Company of Mary

Author: St. Louis de Montfort




I. The Plan of a Foundation:
   1. From the time of ordination to the first collaborators (1700-1705);
   2. Lay and priest associates (1705-1713);
   3. The Rule of the Missionary Priests of the Company of Mary (1713);
   4. The agreement with the Seminary of the Holy Spirit of Paris (1713);
   5. The pilgrimage of the Penitents to Saumur (1716);
   6. The Last Will and Testament (1716);
   7. The sojourn at Saint-Pompain (1716-1722);
   8. The petition presented to Clement XI (1719).
II. The Company of Mary in the Eighteenth Century:
   1. The chapter of 1722: mission and vows;
   2. The petition addressed to Benedict XIII (1728);
   3. Benedict XIV and the oral approbation of the Rules (1748);
   4. Statutes and Regulations (1773).
III. The Company of Mary between the Revolution and the Restoration
   1. The community of Saint-Laurent and the Civil Constitution of the
   2. The "restoration" of Father Deshayes (1821-1841);
      a. The Brief of Praise of Leo XII (1825)
      b. The restoration of vows
      c. The Constitutions of Father Deshayes (1832).
IV. Toward a New Image of the Company (1842-1880):
   1. Some key events:
      a. The discovery of the Treatise on True Devotion to the Blessed
         Virgin (1842)
      b. The approbation of the Institute by Pius IX, 1853
   2. The Constitutions of 1872: the missions ad gentes
   3. Missionary activity.
V. A Company at the Service of the Universal Church (1880-1994):
   1. Expansion of the Institute (1880-1940)
   2. The Constitutions of 1904 and 1949
   3. The Company of Mary today.


The path of Saint Louis Marie de Montfort as founder is closely linked to his personal apostolic experience. He dreamt of a company of missionaries who would evangelize the poor by means of parish missions. The idea of this "Company of Mary" obsessed Montfort during his entire missionary career from the first month of his sacerdotal ministry (1700) to his deathbed (1716).

1.  From the time of priestly ordination to the first collaborators (1700-1705)

From the community of Saint Clement of Nantes, where he was sent "to be formed for the preaching of parish missions," Louis Marie de Montfort wrote to Father Leschassier only seven months after his ordination (June 5 1700), "When I see the needs of the Church, I cannot help but plead continually for a small band of good priests . . . under the banner and protection of the Blessed Virgin" (L 5 [Dec. 6, 1700]).  If we cannot see from these lines that the saint already at this date planned to personally found the community that he desired, his intentions for a foundation are, nevertheless, evident, and they will remain essentially unchanged up to the writing of RM in 1713. In L 5 the future of the Company "of good priests" is indirectly described: "I feel a tremendous urge to make our Lord and his holy Mother loved, to go in a humble, simple way to teach catechism to the poor in country places and to arouse in sinners a devotion to our Blessed Lady and to go from parish to parish teaching catechism to the poor relying on Providence alone."

The elements of the future foundation are already envisioned: a company of priests (RM 1); a Marian name (PM passim); the mission to preach the good news to the poor (RM 2) by means of catechetical instruction (RM 79-91); the role of devotion to Mary in the reconciliation of the faithful (SR; PM; TD; "Method of Penance"; etc.); abandonment to Providence (RM 10-18; LCM); and apostolic availability (PM 8-9; RM 6-7) in view of the "necessities of the Church" (L 5).

The original idea or intention of founding a company of priests enters into its first phase in a search for collaborators during the time of Montfort’s stay at the hospital of Poitiers (1701-1705). In August 1702 at St. Sulpice, Montfort met his friend Jean Baptiste Blain. During their conversations, Montfort probably expressed the desire to have Blain with him as a collaborator in parish missions. Blain recalls, "I felt a strong attraction to follow him and be his companion." The hesitancy that Montfort’s spiritual director, Father Leschassier, experienced concerning "the mystery" that Montfort was for him influenced Blain to such an extent that "this mystery . . . turned me against Montfort and prevented me from joining him."1

On August 15, 1702, another friend and fellow-student of the saint, Claude François Poullart des Places (1679-1709),2 received the tonsure. According to Besnard, it seems that at this period or, at the latest, the following year, Montfort made this proposal to des Places: "He invited him to join him in the founding of this good work."3 Poullart declined Montfort’s invitation and added, "I feel no attraction at all for the missions." But he promised Montfort his support, "for I know the good that can be done too well not to help in this work with all my strength and to persevere in it with you. . . . If God graces me with success, you can count on missionaries. I will prepare them for you, and you will put them to work. In this way you and I will both be satisfied."4

In any event, the development of the relationship between the Seminary of the Holy Spirit in Paris and the successors of St. Louis Marie is linked to the promise of collaboration Poullart offered to Montfort.

