Our History

Historical Timeline

  • 1679
    Founder Claude Poullart des Places was born in Rennes, France. The nobility of his family went as far back as the middle ages, but it was their extraordinary generosity and magnanimity that made his parents exemplary Christians and citizens of the seventeenth century—a time in history of great hardship for common people. By the time he graduated with a law degree in 1700, Claude was already directing his energies toward the needs of the poor. At the age of 24, he chose to become a priest.
  • 1703
    Founding of the Congregation of the Holy Spirit. While still in the seminary—on Pentecost in 1703—Claude Poullart des Places founded “The Seminary of the Holy Ghost,” a community dedicated to evangelization, the alleviation of poverty, and the provision of material and spiritual support to future seminarians.
  • 1732
    First Spiritan missionaries in North America. Spiritan priests began their international work among the Micmac Indians and Acadians in French Canada. Spiritans also sent missionaries to China, Cambodia, Vietnam, Thailand (Siam), and India.
  • 1792
    Toward the end of the eighteenth century, beginning with a time of oppression during the French Revolution in 1792, Spiritans expanded their overseas missionary ministry.
  • 1794
    The first Spiritan missionary arrives in Baltimore to establish a community in the new United States.
  • 1799
    Spiritans land in sub-Saharan Africa and continue to establish a presence in virtually all its regions over the next hundred years.
  • 1802
    The birth of the Congregation’s second founder, Francis (Jacob) Libermann. The son of a rabbi, he was preparing to become a rabbi himself when his studies led him to the New Testament and to Christianity. He was baptized Francis Mary Paul at age 24 in 1826. As he studied for the Catholic priesthood, violent attacks of epilepsy deterred him for fifteen years. Libermann counseled seminarians and others seeking growth in their spiritual life. He developed a trust of the Holy Spirit in directing his human affairs.
  • 1841
    Congregation of the Holy Heart of Mary established by Fr. Libermann, CSSp. Using his illness to achieve grace and maturity in his faith, Libermann founded the Congregation of the Holy Heart of Mary in 1841. With papal encouragement, he was ordained a priest explicitly for work in missions to blacks, slaves, and former slaves in French colonies of the Caribbean, the Indian Ocean, and Africa.
  • 1841
    Pere Jacques Laval CSSp., arrived in Mauritius to establish a ministry for the newly freed slaves. The event is still commemorated by that island’s people.
  • 1842
    Apostolic Vicariate of the Two Guineas created comprising area between Senegal and the River Orange in southern Africa and first collaboration between the two congregations for the evangelization of Africa.
  • 1844
    Spiritan missionaries arrive in Gabon and in Dakar the next year.
  • 1848
    Merging of the Congregation of the Holy Ghost Fathers and the Congregation of the Holy Heart of Mary. Because of their similar purpose, charism, and works, the Church merged the original Spiritan community and the Congregation of the Holy Heart of Mary.
  • 1862
    Spiritans arrive in East Africa through Zanzibar and on to Bagamayo on the continent.
  • 1872
    Spiritans return to North America to serve minorities and immigrants in the United States and Canada. Spiritan presence in the U.S. South among African-Americans in previously Confederate States and Northern Cities. Very special focus came through St. Katharine Drexel’s vision and financial support.
  • 1878
    The Spiritans found Duquesne University (www.duquesne.edu), an internationally recognized Catholic university located in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, whose humble beginning was a school for the education of the children of the immigrant poor.
  • 1878
    Fr. Duparquet, CSSp establishes a Spiritan ministry in the Prefecture of Cimbebasia, which then comprised parts of Angola, Namibia, and Botswana.
  • 1885
    Spiritans voyage up the Niger River and settle at Onitsha.
  • 1897
    Founding of Holy Ghost Preparatory School (www.holyghostprep.org), Bensalem, Pennsylvania, a collegiate seminary for young men who wished to enter the Congregation of the Holy Spirit.
  • 1900
    The future Bishop Joseph Shanahan was ordained a priest. In 1902, he was first assigned his work as a missionary in Nigeria, where he went on to do heroic work.
  • 1918
    Between 1914 and 1918, 136 Spiritans were killed in the First World War.

Our History : The twentieth century and beyond

has been marked by spectacular growth of the Church, especially in Africa. By the end of the twentieth century, the most vibrant experiences of the church were to be found in the Southern hemisphere.

Because of the early Spiritan tradition of the “evangelization of freed slaves,” Spiritan ministries have flourished and continue to do so in Africa, the Caribbean, and South America.  As times changed the Spiritans responded in other regions where poverty and marginalization had begun a new form of slavery—such as Pakistan, Philippines, New Guinea, and Australia—today Spiritans serve in over sixty countries around the world.

map our history