PITTSBURGH, PA (January 31, 2017) February 2, 2017, marked the 165th anniversary of the death of Venerable Francis Libermann, one of the founders of the Congregation of the Holy Spirit.
Originally raised in the Jewish faith – his father was a rabbi – Francis was baptized a Catholic in 1826 at Christmas. He later began studies for the priesthood, and was ordained a priest in 1841, specifically with the mission of ministering to blacks, slaves and former slaves in the French colonies of the Caribbean, the Indian Ocean and Africa.
Several years later, Francis extended his spiritual journey by organizing the Congregation of the Immaculate Heart of Mary in 1841, which would later minister to the people of African descent on the continent of Africa and spread throughout Europe and the colonies.
Rome later encouraged Libermann to merge his apostolate with the Congregation of the Holy Spirit – the Spiritans – in 1848; both having the charism of working among the peoples of Africa and across the world.
Throughout his priesthood and ministries, Francis Libermann maintained an allegiance to the Blessed Virgin Mary, and mentioned her throughout his writings and letters. Affectionately referred to as the “Second Founder” of the Congregation of the Holy Spirit, a recurring theme of developing a “peace of mind” was noteworthy throughout his writings, with Mary as his perfect model of that theme.
The Spiritans later founded Duquesne University in Pittsburgh in 1878, and the university celebrated Founder’s Week with a special Mass on February 2 to honor the memory and accomplishments of Francis Libermann.
Francis was declared “Venerable” by Pope Pius IX in 1876. His letters, hundreds of which survive, are frequently used as a guide for the devotional life. His legacy and leadership of the Spiritans are considered by some to serve as a blueprint for modern-day missionary activity. He urged the Spiritans to “become one with the people” so that each group received and understood the Gospel in the context of their own traditions.