2.  Lay and priest associates (1705-1713)

In the seventeenth century France, short-term associations of parish missioners known as "missionary bands" worked in a diocese led by a "director of the mission" approved by the bishop of the diocese. Before the drafting of RM in 1713, in which the intentions of a foundation are transformed into a well-organized project that resembles the missionary institutions of the times, the strategy followed by Montfort seems to resemble that of a temporary association of parish missionaries. The association of Montfort with the team of Dom Jean Leuduger (1649-1722), disciple of Julien Maunoir (1606-1683), was of a temporary nature. Thus arose the distinction between temporary associate priests and long-term associate priests. Practically speaking, "associates of parish missions" were volunteers who formed a group of reserves, ready to assist in the preaching of parish missions when needed. They were more or less available, depending upon their parish duties and occupation.

In the former category of short-term associates were the unknown lay- brothers who worked intermittently with Montfort. There is no record of their names. Also in this category were Father Gabriel Olivier, a "diocesan missionary" who collaborated with Montfort during his apostolic activities in Nantes (1709-1710), and Gabriel François Grignion, brother of Louis Marie, who participated in the missions in La Rochelle in 1711.

At the beginning of Montfort’s ministry in the diocese of La Rochelle, three priests joined him. The first was the Irishman Peter Keating, who on January 12, 1712, was named chaplain of Saint Louis Hospital, where Montfort resided. The following year he left this post to become pastor at La Seguinière. The second to join Montfort was Thomas Le Bourhis, a priest of the diocese of Nantes, who at the death of Saint Louis Marie remained at Saint-Laurent as a parish curate. The third was Father Clisson, whom Montfort mentioned in his will. These last-mentioned collaborators changed from temporary to long-term parish missionaries. Thus the distinction between temporary and long-term depended on evolving circumstances.5

On the other hand, among the long-term associates, certain young men should be named whom Montfort called "brothers." In 1705 Montfort asked Mathurin to follow him as a collaborator in the missions (even if Saint Louis Marie did not give him the name "brother").6 Between 1707 and 1711, Brothers Jean, Pierre, Nicholas, and Phillip followed Montfort; between 1711 and 1716, Brothers Jacques, Louis, and Gabriel followed him. The chronology is uncertain, because the sources give only approximate dates.7 Father Pierre Ernault des Bastières associated himself with Montfort intermittently from 1708, and more permanently from 1711 until January 1716, when he left Montfort. Special mention must be given to Adrien Vatel, the first permanently associated priest, from the beginning of 1715, and, from November of the same year, René Mulot, named by Louis Marie to lead the Company after his death. Montfort associated more closely to himself four brothers who pronounced vows of poverty and obedience (cf. W).

In LCM 1, written in 1713, Montfort alludes to "a little flock, so few in numbers that a child can count you, puer scribet eos." The little company (LCM 4) of 1713 was still at most an informal association of priests and laymen, personal collaborators with Montfort in the ministry of parish missions. The report of October 28, 1712, on the erection of the mission cross at Thaire, which occurred at the beginning of Montfort’s ministry in the diocese of La Rochelle, is of capital importance in establishing the juridical standing of Montfort and the status of his associates. The saint is described as "Father Louis Marie de Montfort, missionary priest, approved by His Excellency the Bishop," and he signed the document as "missionary priest," followed by "P.Keating, priest of the mission, and Thomas Le Bourhis, priest of the mission."8

In other words, Montfort is a diocesan missionary priest depending on the bishop, with two long-term associates. Only the priests of Saint Vincent de Paul officially added the name "priest of the mission." The qualification mentioned above places the two associates in close relationship with Montfort, who, however, is described in the document only as "approved by His Excellency the Bishop."

