  •      The Congregation, called to a universal mission but born in Europe, also extended itself on its native continent: in Portugal, with an initial foundation at Aldeia da Ponte in 1898, under the Province of Castille.  This foundation was in the process of growing stronger when the Portuguese revolution of 1910 expelled our brothers.  They did not return until 10 years later, in 1920, establishing themselves this time in Freineda.
  •      The Province of Bética was set up as an organism of the Congregation right after the 9th General Chapter held in 1904 in La Selva del Campo. The first of its numerous foundations was carried out in Seville in 1906. This was largely due to the work of an outstanding pioneer, Fr. Antonio M. Pueyo, who later opened new avenues to the Congregation in England and France and who was ultimately appointed to serve as Bishop of pasto in Colombia.
  •      In those years the intiatives of several zealous and enterprising Sons of the Heart of Mary—such as Fr. Pueyo, whom we just mentioned, Fr. Ramón Genover and others—opened new and difficult missionary inroads into Europe for the Congregation. In 1912, a foundation was established in London and another that same year in Trieste (Italy), the gateway to foundations in Germany.  In 1913, one was established in Paris.
  •      The 11th General Chapter, held in Vic in 1912, reelected Fr. Martín Alsina and made important decisions that affected the restructuring of the Institute and its immediate future.  The Congregation at the time had 112 houes, 1,633 professed members and 120 novices.

Around the time that this Chapter was held, formation centers were established and based on a grand Plan of Studies; provincial structures were consolidated; the Constitutions were translated from Latin into Castillian and the seat of the General Government was transferred from Aranda de Duero (Burgos) to Madrid.  The name Missionaries was definitively adopted and made part of the Congregation’s seal or coat of arms[10], a seemingly minor point but one of deep significance.

  •      In these years war clouds loomed over Europe and the world and the First World War erupted in 1914.  Although it certainly did not affect the Congregation’s personnel directly, it caused it deep sorrow in many other ways.

The Carranzist Revolution in Mexico, however, would affect at least one member of the Congregation as the Congregation added its second martyr: Br. Mariano González, shot in Toluca in 1914.

  •      The somber postwar years in Europe saw the Congregation’s recovery in Cuba and Portugal.  It returned to establish a foundation in Cuba, at Palma Soriano in 1918.  The much-desired foundation in Santiago, where our Founder had been archbishop, became a reality a short time later, in 1921. The foundation in Freineda (Portugal) in 1920 also was the beginning of numerous foundations in Portuguese territory.


1. The Generalates of Fr. Nicolás García (1922-1934; 1937-1949) and Fr. Felipe Maroto (1934-1937)

      In 1922, after the death of Fr. Martín Alsina, the 12th General Chapter elected Fr. Nicolás García, who would govern the Congregation until 1949 except for the brief three-year generalate of Fr. Felipe Maroto, from 1934 to 1937. Let us recall the main actions of this government:

