The Eastern Province of the Congregation of the Mission in the United States was founded in 1888.
1816: A Missionary Congregation Arrives in the United States
In July, 1816, the United States was still a young country when the first members of the Congregation of the Mission of Saint Vincent DePaul arrived in Baltimore, Maryland. Know popularly as “Vincentians” from the baptismal name of Vincent DePaul, these first missionaries were continuing a long standing tradition of preaching the Gospel to the poor and training good priests for the Church. Their work dated back to the birth of the Congregation of the Mission in Paris, France in 1625.
In response to the invitation of American missionary bishops in the territory of Upper Louisiana, a band of European Vincentian priests, brothers, and seminarians set out from Baltimore by wagon, flatboat, and horseback to reach the heartland of America. In 1818, a small college seminary was established in a settlement of Catholics near the Mississippi River, south of present day Saint Louis, Missouri. For over 150 years under the patronage of Mary Immaculate, Saint Mary’s of the Barrens Seminary in Perry County Missouri trained overseas missionaries, classroom professors, mission preachers, chaplains, and parish priests to go across America, as well as to Africa, Asia, and Central and South America.
The 19th Century: Extending the Frontier
Within a decade of the foundation of the Vincentian Motherhouse in Perryville, Missouri, the Vincentians established new foundations across America. With their sisters in the Vincentian Family, the Daughters of Charity, these early missionaries responded to a variety of needs of the young Catholic Church in America.
The Eastern United States: Working from a missionary center in Philadelphia, Vincentians founded diocesan seminaries for a native clergy, established parishes to care to the influx of poor, European immigrant Catholics, and preached parish renewal missions in large cities and rural communities.
The Western United States: The opening of the frontier in the West drew Vincentian missionaries to Monterey and Los Angeles shortly after California was admitted to the Union.
The Central United States: Up and down the Mississippi River Valley, small local seminaries, secondary schools, parishes and mission stations were founded in New Orleans, Saint Louis, and Chicago. A vanguard of American Vincentians were sent to serve a struggling Texas church soon after the declaration of the Republic of Texas.
Despite ethnic and racial conflicts, financial crises and scarcity of personnel, the Vincentians in the United States maintained their commitment to preach the Gospel to the poor, to help train future priests, and to support each other through shared community life.
20th Century: Expansion and Diversity
1900-1967: From the beginning of the 20th Century to the close of the Second Vatican Council, the Vincentians in the United States experienced with the Church in America, a great expansion in membership and ministries. As the need grew for more diocesan priests to serve the Catholic population, local bishops entrusted their seminaries to the care of the Vincentians, especially in the Central and Western United States. During this time, the number of Provinces in the United States grew from two, East and West, to five: New England, East, Midwest, South, and West.
To meet the demand for access to college education for the children of poor, working-class Catholic families, the Vincentians founded colleges: Niagara University near Buffalo, New York; Saint John’s University in Queens, New York; and DePaul University in Chicago, Illinois. These latter two are today the largest Catholic universities in the United States. All these Vincentian Universities continue to foster leadership opportunities and advanced education for minorities and working-class students.
1967-2000: In the decades since the close of the Second Vatican Council, the Vincentian Priests and Brothers in the United States have focused their ministries to respond to today’s needs. Yesterday’s immigrant European Catholics are today’s successful, affluent, middle-class Catholics. However, economic changes in our society have produced a new class of the working poor and unemployed, as well as triggered a new wave of Catholic immigrants to be served. Seminaries which once were reserved for priesthood candidates, now offer a variety of degree and non-degree programs to train a new generation of lay and religious ministers. The parish mission now serves as a key ingredient in the renewal of our local parishes and fosters the establishment of small basic Christian communities to support the Catholic faith.
The 21st Century: Vincentian Vision
As the world enters the third Christian Millenium, the Catholic Church is being called to a rebirth of missionary activity. The Second Vatican Council recalled the importance of the baptismal call of every Christian to share in the work of evangelization and renewal. The Vincentian Priests and Brothers in the United States, in collaboration with the Daughters of Charity, the Saint Vincent DePaul Society, the Ladies of Charity, and others who hold St. Vincent de Paul as their patron, as well as diocesan priests, deacons, religious, and the laity are all being challenged to develop new models of evangelization.
Tomorrow’s Vincentians will continue to work coast to coast, across the United States from apostolic centers in such places as Albany, New York; Baltimore, Maryland; Chicago, Illinois; Dallas, Texas; Denver, Colorado; Emmitsburg, Maryland; Evansville, Indiana; Kansas City, Missouri; Los Altos, California; Los Angeles, California; New Haven, Connecticut; New Orleans, Louisiana; New York, New York; Perryville, Missouri; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Phoenix, Arizona; Saint Louis, Missouri; San Antonio, Texas and many other places. They will continue to heed the promptings of Divine Providence to follow Jesus Christ, bringing the Good News the poor.