3.  The Rule of the Missionary Priests of the Company of Mary (1713)

The intuitions expressed in the letter of December 6, 1700, to Leschassier became an organized project in the Triptych (the three documents dealing directly with the foundation of the Company of Mary), particularly in RM: a company of missionaries bound by private vows of poverty and obedience in the service of parish missions under the authority of the ordinary of the diocese and with a personal and community style marked by evangelical poverty in abandonment to Providence. Grandet synthesizes Montfort’s project in these words: "He thought of forming a body or community of twelve apostolic men who would have neither goods nor revenue, any more than the apostles did, and who would abandon themselves to Divine Providence for their subsistence, in order to go preach the Gospel in all dioceses according to the directives of the bishops. He even drew up rules for them containing points for a sublime perfection. The center of their Congregation was to be La Rochelle, and he had already associated with himself several priests, whom he had led to such great detachment that they followed him everywhere."9 Grandet’s biographical sketch particularly emphasizes two aspects of Montfort’s plan for a religious community: recourse to an apostolic typology in lifestyle and mission, and availability to the bishops. And there is a significant detail: the seat of the Company, like that of the diocese, should be in the city of La Rochelle. The writing of the Rule again moved Montfort to seek collaborators, and he turned again to the Seminary of the Holy Spirit and his friend Poullart des Places.

4.  The agreement with the Seminary of the Holy Spirit of Paris (1713)

The successors of Poullart des Places were probably aware of the mutual promise exchanged by the two friends in 1702 or 1703. It is that promise which moved Montfort to go to Paris during the first two weeks of July 1713 to speak of his project and find support. Besnard is explicit about the motive for the journey: "he went there to renew his union with the priests of the Holy Spirit to recruit some missionaries."10 The community of the Holy Spirit "was already numerous and consisted of excellent subjects from different countries who were remarkable for their piety and knowledge."11 Montfort made official this associative agreement with the Seminary of the Holy Spirit in RM 1.

5.  The pilgrimage of the Penitents to Saumur (1716)

According to Grandet, in March 1716 the local group of White Penitents of the parish of Saint-Pompain decided to organize a pilgrimage to Saumur. The purpose of the pilgrimage is described by Montfort: "You will make this pilgrimage for the following intentions: Firstly, to obtain from God through Mary’s intercession good missionaries, who will follow the example of the apostles by complete abandonment to divine Providence and the practice of virtue under the protection of Our Lady. Secondly, to obtain the gift of Wisdom in order to know, love and practice the truths of our faith and to lead others to Christ" (PS). The pilgrimage of the penitents to Saumur is the last initiative taken by Montfort in favor of the Company of Mary.

6.  The Last Will and Testament (1716)

On Wednesday, April 1, 1716, Father de Montfort was at Saint-Laurent- sur-Sèvre to prepare the mission that was to begin on April 5. He was joined very soon by two other missionaries, Fathers Thomas Le Bourhis and Clisson, and a little later by Jean Mulot, pastor of Saint-Pompain. During the mission, the pastoral visit to the parish by Etienne de Champflour, bishop of La Rochelle, was announced for April 22. That day Montfort enthusiastically organized a procession and went with it to meet the bishop at the outskirts of the parish. Upon his return, Montfort was exhausted because of a fever. From April 23 the illness progressed rapidly. On April 27, sensing that death was approaching, the founder dictated his last will to Father René Mulot, and the dying man signed it with a trembling hand. Considering the nature of the goods that Montfort bequeathed to his "community of the Holy Spirit," as the community is called in the will, one easily concludes that they were for the work of parish missions: "I confide to His Excellency, the Bishop of La Rochelle and to Father Mulot my small pieces of furniture and my mission books, to be preserved for the use of the four Brothers who joined me in a life of obedience and poverty. . . . If there is anything remaining in the purse, Father Mulot will use it like a good father for the Brothers and for himself. As the house at La Rochelle is reverting to its natural heirs, there will be left for the community of the Holy Spirit only the house at Vouvant given by an agreement."

Mulot was named executor and at the same time was designated by Montfort as responsible for the "community of the Holy Spirit." This name in W supplanted the original title of the congregation desired by the founder and was used until the approbation of the Institute by Pius IX in 1853. The name "Community of the Holy Spirit" marks then, two distinct periods in the history of the Company.

7.  The sojourn at Saint-Pompain (1716-1722)

Having withdrawn to the parish of Saint-Pompain, chosen as their place of residence after the death of Montfort, Mulot and Vatel began the work of parish missions again at Easter time of 1718. During this period, they enjoyed the hospitality offered them by René’s brother, Jean Mulot, pastor of the parish, and in return they offered him their services in the parish. It is certain that Mathurin Rangeard was present in the parish from June 2, 1718. On the occasion of the visit of Bishop de Champflour to Saint-Pompain, the official report records an important fact on the juridical standing of "Fathers Rene Mulot, Vatel, and other priests living in the parish, who under our orders apply themselves to giving parish missions."12

On September 27, 1720, as a result of a request presented by Sr. Marie Louise of Jesus, Bishop de Champflour named Father Mulot superior of the community of the Daughters of Wisdom of Saint-Laurent-sur-Sèvre."13 In the Statutes of 1773, drawn up by Besnard, the appointment was transformed into a true and natural jus nativum, expressed in very significant terms: "the superior of the missionaries being at the same time the superior by right of the Daughters of Wisdom" (ch. 2, par. 3).