  •      During the early years of Fr. Nicolás García’s term the adaptation of the Constitutions to the new Code of Canon Law that had been adopted by the Church shortly before, in 1917, was undertaken and the adapted text of the Constitutions was published in 1924; a compilation of all earlier orders and dispositons was gathered into a Codex Iuris Additici (Code of Additional Law) (CIA)[11] and a new Plan of Studies for the Congregation was developed (OSG)[12].
  •      The Congregation’s structure was becoming more complex as new organisms were created and the Congregation’s presence extended to new countries such as Venezuela, Panama and the Dominican Republic (1923), Germany (1924), El Salvador, Sao Tomé y Príncipe (1927), China (1929), Poland (1932). Some of these foundations were in mission territory.  If we want to single out some with the greatest difficulties we can mention Darién in Panama, San José de Tocantins in Brazil and Tunki, in China. The accepting of the mission in China presupposed a strong impetus toward foreign missions.  In 1928, the Church offered it to the Congregation for the specific purpose of taking charge of the central seminary in Kaiffeng. In October of 1929 the first missionaries arrived there and, in 1933, were put in charge of part of the Vicariate of Wuhu. In 1937 the Prefecture Apostolic of Tunki was created.  It was entrusted to the Congregation and its first Prefect Apostolic was appointed in the person of Fr. José Fogued. This great adventure would not last too long, since the missionaries were expelled from China by the Maoist Revolution of 1949[13].
  •      Those years were a mixture of joy and sorrow.  There was the joy of the laying of the cornerstone of the International Votive Temple in Rome in 1924 and the consecration of the world to the Heart of Mary in 1925.  But there was sorrow in the bloody persecution and subsequent expulsion of the missionaries by the Mexican revolution of 1926, which culminated with the martyrdom of Fr. Andrés Solá in 1927. Yet, despite everything, the Congregation was carrying out its missionary commitment in wide areas throughout the world.
  •      The beatification of our Fr. Founder took place on 24 February 1934[14]. The Claretians attended the glorification of Fr. Claret with a joy that could not be contained and saw in the beatification the Church’s recognition of our Founder as a model for missionary life.
  •      Also in 1934, the 13th General Chapter was held in Rome and elected a new Superior General, Fr. Felipe Maroto. At that Chapter the decision was made to transfer the General Curia to Rome and also to establish an International College there.
  •      The years of the generalate of Fr. Maroto (1934-1937) were deeply etched by the horrific situation of the Congregation in Spain, which was the lifeblood of the Congregation.  The National Uprising of 18 July 1936 and the dramatic events that followed paralyzed almost all ministry and led to the martyrdom of 271 of our Priests, Students and Brothers[15]. This had a decisive impact on our Congregation both in terms of vocations and of finances.  For this reason Fr. Maroto called on the solidarity and availability of all Claretians in a Circular Letter entitled The Missions of the Congregation (1937).
  •      In 1937 Fr. Felipe Maroto died unexpectedly.  His death entailed the convocation of a new General Chapter to elect someone to direct the Congregation.  Emerging from the elections as Superior General once more was Fr. Nicolás García.
  •      Upon assuming the directorship of the Congregation once again, Fr. Nicolás García tried to revive its spirit and foster the promotion of vocations.  In 1938 he wrote a Circular Letter entitled The Missionary Vocation in which he called on all the Provinces to increase their number of postulants and pre-postulants and to create the position of Vocation Promoter.
  •      After the Civil War the Congregation in Spain began a period of recovery.  The houses that had been seized were returned, the seminaries were full once again, publishing started up again and other new ones were begun such as Ephemerides Mariologicae (1941) and Vida Religiosa (1944) and assistance and new expeditions into mission lands resumed.
  •      But there was a new trial coming that would affect the Congregation all over Europe: the Second World War.  This war damaged the Congregation especially by the isolation it was subjected to in some countries and also by losses of life that led to personnel shortages in some organisms such as Germany where 12 professed and 10 postulants were among the dead or missing[16].
  •      We can say that the Congregation began to return to normal in 1947, after more than a decade of trials and sufferings.  That year marked a new and important missionary endeavor with the establishment of the Catholic Mission of St. Barbara in the Philippine Islands, although it was of short duration.  The effort was taken up again by the United States and a new attempt was made, this time successfully, in Zamboanga in 1951. But the year 1947, that signaled better times ahead, also saw the sad news of the violent death of Fr. Modesto Arnaus in El Chocó (Colombia); and the following year added the fateful consequences of the Maoist Revolution in China that ended the Congregation’s missionary dreams in that huge country.

The Congregation, in light and shadow, was journeying toward its 100th anniversary.

2. A New Era for the Congregation: The Generalate of Fr. Peter   Schweiger (1949-1967)

            In 1949, during the 15th General Chapter, Fr. Peter Schweiger was elected Superior General and then, 12 years later at the next General Chapter (1961) was reelected to the same office.

On 16 July 1949 the centenary of the Congregation’s founding was celebrated.  One hundred years had passed since those 6 young priests in Vic made the decision to found the Congregation of Missionary Sons of the Heart of Mary.  The Congregation now had 2,638 professed members and 160 young novices from 25 different nations[17]. The celebration of the first 100 years filled the hearts of Claretian Missionaries with optimism[18]. Let us recall some principal events of significant happenings:

