Society of the Priests of Saint Sulpice

Montreal Company of One Hundred Associates New France
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Society of Priests of Saint-Sulpice
Compagnie des Prêtres de Saint-Sulpice (French)
MottoAuspice Maria (Latin)
Under the guidance of Mary (English)
Formation1642; 378 years ago (1642)
FounderFr. Jean-Jacques Olier, PSS
TypeSociety of apostolic life of Pontifical Right (for Men)
Headquarters6, rue du Regard, 75006 Paris, France
Membership (2017)
Superior General
Fr. Ronald D. Witherup, PSS
Post-nominal initials

The Society of Priests of Saint-Sulpice ("Society of Saint-Sulpice", French: Compagnie des Prêtres de Saint-Sulpice; Latin: Societas Presbyterorum a Santo Sulpitio) is a society of apostolic life of Pontifical Right (for Men) named after the Church of Saint-Sulpice, Paris, in turn named after Sulpitius the Pious, where they were founded. Typically, priests become members of the Society of the Priests of St. Sulpice only after ordination and some years of pastoral work. 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

The Society of Priests of Saint Sulpice was founded in France in 1641 by Father Jean-Jacques Olier (1608–1657), an exemplar of the French School of Spirituality. A disciple of Vincent de Paul and Charles de Condren, Olier took part in "missions" organized by them.

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.[1] 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.

Sulpician priests contributed to the parish community during the day, but at night they would return to their institutions. Jean-Jacques Olier attempted to control diverse social groups by having laymen of the community give reports on family life, poverty, and disorder. The Sulpicians were very strict in regards to woman and sexuality to the extent that they were eventually banned from the seminary unless it was for short visits in the external area with appropriate attire. The Sulpicians accepted aspirants to the company as long as they were priests and had permission from their bishop.[2] The Sulpicians would thus recruit wealthy individuals since Sulpicians did not take vows of poverty.[3] They retained ownership of individual property and were free to dispose their wealth.[3] The Sulpicians soon came to be known for the revival of the parish life, reform of seminary life, and the revitalization of spirituality.[2]

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.[4] 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. 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.[5]

In Canada

New France

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.

The Société Notre-Dame de Montréal, of which Jean-Jacques Olier was an active founder, was granted the land of Montreal from the Company of One Hundred Associates, which owned New France, in the goals of converting Indians and to provide schools and hospitals for both colonists and the indigenous population. The Jesuits served as missionaries for the small colony until 1657 when Jean-Jacques Olier sent four priests from the Saint-Sulpice seminary in Paris to form the first parish.[6] In 1663, France decided to take royal administration over New France, taking it away from the Company of One Hundred Associates, and in the same year the Société Notre-Dame de Montréal ceded its possessions to the Seminaire de Saint-Sulpice. Just as in Paris, the Montreal Sulpicians had important civil responsibilities. Most notably, they acted as seigneurs for Montreal as part of the Seigneurial system of New France.

In 1668, several Sulpicians went away to evangelize the Native People: the Iroquois in the Bay of Quinte, north of Lake Ontario, the Mi'kmaq in Acadia, the Iroquois on the present site of Ogdensburg in the State of New York and, finally, the Algonquins in Abitibi and Témiscamingue.[6] Dollier de Casson and Brehan de Gallinée explored the region of the Great Lakes (1669), of which they made a map. In 1676 the mission of the Mountain was opened on the site of the present seminary, where M. Belmont built a fort (1685). The brandy traffic necessitated the removal of this fixed mission and in 1720 it was transferred to Lac-des-Deux-Montagnes.[4]

The Sulpicians served as missionaries, judges, explorers, schoolteachers, social workers, supervisors of convents, almsmen, canal builders, urban planners, colonization agents, and entrepreneurs. Despite their large role in society and their influencing in shaping early Montreal, each night they would all return to the Saint-Sulpice Seminary. The administration of the seminary in Montreal was modeled on that of Paris, in which the company was run by the superior, the four-man Consulting Council, and the Assembly of Twelve Assistants. According to the rules of the seminary in 1764, the superior, during his five-year renewable term, was to act like a father and was to be respected. The seminary kept careful records of all employees including birthday, place of birth, marital status, and salary. Female employees posed a particular problem since although a cheap source of labour, their presence in a male religious community was problematic. As land proprietors and Indian advisers, the Sulpicians were actively interested in military affairs. The first significant fortifications in Montreal, at the Mountain mission, were built at their expense.[2]


In the 18th century, 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. According to Alanis Obomsawin, the Sulpicians had the grant changed so that all the land was in their name, depriving the Mohawk of their own place.[7] A devoutly religious man, Onasakenrat became an ordained minister in 1880, and worked to translate religious works into the Mohawk language.[14][8] He translated the Gospels (1880) and several hymns. At the time of his sudden death in 1881, he was working on a translation of the remainder of the Bible, having completed up to the Epistle to the Hebrews. An oral account of the night before he died he had attended a ball in Montreal hosted by the Sulpician order, and when he had returned that night Sosé had complained to his wife about feeling ill and died later that morning. Suspiciously a priest had arrived that morning with a horse and sleigh and took Sosé's remains back to Montreal with him. Among the Kanehsatà:kehro'non it is believed that the Sulpicians had purposefully poisoned and murdered Sosé Onasakenrat because of the political and religious influence he had over his people.[citation needed]

After the Conquest

In the wake of the Conquest of 1760, the Seminary of Montreal became independent from the French mother house in 1764. This measure was taken to help ensure the continuance of the Sulpician presence after the Treaty of Paris made contact with France difficult and subjected French religious communities to restrictions.