8.  The petition addressed to Clement XI (1719)

Grandet gives us a document of extraordinary importance for the history of the Company.14 Its date is most probably July 1719. It is a petition addressed to Clement XI by Pierre Granier, pastor of Saint-Martin-de- Melle, and Jean Mulot, pastor of Saint-Pompain. The petition is supported by the attestations of the bishops of La Rochelle and Poitiers, dated August 1 and 8, 1719, respectively.  The purpose of the petition was "to approve this newly formed mission and all those who will associate themselves with it, expected to be numerous in a short time, with the title of new apostolic missionaries of the Community of the Holy Spirit, to give missions in the dioceses to which they will be called." 15


In 1722, thanks to the acquisition of a building near the tomb of the founder at Saint-Laurent-sur-Sèvre, the group was able to become a stable community, with the first taking of vows received by the newly elected superior, René Mulot. Progressively he and his companions, very quickly called "Mulotins," secured more qualified recruits through the intermediary of the Seminary of St. Sulpice of Paris, which sent them some priests. In 1722 there were three or four priests in the Company; there were thirteen in 1743, with some coadjutor brothers, among whom was Brother Mathurin, the first disciple of Montfort. During the entire eighteenth century, the Company never exceeded by much the number cited above, and during the lifetime of Father Mulot the missionaries of Saint-Laurent remained confined to a rather limited area, preoccupied with faithfully following the directives of their founder.

During the superiorships of Nicholas Audubon (1749-1755) and Charles Besnard (1755-1788), there was a slight evolution, as the Company accepted preaching retreats in colleges, hospitals, and religious communities.16 The principal concern was to consolidate the institution by a formal approbation, obtained not without difficulties and obstacles in 1773 after a modification of the statutes of the community. This was the beginning of a new period, characterized by a better economic situation and by institutional stability. At first, limited to the parishes of the dioceses of La Rochelle and Poitiers, the missionaries widened the horizons of their apostolate and penetrated into the neighboring dioceses of Nantes, Angers, and Luçon. But during the eighteenth century, the range of the community remained strictly regional.

1.  The chapter of 1722: mission and vows

As of April 6, 1721, the Company possessed a house at Saint-Laurent-sur- Sèvre, called the "Green Oak," even though it had been formally given to the board of the parish church by the buyers, the Marquis de Magnanne and Madame de Bouille.17 It took a year to ready the house for use. After the 1721-1722 missionary season, "the priests and brothers gathered there for the summer vacation."18 Besnard writes, "It was then that they thought of holding a formal election to choose a superior, who would be recognized as such by all the missionaries and whom they would all obey. For this intention, they all made an eight-day retreat, at the end of which, while all were assembled. Father Mulot rose and said that it was necessary that one must be chosen by the confreres to be recognized as superior, a position conferred on him by the bishop only with regard to the Daughters of Wisdom, not the missionaries, and that each one should think of the person whom he judged to be most capable."19

Besnard continues: "The choice was soon made, and all the votes were for Father Mulot himself,"20 already chosen and designated by Montfort. Father René Mulot exercised the functions of superior general of the missionaries uninterruptedly until the year of his death (1749).

The act by which Mulot began his functions as superior general was the ceremony of vows attested to in the Chronicles of Sr. Florence: "All except two made vows in his presence according to the Rule."21 It is an account of the first community celebration of vows after the death of the founder and the only evidence we have of an event of such great importance for the life of the Company.