  •      The Congregation by then was taking on a universal coloration.  The General of the Institute was a German, Fr. Peter Schweiger.  The site chosen for the centennial celebration was London, a place outside the usual Claretian routes.  The Eucharist that day was celebrated at the parish in Hayes, still accepted only provisionally.  All these details show that something was changing, i.e., the Congregation was taking on a universal shape that could even be seen in its visible head, the Superior General.
  •      The echoes of the centennial celebration had hardly died away when news arrived of the canonization of our Fr. Founder, which took place on 7 May 1950.  This was undoubtedly another watershed moment for the Congregation[19]. It was not only a public recognition of the holiness of a man, but also the Church’s official acknowledgement of his works, among which the Congregation of Missionaries stands out.
  •      In 1952 in Rome the International Votive Templededicated to the Heart of Mary was opened.  Work on it had begun in 1926.  But the Temple was still unfinished, since the Superiors had decided not to put on the finial of the dome designed, like the whole church, by Armando Brasini. The idea for this grand monument had been Pius XI’s, who wanted the Heart of Mary to have a worthy church in the Eternal City entrusted to the sons of Fr. Claret. With its dedication the General Curia was relocated next to the Basilica.  This church, like many others later dedicated by her sons to the Heart of Mary, was the outward symbol of an inner conviction shared from the time of our Fr. Founder that Mary is the Foundress, Mother, Mistress and all for her sons after Jesus.
  •      It could be argued that these events were making Superiors forget about the true object of the Congregation.  But this was not so.  It was already in the mind of Fr. General to make a gesture to recall attention to what was basic, i.e., to mission.  He was planning a new foundation; but one that would capture the new appearance of the Congregation—a mission in the Orient, in Japan.  And so, on 2 January 1952, the Missionaries took up residence in the parish in Imaichi at the invitation of the Bishop of Osaka, Most Rev. Paul Taguchi. That would be the first many foundations in new countries such as Austria and Costa Rica (1951), Canada (1953), Ecuador and Holland (1955), Switzerland (1958), Nicaragua (1960), Zaire and Belgium (1962), Guatemala (1966). There were many requests that arrived asking for Claretians to establish foundations in other places but it was impossible to meet all the demands[20].
  •      Where the Congregation was already working, it continued to develop its activity and more solidly establish itself despite new, sad crises that it had to face, such as the expulsion or persecution of the missionaries in China (1952), in Argentina (1955), in Cuba (1959), in the Dominican Republic (1960). But, thank God, other causes for family joy were also present, such as the appointment of the first Cardinal from the Congregation in the person of Fr. Arcadio M. Larraona in 1959.  An important initiative in th area of formation, with a universal outreach, was the creation of two new theologates: one in Rome (1959) and the other in Salamanca (1960).
  •      In mid-1961, the 16th General Chapter noted the most pressing problems facing the Congregation at the time: lack of a sufficient number of qualified personnel, lack of a formation program that met the demands of the Church and the tenor of the times, a certain eroding of religious spirit, which the Chapter said was caused by agitation by the apostles of modernity[21]. This feeling was not limited to our Congregation.  The Church likewise felt a need for renewal on all levels.  Soon it would be announced that a new ecumenical council would be held, that would signal a new dawn and give a strong impetus to the whole Church, including every religious institute. The Congregation, which experienced the Council at close range[22], would be one of the first to accept the directives of Vatican II, supporting the renewal and carrying it forward enthusiastically.
  •      During the years the Council met the Congregation’s duties in the Church were growing through the taking on of responsibilities in Vicariates and Prelatures, such as Quibdó (Colombia) in 1952, Isabela (the Philippines) in 1963 y Río Muni (Equatorial Guinea) in 1965. It also took on mission territories that required special generosity and dedication Se asumieron igualmente más territorios de misión que exigían: Tlacoapa in Mexico (1960), Kingandu in Zaire (1962), Formosa in Argentina (1963), Izabal and Santa María de Jesús in Guatemala (1966).
  •      The Congregation once again reflected on its origins as part of the renewal movement that arose from the Council.  It looked back on its historical roots and, in 1967, a new history of the Congregation was published, written by Fr. Cristóbal Fernández[23].


1. The Generalates of Frs. Antonio Leghisa (1967-1979)

and Gustavo Alonso (1979-1985)

            It was the 17th General Chapter (1967) that set in motion the renewal of the Congregation. At that Chapter the Congregation’s charismatic identity was probed and clarified, the missionary character of the Congregation was highlighted using the criteria of what was most urgent, opportune and effective when adopting apostolic means. The Chapter thoroughly revised the Congregation’s religious and apostolic life, returning to the wellsprings that inspired its charism.  With Slovenian Fr. Antonio Leghisa at the helm of the Institute for 2 terms (1967-1973 and 1973-1979), the Congregation tackled the task of renewal.