In 1794 after the French Revolution, twelve Sulpicians fled persecution by the National Convention and emigrated to Montreal, Quebec. According to Pierre-Auguste Fournet, the Sulpicians of Montreal would have died out had not the British Government opened Canada to the priests persecuted during the French Revolution.[4]

After lengthy negotiations, in 1840 the British Crown recognized the possessions of the Sulpicians, the status of which had been ambiguous since the Conquest, while also providing for the gradual termination of the seigneurial regime. This enabled the Sulpicians to keep their holdings and continue their work, while allowing landowners who so desired to make a single final payment (commutation) and be relieved of all future seigneurial dues.[9] The vast Sulpician land-holdings included the Saint-Gabriel Farm through which entrepreneurs had constructed the Lachine Canal in 1825. After accepting the government designation of the property on the banks of the canal as an industrial zone, the Society began selling off parcels for industrial development at enormous profits, which helped finance their good works.

At the request of bishop Ignace Bourget, in 1840 the Sulpicians took over the bishop's school of theology, creating the famous Grand Séminaire de Montréal (Major Seminary of Montreal). Since 1857 it has been located on Sherbrooke Street near Atwater Avenue.[10] This operation enabled the Canadian Sulpicians to expand their primary work, the education of priests. They have trained 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.[6]

In the United States

Sulpicians set foot in what is now the U. S. as early as 1670 when Fathers Dollier de Casson and Brehan de Galinee from Brittany landed in what would later become Detroit, Michigan. In 1684 Robert de la Salle headed an ill-fated expedition from France to what is now Texas, taking with him three priests, all Sulpicians. These were Fathers Dollier de Casson, Brehan de Galinee, and Jean Cavelier, the explorer's older brother. This expedition ended in failure, and the vessel carrying the three Sulpicians was shipwrecked in what is now the state of Texas. Among the survivors were the three Sulpicians, two of whom returned to France on the next available vessel. The third, Dollier de Casson, decided to remain to catechize the natives. This, after all, was a major motive for his coming. He met with little success in this endeavor, however, and finally decided to return to France as had his companions. His missionary zeal unslaked, he thereafter soon found a vessel to transfer him to the Sulpician enterprise in Montreal, which was quite successful and has endured down to the present day.

As for further Sulpician presence in the U. S., that had to wait until 1791. In July of that year, four Sulpicians, newly arrived from France, 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 Francis Charles Nagot, Anthony Gamier, Michael Levadoux, and John Tessier, who had fled the French Revolution. [11] 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 thereby established the first enduring community of the Society in the nation.

In March, 1792 three more priests arrived, Abbé Chicoisneau, Abbé John Baptist Mary 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.[11] 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.[11] In 1829, Sulpician Fr. James Joubert worked with Mary Lange, a Haitian immigrant, to establish the first community of black sisters in the United States, the Oblate Sisters of Providence.[1]

The Society helped to found and staff for a time St. John's Seminary, part of the Archdiocese of Boston (1884–1911).[12] 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 was, until 2017, their primary institution on the West Coast, Saint Patrick Seminary, Menlo Park, California.[13] 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.[14] It has graduated over 1,500 priests, including 45 bishops and four cardinals.[15] 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.[16]

In 1989, U.S. Sulpicians began a collaborative approach to priestly formation with the bishops of Zambia. As of 2014 the American Province has several seminary placements in Zambia and a number of new Zambian Sulpicians and Candidates.[1]

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

The 2012 Annuario Pontificio gave 293 as the number of priest members as of 31 December 2010.

Famous members

See also


  1. ^ a b c "Beginnings", Sulpicians-Province of the US
  2. ^ a b c Young, Brian. In Its Corporate Capacity: the Seminary of Montreal as a Business Institution, 1816-76 (Montreal, McGill-Queen's University Press, 1986), Ch. 1, “Holy Housekeeping: The Company and Business Management,” pp. 3-37
  3. ^ a b Kauffman, Christopher J., The Sulpician Presence, The Catholic Historical Review, Vol. 75, No. 4 (Oct., 1989), pp. 677-695
  4. ^ a b c Fournet, Pierre Auguste. "Society of Saint-Sulpice." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 13. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1912. 20 Feb. 2015
  5. ^ Gautier, Jean. (1957), Ces Messieurs de Saint Sulpice, Paris: Fayard.
  6. ^ a b c "Founder", The Society of priests of Saint-Sulpice, Province of Canada
  7. ^ Obomsawin, Alanis. Kanesatake: 270 Years of Resistance, National Film Board of Canada, 1993, accessed 30 Jan 2010
  8. ^ [1]
  9. ^ Young, Brian. In Its Corporate Capacity: the Seminary of Montreal as a Business Institution, 1816-76 (Montreal, McGill-Queen's University Press, 1986), Ch. 2, “Political Relations of the Seminary in the Transition,” pp. 38-60
  10. ^ Ollivier Hubert (2007). "Petites écoles et collèges sulpiciens". In Deslandres, Dominique; Dickinson, John A.; Hubert, Ollivier (eds.). Les Sulpiciens de Montréal: Une histoire de pouvoir et de discrétion, 1657-2007. Montreal: Fides.
  11. ^ a b c Fenlon, John Francis. "Sulpicians in the United States." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 14. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1912. 20 Feb. 2015
  12. ^ St. John's Seminary History", Brighton Alston Historical Society
  13. ^ Meehan, Thomas. "San Francisco." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 13. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1912. 20 Feb. 2015
  14. ^ "Mission and History". Theological College, CUA. Archived from the original on February 24, 2012. Retrieved February 18, 2012.
  15. ^ "Theological College, Washington, D.C." What We Do. Sulpician Order. Archived from the original on March 10, 2012. Retrieved February 18, 2012.
  16. ^ Kauffman, Christopher. (1988), Tradition and Transformation in Catholic Culture: The Priests of Saint Sulpice in the United States from 1791 to the Present, New York: Macmillan.