2.  The petition addressed to Benedict XIII (1728)

Like an echo of the one previously addressed to Clement XI, the petition to Benedict XIII in 1728 falls within the scope of the community’s missionary pastoral plan: it reflects the image of a Company attentive to the demands of the mission and emphasizes its particular apostolic identity. The very year of the petition, the bishops of La Rochelle, Luçon, and Poitiers approved the "Rule of P. Mulot,"22 confirming with their authority the fidelity of the Company to its mission. The words of the bishop of Luçon written at the end of the Rule do not sound like only routine praise: "We are no longer surprised that the priests who follow it faithfully do as much good as they do in our dioceses."23

3.  Benedict XIV and the oral approbation of the Rules (1748)

In 1748 René Mulot sent three Fathers of the Company to Rome: P. F. Hacquet, C. Albert, and C. Besnard. It seems he wished to have the Rules of Father de Montfort approved. They left Saint-Laurent on July 28 and arrived in Rome on September 12. They remained there until September 30 and returned to the mother-house on November 13. Thanks to the letters of presentation of the ambassadors of France, they were received in a private audience at the Quirinal by Pope Benedict XIV on September 27. This is an account of Father Hacquet: "The attendant introduced us in these terms: ‘Tres Missionarii Sacerdotes Gallici.’" To Father Hacquet, who read to the Pope a French text that originally had been prepared in Latin, Pope Benedict XIV answered, "‘Be assured, my dear Father, that I will do everything in my power for the well-being of your foundation. I am happy that priests give parish missions.’ I presented him with the Rules of our society and of the Daughters of Wisdom. He took them, read some sections, and, since they were approved by the bishops of France, approved them and gave them his blessing, telling us to continue preaching parish missions."24

4.  Statutes and Regulations (1773)

The manuscript presented to obtain legal recognition bears the title "Statutes and Regulations of the Missionaries of the Holy Spirit."25 These statutes, contained in a manuscript of twenty-two pages (250 lines at most) are a pale reflection of the previous rule. The norms are strictly confined to the new requirements expressed by a legislation that tended to bring about uniformity in the religious life of the time by rigid institutional criteria. A decree of the King’s Council of the State, resulting from the reform activity of the "Commission of Regulars," demanded for every Order a body of clear, precise, and permanent laws that "would be a sure protection against indiscipline and instability."26 The demand for clarity and precision in the formulation of statutes is expressed again in the Edict of the King published in February 1773 (the very year official recognition was granted).

Faced with this requirement, Besnard purged the text of the founder’s Rule of all elements foreign to the essential configuration of the ecclesial identity of the Company. He thus presented for royal approbation, a text that reflected by its literary style—even in its very title, "Statutes and Regulations"—a code adapted to a secular ecclesiastical association.  The most evident novelty of the new statutes was the abolishment of the vows, which from 1722 had been regularly made according to the wishes of the founder. Why had such a serious decision been reached? One plausible reason is the intensely hostile attitude toward institutes of religious life, due to the policies of Louis XV through the Commission of Regulars, directed by Archbishop Lomenie de Brienne.27 The formulation was very clear and left no doubt: every kind of bond was excluded for anyone who entered the Congregation. The Institute was reduced to a simple diocesan presbyterial association destined for "all works of the holy ministry." And thus the Institute was received into the civil organization: "We have approved and confirmed the two establishments that were formed in the village of Saint Laurent-sur-Sèvre, diocese of La Rochelle: one a community of secular priests with the title missionary priests of the Holy Spirit."

The reform of Besnard had been indicated or perhaps imposed by the political circumstances of the time and by the opportunity to preserve the existence of the Institute through legal recognition. The effects of the new modifications adopted by Besnard were not immediate.28 After the Revolution of 1789, the identity and the cohesion of the group grew weak and provoked a period of laxity in the history of the Company. This was due in great part to the absence of canonical bonds.


1.  The community of Saint-Laurent and the Civil Constitution of the Clergy

From the first days of the Revolution, the Church of France was affected by the universal process of national regeneration. The clergy, which disappeared as an Estate, and renounced its privileges on the night of August 4 and gave over its property to the nation November 2, 1789. Equality and national solidarity had practical consequences for the Church. Even if these measures were not willingly accepted by all, they did not arouse excessive opposition, the more so because the clergy were guaranteed a suitable salary. On February 13, 1790, in the name of liberty the members of the Assembly banned solemn vows and suppressed institutions of contemplative life.

The final collapse of all canonical and legally recognized institutions came with the law of August 18, 1792. This law was the principal official decree to which the tribunals referred concerning men and women religious involved in teaching and hospital work, as well as concerning institutes that the legislative texts call "Ecclesiastical Secular Congregations." Being in the latter category under the name "Mulotins," the missionaries of Saint-Laurent were suppressed.29