  •      One of the most important tasks carried out was the adaptation of the Constitutions and Directory to the new spirit of the Council.  This task would not be completed until later, during the 1980’s.
  •      Impelled by the Chapter of renewal, the Congregation tried out a new, decentralized formula for its missionary expansion.  Major Organisms that had a large number of personnel and sufficient finances began to open new foundations on new frontiers far outside the boundaries of the Province.  Thus new missionary positions were established in countires where there had been little or no Claretian until then: in the Diocese of San Pedro Sula, Honduras (1967), in the Prelature of Humahuaca, Argentina (1968), in the Prelature of Sao Félix do Araguaia, Brazil (1968), in the Diocese of Colón, Panama (1969), in Angola (1969), in the Diocese of Asunción, Paraguay (1970), in Kuravilandgad, Kerala -India- (1970), in Akono, Cameroon (1970), in Juanjuí and other places in the Prelature of Moyobamba, Peru (1970), in Slovenia (1971), in Sacaca, Bolivia (1972), in Nigeria (1973), in Gabon (1975), in Yugoslavia (1977), in Mukila, Zaire (1982), in Australia (1983), in Guajará-Mirim, Brazil (1984) and in South Korea (1985).
  •      During this period the Continental Conferences were created and various Missionary Encounters took place on the continental level.
  •      The foundation in India deserves a special mention.  This foundation was being forged throughout the 1960’s through the initiative of the German Province, which was welcoming onto European soil a group of Indian seminarians.  Through them, from Europe, they were laying the groundwork for the future foundation in India.  A year later, in 1970, the first foundation on the Indian sub-continent was established in Kuravilandgad (Kerala).  India has been the cradle of so many Claretians and is today the location of several organisms of the Congregation.
  •      The 19th General Chapter in 1979 gave a new impetus to the Congregation with its document The Mission of the Claretian Today (MCT).  The Argentinian Fr. Gustavo Alonso was elected General. In the years that followed new channels of renewal and missionary animation arose: courses in Claretian spirituality, priest weeks, publications on Claretian themes along with the annual The Claretian Mission, symposia of the Claretian Family[24], etc. But one of the most revolutionary ideas came into being in 1982 with the revision of positions, which attempted to promote a serious analysis and establishment of apostolic works, services and structures according to the objectives and options of the MCT.
  •         Throughout this whole period the Congregation underwent persecution and suffering in various parts of the world.  This happened, for example, in Equatorial Guinea, Brazil, Angola, Sao Tomé, the Philippines, etc.  It was tested by the suffering in Guinea where, after independence in 1968 and the subsequent seizure of power by President Macías Nguema, religious persecution arose that included the imprisonment and torture of our native brothers and the expulsion of most of the foreign missionaries from the country; this situation abruptly ended in 1979 with the fall of the President, but difficulties continue preventing the full recovery of this country.  In 1976, in the Prelature of Sao Félix do Araguaia, in Brazil, the Claretian Missionaries were also persecuted. Their support of the poor indigenous farmers, the poseiros, was misunderstood. Among the sacrifice of so many committed evangelizers in this struggle, we can mention Jesuit Fr. Joao Bosco Penido, a close collaborator of Claretian Bishop Pedro Casaldáliga, in whose presence he was murdered for defending the cause of the poor.  In Angola and Sao Tomé the safety of the missionaries was threatened after independence in 1975, forcing almost all of them to flee their mission posts until the normalizing of the situation in 1981. And, lastly, in Basilan (the Philippines), where Muslim rebels burned down the hospital run by our Br. José M. Torres, in 1977, which was the start of a long nightmare.

