Monasteries of Great Britain and Ireland – Congregation of the Mission, or the Vincentian Fathers, or the Lazarists

Article

Active. Under Simple Vows. Founded 1617.

This Congregation takes its name of Lazarists, by which it is known in some countries, from the old leper-hospital of Saint Lazare at Paris, where the mother-house was originally erected. It was founded by Saint Vincent of Paul at Paris in 1617; the members first of all lived in the College of the Bons Enfants, but soon their good works induced the Prior of Saint Lazare to offer them a more commodious home at Saint Lazare.

Their origin was very simple. Saint Vincent de Paul was travelling as chaplain to the Count de Gondy, when one day he was called in to see a countryman who was dangerously ill and who had never dared to confess all his sins, but now made a general confession to the Saint, and was so overjoyed at the peace he had found that he told everyone around him of the benefits a good confession had brought to his soul. When the Countess de Gondy heard the story she begged Saint Vincent to preach on the duty of confession, and urge the people to come to it in the parish church. The result of the Saint’s sermon was so encouraging that the Countess wished similar instructions to be held all over the county; but as no Religious Order was willing or able to undertake the work, Saint Vincent gathered some zealous priests round him, whose work was to hold missions in all the villages of the district.

They took possession of Saint Lazare in 1632. The Archbishop of Paris, Francis de Gondy, had approved the new Congregation some few years before this. In 1626 and in 1632 Pope Urban VIII. issued a Bull in which he formally approved them, and commanded Saint Vincent to write a rule for them. The Saint wished to prove the wisdom of his rules before he wrote them down, so he acted with great prudence and deliberation, and it was not till thirty-three years later that he completed his task of writing the rule, and then he supplemented it with explanations, to which as long as he lived he continued to add. These are considered by his sons as one of their most valuable possessions, and are remarkable for their eloquent simplicity.

Pope Urban did not wish the Fathers to separate themselves from the secular clergy, so at first their holy founder decided they should only take a vow of constancy; afterwards, in 1651, a resolution was passed at the General Chapter that they should missions, which lasted two or three weeks or even a month in the past, but are now shorter.

In the seminaries directed by the Fathers, clerics and students about to receive Holy Orders reside for a certain time under rules: they study theology and are taught plain chant; every week they are instructed in the method of celebrating High and Low Mass and the other services of the Church, in preaching, catechizing, and the manner of administering the Sacraments.

The Fathers also hold retreats of ten or twelve days for candidates for Holy Orders, and shorter retreats for the laity.

The government is vested in a General-Superior, who is chosen for life, and is assisted by four definitors; the General Chapter, which is held every twelve years, has the power to pass decrees which are as binding as the rule; under the General-Superiors are the heads of the provinces, with the title of Visitors, to whom the Superiors of each house are subject.

The novitiate lasts two years. The community consists of lay-Brothers, who attend to the domestic affairs; the clerics, who spend six years in studying philosophy and theology; and the priests.

France was the country in which the Congregation first laboured and developed, though during the holy founder’s life its missionaries penetrated to Italy, Tunis and Algiers, Ireland and the Hebrides and in 1646 to Madagascar and Poland. At his death the Congregation numbered 622. At the very end of the seventeenth century Pope Innocent XII sent some of the Fathers to China, and a few years later, in 1704, the first Spanish house was opened from Rome. In 1718 many of the Fathers went as missionaries to Portugal; in 1760 they were established in Austria. During the French Revolution several of the Fathers were massacred and many of their houses in France were closed, but they re-opened afterwards; the Spanish houses were suppressed in 1835 under the Liberal Government; two years later some of the Fathers were sent as missionaries to Persia and Abyssinia.

The General-Superior, Etienne, who was in office from 1843 to 1874, is honoured almost as a second founder, and under him the Congregation increased marvellously and penetrated into South America and many distant countries, besides which fifty-five houses were opened during his generalship in France.

During Saint Vincent’s lifetime some of the Congregation went on mission to Ireland, but the persecution under Cromwell obliged him to recall most of them; some remained in Limerick for a time, but after a lay-Brother was martyred by Cromwell’s soldiers, they, too, were obliged to flee. In 1657 the Fathers, who had been seven years working in the Hebrides, were driven out, and about this time many of them died for the faith and won the martyr’s crown in Scotland.

In 1833 a Congregation of young zealous priests, founded by Father Dowley in Dublin, was incorporated with the Congregation of the Mission, and from here one English house was founded a few years later at Sheffield, which was opened in 1853. The Irish Congregation sent some of the Fathers to Australia in 1885, where they now have several houses.

The novitiate for the Irish province is at Blackrock, and the Irish seminary at Paris is under this province.

The Congregation sent seven Fathers in 1815 to North America, where they founded a central house and a Seminary in 1818 at Perryville, Missouri, from which they soon spread into other parts of the continent, and they now have two North American provinces and sixteen houses.

They first settled in Mexico in 1844; many of their houses were closed by the Revolution of 1858, and the Fathers scattered. They continued, however, to work secretly, till in 1878 they were able to open their houses again.

Under the General-Superior, Etienne, seminaries and mission-houses were opened in most of the South American Republics: 5 were opened in the Argentine Republic, 5 in Paraguay and Uruguay, 2 in Chili, 1 in Columbia, 3 in Peru, 5 in Columbia, 1 in Guatemala, and 1 in Costa Rica.

MLA Citation

  • Francesca M Steele. “Congregation of the Mission, or the Vincentian Fathers, or the Lazarists”. Monasteries of Great Britain and Ireland, 1903. CatholicSaints.Info. 30 November 2018. Web. 21 April 2021. <>