One of the first worried reactions of the missionaries of Saint-Laurent to these decisions and, more generally, to the Revolution is contained in a January 6, 1790, circular letter addressed to the Daughters of Wisdom by Superior General Jean-Baptist Micquignon: "What I have reasons to dread are the effects that can result in the long run from dealings and indispensable relationships with a world whose faith is perverted. There are these talks that are poisoned by freethinking, these erroneous maxims concerning religious matters that the appearance of some social virtues or the ostentation of some good works renders more insidious; it is, above all, defection. . . . What am I saying, my dear Daughters? Yes, I will say it—but with inexpressible heartbreak over the defection of those who should be your teachers in the faith. . . . Let your first care, in this time of infidelity, be to watch over the preservation and growth of your faith and to nourish an inviolable attachment to the Church and its head."30

The obligation for ecclesiastics to take the oath31 provoked the missionaries of Saint-Laurent to take a clear position: they refused to take any oath whatsoever and favored an opposition movement against the oath and against constitutional priests. They opposed the oath by personal contacts or by letters, since preaching was then difficult or in certain cases impossible, and, above all, by distributing printed matter or simple manuscripts.

Very quickly, civil authority saw in the community of the Mulotins a kind of nest of counter revolutionaries. On June 1 and 2, 1791, the mother-house of Saint-Laurent underwent a search by the National Guards, whose purpose was to find incriminating documents in order to refer the missionaries to the courts of the Republic. Having neither the competence nor the time necessary to evaluate the papers they found, the Guards seized everything they laid hands on. Among other things, they took sixteen letters not at all compromising for the writers nor for those to whom they were addressed. They were, however, considered inflammatory matter and as such were handed over to the director of the department of Angers and then sent to the "Committee of Investigation" in Paris. The Guards arrested Fathers Dauche and Duguet.

The Register of Arrests of the Directory of the department of Maine-et- Loire records on June 5, 1791, the accounts of the interrogations in the arrest of Fathers Dauche and Duguet. The superintendents of police seemed to have no doubt about the popular influence of the missionaries of Saint-Laurent: "For a long time the missionaries have played an important role in the provinces of Anjou, Poitou, Aunis, and Brittany. Known for their preaching, they have gained the confidence of the people. Their reputation has spread far through the Daughters of Wisdom, whom they instituted as a congregation and who serve in hospitals in several departments. It is by traveling all over the countryside, it is by taking advantage of the uneducated that they have achieved the reputation that they now enjoy."32

There were victims of the Revolution among the missionaries of Saint- Laurent. Toward the end of February 1793, the Republican Guards penetrated into the property of the Holy Spirit and massacred sixty- year-old Brother Bouchet, a native of Saint-Laurent, and Brother Jean, about thirty years of age. They impaled Brother Oliver. Brother Antoine was shot at Cholet with some Daughters of Wisdom. Brothers Joseph and Yvon were also victims on an unknown date. Fathers Dauche and Verger were denounced by a worker of the community of Saint-Laurent and arrested. Once it was known that they were not guilty of deeds attributed to them, a decree of the department of Vendée, dated October 27, 1792, condemned them to exile. They were, in fact, imprisoned on the island of Ré. Ordered several times to take an oath to uphold the Constitution, they were sent back to La Rochelle, where, having scarcely disembarked, they were literally torn to pieces by a furious crowd, which had been informed of their arrival.33

2.  The "restoration" of Father Deshayes (1821-1841)

There is no doubt that what characterized the restoration of the Institute in the nineteenth century was the aim to be faithful to its origins. It was not easy to bring about an organization similar to the previous one, for the greatest number of founders and reformers— including Father Gabriel Deshayes (1767-1841)—possessed only a rather approximate knowledge of the religious life of former times. Nevertheless, the reformers presented their initiatives as a return to the original sources.

By the end of the Revolution, the Company of Mary had lost half its members. If in 1788 the missionary priests numbered between twelve and fifteen,34 there were only seven signers of the account of the proceedings in a plenary meeting at Saint-Laurent on July 9, 1806.35 The situation became more normal a little later in the nineteenth century; in 1820 the Company numbered at least ten Fathers and five Brothers and did not appear preoccupied with increasing its numbers.