2. Prophetic Service of the Word: The Generalates of Frs. Gustavo Alonso (1985-1991) and Aquilino Bocos (1991-2003)

            The recent General Chapters held since 1985 have been pursing the theme of the new dawn for the Congregation, initiated right after the Council, through new documents such as The Claretian in the Process of Congregational Renewal (CPR) (1985), Servants of the Word (SW) (1991) and In Prophetic Mission (IPM) (1997).  This same spirit is seen in the many Circular Letters that Frs. General Gustavo Alonso and Aquilino Bocos (elected at the 20th General Chapter in 1991), have published at this current stage of our Institute’s life that is going on even as we speak. Let us recall some significant data and events:

  •      The culmination of this renewal process can be considered—at least insofar as the importance of the texts to which we are referring is concerned—is the final approval of the revised Constiutions (1986) and Directory (1987).
  •      On 25 October 1992 the Congregation joyously celebrated an event that had been long awaited: the beatification of the 51 Martyrs of Barbastro. Their witness of faith had not gone unnoticed by the Church.  In St. Peter’s Square, Pope John Paul II solemnly recognized the witness value of their self-offering and commended the testimony of that “Martyr Seminary”[25]. From that time on, Barbastro, the city where they lived, where they were martyred and where their relics rest, became a place of pilgrimage and a stimulus for mission.
  •      In the background was presence, on the one hand, of an acute vocation crisis in areas that once had been rich in vocations, and, on the other hand, a strong increase in the number of aspirants and men in formation in areas with more recent foundations.  The Congregation gave a strong push to promoting vocations and to formation.  To fulfill this purpose several documents were published: the General Plan of Formation (1994), the Claretian Vocation Directory (2000) and Initiation into the Missionary Life: A Manual for the Claretian Novice (2002). Impetus was given to various encounters for Claretian renewal and priest weeks.  The Heart of Mary School for formators was set up.  The Congregation’s reflection on Claretian and Cordi-Marian spirituality was promoted and led to other, more concrete experiences, such as The Forge (organized by Castille but open to other organisms). Also contributing to this impetus in formation was the publication of the writings of our Fr. Founder in various languages, of letters he sent and received, of commentaries on the Constitutions and other works that allow us to get back to the charismatic roots of the Congregation, such as the one by Fr. Jesús Álvarez entitled Claretian Missionaries[26].

At the same time the Congregation’s sphere of influence in the area of formation was extended to other congregations in the Church through the Centers for the study of religious life in Madrid, Rome, the Philippines and India, and through the organization of various Religious Life Weeks, such as those in Mexico and those promoted by the Study Centers mentioned.

  •      Missionary animation was carried out through Missionary Encounters set up on various continents.  Preparation for missionary service was fostered through the Congregation’s Word-Mission Project.  The General Government also organized missionary experiences in various countries. Encounters to reflect on various areas of pastoral activity were encouraged.  Workshops were set up for reflection on specific dimensions of evangelization.  And the revision of posiitons continued to be promoted.
  •      New pastoral dimensions appeared on the missionary horizon: renewed popular missions, biblical centers, the world of immigration, forefront missions, work with addicts, presence among the marginated, commitment to peace and justice, inter-religious dialogue, social communications media, presence on university campuses, promotion of native peoples, etc.–new fields for new generations of missionaries.
  •      The fall of the Berlin Wall and the opening up of Eastern Europe gave the Congregation and the Church at large a new challenge that had to be met.  Missionary inroads into these countries soon began, the majority of them resulting in promising new foundations: Bialrus (1991), Siberia (1992), the Czech Republic (1994), Slovakia (1997), European Russia (1998). But none of them overshadowed the importance of the foundation on Taiwan in 1994 for the Congregation.  Its gaze had always been fixed on China, with the proposal to return as soon as possible to that huge country where our brothers had already been and from which they had been expelled.
  •      At the same time new missionary inroads were being made into various countries where the Congregation had never had a presence before: Ivory Coast, Timor and Indonesia (1990), Sri Lanka and Kenya (1991), Tanzania (1994), Uganda (1995), Ghana (1997), Haití (1999), Chad and Jamaica (2001), Zimbabwe, Belize and Vietnam (2002).
  •      In order to support the vast expenditures of personnel and resources new instruments were being created, among those we can highlight the mission procures and the non-governmental organizations (NGOs), which attempt to motivate and keep the missionary spirit alive around our activites that are developed in countries with old and deep Christian roots.
  •      An unmistakable and lasting sign of the vitality of the Congregation keeps on being persecutions, which have not been missing from any period in its history, not even this latest one.  In 1991 the tupamaros violently took over the mission of Juanjui in Peru.  During this same period violence intensified in Zaire where soldiers looted the institute of Philosophy in Kinshasa.  In the early 1990’s systematic attacks began on the mission in Basilan, which resulted in the separate kidnappings of Frs. Eduardo Monge and Bernardo Blanco. The persecution has continued since then and, in the year 2000, claimed the life of one of the Filipino missionaries, Fr. Rhoel Gallardo[27], a new martyr for the Faith.  In El Estor, Guatemala, the missionaries had to suffer threats and judicial prosecutions for defending those who were poorest.  In 1995 a bomb exploded in the church of Guadalupe, in Managua (Nicaragua), although the perpetrator of the attack was unknown.  There was no let-up in the harassment of the missionaries in Equatorial Guinea.  In 1997 the situation worsened in Zaire, affecting the students above all. In Quibdó (Colombia) the situation keeps on getting worse and affecting the missionaries, who continue their constant efforts in defense of the farmers.  Finally, tragedy swept East Timor where the missionaries were persecuted and all their houses and churches destroyed. This is a brief summary of many days and years of the sufferings of a Congregation that has always enjoyed the privilege of martyrdom.
  •      And, finally, a look through the windows of the communications media that we are working in today: the exchange of information and relationships in the Congregation has been receiving more and more emphasis through the bulletin of the Congregation NUNC, the annual The Claretian Mission and Province bulletins. We cannot ignore the importance that radio and TV programs have for evangelization, as well as the publishing houses that some organisms run.  Advances in media technology keep on making communication more extensive and complex, especially through the Internet and the many web pages, which is a new challenge for our missionary vocation.