The Statutes and Regulations of Father Besnard remained in vigor until August 1817, when the missionaries forming the Congregation signed a new text consisting of only eleven articles that go back to the Statute of 1773. The document consists of less than two pages in the Register of Proceedings.36

Bishop Paillou of La Rochelle, who was also administrator of the diocese of Luçon, wrote on January 8, 1821, to the superior general of the Daughters of Wisdom on the situation of the Institute of missionaries: "I desire above all that you have a father superior who is zealous for the missions; that is the end that Father de Montfort proposed in instituting the Congregation. If this end is lost sight of, the Congregation of the Holy Spirit will destroy itself by that very fact, and you will have only chaplains. I greatly desire that this Congregation endure; but it can endure only inasmuch as it gives parish missions. I ask you to speak of all this to the pastor of Auray, who, I do not doubt, will think as I do and will neglect nothing in order to procure for you a good father superior and good priests willing to undertake parish missions."37 On January 17, 1821, Father Gabriel Deshayes, vicar general of Vannes, pastor of Auray, and already assistant general, agreed to become the new superior of the Company of Mary and the Daughters of Wisdom.38

Thanks to Deshayes, the Company of Mary soon gave signs of renewal. Papal recognition, obtained through the personal efforts of Deshayes, inaugurated a long series of contacts with the Roman Curia to obtain the approbation of the Institute and its Constitutions and to have the honors of the altar accorded to the founder. Deshayes very much desired that the holiness of Father de Montfort be recognized.

a.  The Brief of Praise of Leo XII (1825).

The Brief of Leo XII opened the way for the Congregation to be recognized as an Institute of pontifical right, but it would only be with the Decree of the Sacred Congregation of Bishops and Regulars of November 14, 1853, that the community would be approved "tamquam congregationem votorum simplicium."39

b.  The restoration of vows.

Deshayes did not cease repeating, "There is no body because there is no bond."40 But not all the missionaries were agreed to bind themselves by vows. Precipitous action could have jeopardized the very existence of the Congregation. Father Deshayes delayed until, in 1830-1831, it seemed to him that he could not wait any longer.

His decision to begin the dialogue within the community on the appropriateness of returning to vows coincided with the departure of two missionaries desirous of finding elsewhere the benefit of religious life. One of them, Father J. M. Hillereau (1796-1855), future titular archbishop of Petra and patriarchal vicar of Constantinople, returned at the earnest request of his superior. The new rules presented by Father Deshayes categorically state (chapter 7, article 1): "To be members of the Company, the missionaries first, in the presence of the Superior, make simple vows of poverty and obedience for one year. They renew these vows annually, and at the end of five years of profession, if they themselves feel they are truly called by God and are judged to be so called in order to be irrevocably professed, they take the two vows of poverty and obedience in perpetuity."41

It is easy to see that the article on the vows was borrowed almost word for word from the Rule of Montfort (RM 8). Perhaps it is to respect the terminology of the founder that only the two vows of poverty and obedience are mentioned, while in reality, as is evident in the formula of profession written in the Constitutions, the missionaries made the three traditional vows, including the vow of chastity.42

c.  The Constitutions of Father Deshayes (1832).

The crisis of the Company, marked by the small number of its members and, even more, by its missionary awareness, is inevitably reflected in the tormented Constitutions of 1832, borrowed from either the Rule of Mulot (1728) or from the Statutes of Besnard (1773). The crisis of the parish missions, owing to the political situation, became a crisis of identity, and from this viewpoint the Constitutions of 1832 seem to reflect confusion in the missionary awareness of the Company.

If, on the one hand, the principle of availability is confirmed "to preach the Gospel everywhere with zealous activity," on the other hand, the apostolic horizon remained linked to the historical territory of the missionary presence of the Institute, western France: "They will limit themselves to French territory only, never thinking of the distant foreign missions, which would require new studies, thus diverting them from those that should completely occupy them."43

Fidelity to the founder remains unchanged in missionary methods: "To renew the spirit of Christianity, they will zealously use the exterior, edifying means whose salutary effects they have so often experienced, such as the renewal of baptismal vows, reparation to the Blessed Sacrament, devotion to the Blessed Virgin, etc."44

It suffices to skim the manuscript, starting with the significant title "Missions and Retreats,"45 to verify even quantitatively that in the time of Father Deshayes, and subsequently even more so, retreats tended to be of equal importance in relation to the other activities of parish missions. Retreats followed some months after a parish mission, lasted ten to twelve days, and constituted a form of "follow up to the parish mission."46


The discussion aroused by the vows and the precarious church-state situation of the time marked the identity of the missionaries of Saint- Laurent in the Church in a way that was not always positive. The climate that had been created moved Father Deshayes’ successor to continue the effort toward a return to the original identity of the Institute by going back to RM, written by the founder.

1.  Some key events:

a.  The discovery of the Treatise on True Devotion to the Blessed Virgin (1842).