A century and a half has gone by.  On 24 October 1998 the celebration of the 150th anniversary of the founding of the Congregation began, not in the Founder’s birthplace of Catalonia, but in Bangalore, with all the major superiors in attendance, representing the Claretians from all the countries where the Congergation is present.  And the jubilee activities concluded on 7 May 2000, the 50th anniversary of the canonization of our Fr. Founder. The culmination of the jubilee celebration took place in Vic on 16 July 1999, centered on the cell of the foundation and alongside the remodeled tomb of the Fr. Founder, with a large number of Claretians from all over the world present.

As the Jubilee Year closed, the statistics on the Congregation were as follows: 3,075 members, 34 major Organisms and a presence in 56 countries[28].

            In concluding this chapter we want to recall that we are tracing here only a summary of the history of our religious family; the history of a Congregation—our own—that has remained deeply rooted, like a leafy tree in the forest of the Church, for more than a century and a half.  But its history keeps on being written day in and day out, in every part of the world, wherever a Claretian missionary keeps the spirit of the Founder alive.

In conclusion we draw on the words of Fr. General:

“It may seem presumptuous to address to the Congregation these words of the Lord: You are the salt of the earth…You are the light of the world (Mt. 5: 13,14). But that is our vocation: to salt the entire earth despite our small size.  When we were still few in number and had only 3 communities our Father Founder raised a prayer of thanksgiving to God and to Mary Most Holy because he perceived that, although we were few, we were to flavor the entire world.  That act of thanksgiving must be continued today for more and more reasons. Our Congregation spans five continents, offering there its humble service of evangelization”[29].

[1] J. CLOTET, Vida edificante del P. Claret, Misionero y Fundador (The Edifying Life of Fr. Claret, Missionary and Founder), Madrid, Publicaciones Claretianas, 2000, p. 252.

[2] Aut 489.

[3] He wrote it in two sections, the first finished in 1862 and the second in 1865.  The original manuscript is in the General Archive in Rome.

[4] Shortly before his death after 40 years at the helm of the Congregation, Fr. Xifré addressed his last words to the Congregation—his final farewell—in these words: “My beloved Congregation: I have loved you as well as I could until the end and I will not forget you in eternity.  I have lived only for you, without shunning sacrifices or danger”. Anales de la Congregación de los Misioneros Hijos del Inmaculado Corazón de María, t. 7 (1899-1900), pp. 255-256.

[5] Cf. C. FERNÁNDEZ, Misiones y Misioneros en la Guinea Española. Historia documentada de sus primeros azarosos días (1883-1912)(Missions and Missionaries in Spanish Guinea: A Documentary History from Its First Perilous Days (1883-1912), Madrid, Ed. Coculsa, 1962, pp. 286-290.

[6] The journal Anales de la Congregación de los Misioneros Hijos del Inmaculado Corazón de María began publication in 1889, intended only for members of the Congregation.  It had been preceded by a similar publication, from 1885 to 1888, entitled Boletín Religioso (Bulletin for Religious). The title of the journal was changed from Spanish to Latin (Annales Congregationis Missionariorum Filiorum Inmaculati Cordis Beatae Mariae Virginis) in 1935.

[7] Visitorship: an old organism of the Congregation similar to a Province but of juridically inferior rank.

[8] M. AGUILAR, Historia de la Congregación de los Misioneros Hijos del Inmaculado Corazón de María, 2 vol., Barcelona, Lib. Montserrat, 1901.

[9] Cf. Various, La misión claretiana del Chocó (1909-1959). Cincuenta años al servicio de Cristo y de Colombia (The Claretian Mission in Chocó (1909-1959): 50 Years of Service to Christ and to Colombia) , Madrid, Imp. Héroes, 1960, pp. 223ff.

[10] In relation to the symbolic meaning represented by the Congregation’s seal or coat of arms, the General Chapter of 1912 made a decision that recaptured (with minor changes) the original coat of arms designed by the Fr. Founder and modified in 1876. The Chapter centered its reflection on this point mainly around the motto that the coat of arms should bear. After several proposals it adopted the one it bears today: Filii eius beatissimam praedicaverunt (The sons proclaim her most blessed). A Committee headed by Fr. Francisco Naval presented the model to the General Government, who approved it in 1914 and published it in the Annales. On the symblic importance of the Congregation’s coat of arms see the learned commentary of J. ÁLVAREZ, “El escudo de la Congregación y la Nueva Evangelización. Reflexiones en torno al XXI Capítulo General” (“The Congregation’s Coat of Arms and the New Evangelization: Reflections on the 21st General Chapter”), en Nunc, n. 258, Jan.-Feb. 1991.

[11] Codex Iuris Additicii pro Missionariis Congregationis Filiorum Immaculati Cordis B. M. V. Capitulorum et Superiorum Generalium (Code of Additonal Law of General Chapters and Superiors General for the Missionaries of the Congregation of the Immaculate Heart of the Blessed Virgin Mary), Madrid, Ed. Ibérica, 1925.

[12] Ordo Studiorum Generalis pro Missionariis Congregationis Filiorum Immaculati Cordis B. M. V. (General Order of Studies for the Missionaries of the Congregation of the Immaculate Heart of the Blessed Virgin Mary), Rome, Typ. Pol. “Cuore di Maria”, 1929.

[13] Cf. A. REBOLLAR, “Vida misionera entre amarillos y rojos” (“Missionary Life Under Yellows and Reds”), in the Bulletin of the Province of León (1999-2001).

[14] Much was written about the outstanding figure of our Founder when he was beatified: cf. various articles in Iris de Paz (1934). The chronicle of the Beatification may be consulted in Annales (1934), pp. 218-243.

[15] Of the 271 Claretian martyrs sacrificed during the Spanish Civil War, the 51 from Barbastro stand out by reason of their courageous witness.  How valuable for indicating this is the little scrap of paper with the words of Faustino Pérez:“12 August 1936.  In Barbastro.  Six of our companions are already martyrs.  We hope to soon be ones as well; but before it happens we want to make it clear that we die forgiving those who take our lives and we offer our lives for the Christian order of the working world, the definitive ascendancy of the Catholic Church, and for our beloved Congregation and our beloved families.  The ultimate gift to the Congregation by its Martyr sons! [Signatures of all the martyrs…] You will live forever, Beloved Congregation, as long as you have sons in jail like the ones you have in Barbastro.  Have no misgivings about your eternal destiny.  How we wanted to fight in your ranks! Blessed be God! Faustino Pérez, C.M.F.” (Cf. G. CAMPO, Esta es nuestra sangre. 51 claretianos mártires. Barbastro, agosto 1936 (This is Our Blood: 51 Claretian Martyrs. Barbastro, August 1936), Madrid, Publicaciones Claretianas, 1990, pp. 218-220).

[16] Cf. An historical picture of what happened in the German Visitorship is contained in the report presented to 15th General Chapter at Castelgandolfo (1949), published in the Annales (1949), pp. 219-228.

[17] Cf. Catalogus Congregationis Miss. Fil. Imm. Cor. B. M. V. (1950), p. 215.

[18] Many Claretians came to the “cell of the foundation” in Vic during those days, trying to relive, in some way, with inexprssible emotion, the moment of the founding. Cf. Annales, (1949), pp. 204 ss.

[19] The journal Iris de Paz (1950) has ample coverage of the canonization of the saint; also see the Annales, Apr.-Jun. (1950), pp. 384-414.

[20] As an indicator, let us recall the foundations that were refused around the year 1958: one or two Vicariates in New Guinea, Katanga in the Belgian Congo, the seminary of Ziguinchor in French Senegal, the Prefecture Apostolic of Kayes also in French Senegal, Cologne in Germany, a parish in Warsaw (Poland), Milan, Quito, Madagascar, etc. Cf. Annales (1959), pp. 15-16.

[21] Cf. Annales (1961), pp. 67-79 and 101-115.

[22] Following in the footsteps of the Founder, who participated in Vatican I, the Congregation had the opportunity to participate in Vatican II through some of its members. Some were expressly appointed as periti (experts), some attended by being specially appointed, such as Superior General Fr. Peter Schweiger, and others attended because they were bishops.  Here are their names: Card. Arcadio M.Larraona, Archbishop Abel Antezana, Bishops Arturo Tabera, Francisco Prada, Geraldo Fernandes, Pedro Grau, Jesús Serrano, Francisco Gómez, José M.Queretxeta and the recently chosen Rafael M. Nze.

[23] C. FERNÁNDEZ, La Congregación de los Hijos del Inmaculado Corazón de María. Compendio histórico de sus primeros sesenta y tres años de existencia (1849-1912)(The Congregation of the Sons of the Immaculate Heart of Mary: An Historical Compendium of its 73 Years of Existence, 1849-1912), 2 vol., Madrid, Ed. Coculsa, 1967.

[24] In 1984 the first Worldwide Symposium of the Claretian Family was held for the purpose of deepening understanding of the chartismatic gift of St. Anthony M. Claret, sharing experiences from different branches of the Claretian Family and proposing common objectives for the future. Attending were members from the 4 original core groups: Claretian Missionaries, Claretian Missionary Sisters, Cordi-Marian Filiation and Lay Claretians and Institutes established with aid from Claretians: Cordi-Marian Missionaries, Missionaries of the Claretian Institute, and Missionary Sisters of St. Anthony M. Claret. These encounters have been held regularly and have served to strengthen our bonds and to share special occasions with the whole Claretian Family.

[25] John Paul II highlighted the fact that it had been the entire seminary that confronted with generosity and courage its self-offering to the Lord.  The Pope’s homily and Angelus meditation for 25 October 1992 can be found in the Annales, (1992), pp. 579-586.

[26] J. ÁLVAREZ, Misioneros Claretianos. I: Retorno a los orígenes (Claretian Missionaries: Vol. I: Return to the Origins), Madrid, Publicaciones Claretianas, 1993 and II: Transmisión y recepción del carisma claretiano (Vol. II: Transmission and Reception of the Claretian Charism), Madrid, Publicaciones Claretianas, 1997.

[27] The young Filipino Claretian Fr. Rhoel Gallardo was killed on 3 May 2000, after undergoing a long Calvary at the hands of the Muslim fundamentalist Abu Sayyaf group, who had attacked the Claret School in Tumahubong, on the island of Basilan, in the southern Philippines. Along with him 3 teachers and 5 students were massacred.  This was the price of daring to make the decision to stand alongside the poor.

[28] Cf. Catalogus Congregationis Miss. Fil. Imm. Cor. B. M. V. (2000), p. 246. In 2000, the Congregation was present in 61 countries.  And, although our mission is to simply to be powerful helpers of the Bishops in the ministry of the Word, currently present in the Congregation and serving the Church in its hierarchy are 1 Cardinal, 1 Archbishop and 15 Bishops.

[29] A. BOCOS, TRMC 1.