Having escaped the confusion of the Revolution, the manuscript remained forgotten "in the darkness and silence of a chest" (TD 114) until its discovery on April 22, 1842.  The discovery of TD marks a turning point not only for the knowledge of the Marian doctrine of the founder but, even more significantly, for the very identity of the Institute. The Marian aspect connatural to its mission was clear evidenced, and it opened the way to a more serious reflection on the role of Mary. The Constitutions and the successive revisions record the signs of an evolution in the Marian awareness of the Company.47

b.  The approbation of the Institute by Pope Pius IX (1853).

Father General Joseph Dalin presented RM to the Holy See for approbation.48 Father Dalin himself in an unsigned opuscule explained this decision as a return to the sources: "It was the same for the Company of Mary, where the need was felt more and more to return completely to the Rule of Father de Montfort and to the former customs of the Company."49

With the return to the original name desired by Montfort, Mission-ary Priests of the Company of Mary, the period of the title "Company of the Holy Spirit" ended. Restoration of their authentic name to the disciples of Montfort  vigorously emphasized their identity as linked to an ecclesial mission.

2.  The Constitutions of 1872: the missions ad gentes

The Constitutions edited by Father Denis in 1861,50 which date back to a text approved ad experimentum on the occasion of the approval of the Institute (1853), express the following wish: "The priests of the Company of Mary should reproduce the public life of the Son of God, who went about doing good everywhere in Judea and even to the land of the infidels; whose every moment was employed in speaking of salvation with his heavenly Father or in making his Father known to all. In the footsteps of the Apostles, whose only occupation was prayer or the ministry of the Word, the Fathers of the Company will be always ready to carry the torch of the Gospel wherever obedience will call them, whether in France or in distant and infidel countries, if the Vicar of Jesus Christ so desires."51

In a letter dated February 3, 1872, the Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith informed the Congregation of Bishops and Regulars that there was no difficulty to inserting in the Constitutions of the Company of Mary a new article authorizing it to devote itself to missions in foreign countries.52 This decision is of historical import. The Company thus broke with an isolation that kept it imprisoned within the limited horizon of Saint-Laurent since the foundation. It was with fortunate insight that the Constitutions of 187253 inserted the option of the mission ad gentes in a key text on the thought of the founder, taken almost word for word from RM 6.54

3.  Missionary activity

A voluminous "Memorandum," containing the reports of the missions and retreats conserved in the AGCM, recounts the missionary activities of the Fathers from 1865 to 1878.55 During the very year the first apostolic school (high school and 2 year college seminary) at Pontchâteau opened (1876), two things are striking: the enormous amount of work accomplished that year by the missionaries, and their fidelity to the apostolic directives of Montfort to preach missions and retreats.


1.  Expansion of the Institute (1880-1940)

The Third Republic, first of all favorable to the Church, began a systematic policy of secularization in France as soon as power fell into the hands of the republicans. In 1880 the French government expelled the Jesuits, obliged each Congregation to file a request for authorization, and prohibited all unauthorized religious to teach. Other laws decreed the obligation of military service for clerics, the abolition of military and hospital chaplaincies, the laicization of cemeteries and courts, the possibility of divorce, and the abolition of Sunday rest.

At the same time, parish missions experienced much resistance. Municipalities prevented the holding of retreat exercises. The expulsions of 1880 and 1901 and the radical separation of church and state in 1904 contributed to the serious slowing down of missionary activity. Diocesan missionaries, helped by some secularized religious, continued their activities. They adapted their preaching, giving more importance to dialogue conferences and also to "living tableaux" that involved children, thereby giving the preacher the opportunity to evangelize the parents who attended these plays. The preachers did their best to answer the anti-clerical objections to Christianity.

The decree of proscription struck all unauthorized French Congregations. The Company of Mary had the honor of being among the victims. The Fathers and Brothers were expelled manu militari from their different residences, but not without protests on their part and manifestations of solidarity on the part of the people. At Saint-Laurent-sur-Sèvre in particular, the clergy of the area and the people wanted to give proof of their esteem for, and solidarity with, the persecuted priests by objecting to those executing the unjust laws. The agents of the Republic permitted only five Fathers to remain as chaplains for the Daughters of Wisdom, together with Father Guyot, superior general (1877-1886).56

His successor, Father Armand Maurille (1887-1896), would have the joy of seeing Louis Marie de Montfort declared Blessed by Leo XIII on January 22, 1888. The dispersion of religious throughout the world increased the influence of missionary France. If the Third Republic opened a period of uncertainty for the Company within France, the expulsion revealed itself as providential, because it forced the Company to leave France. Thus the expulsion began an extraordinary movement of expansion that would see the little Company of Mary established in Europe and the other continents e.g., Holland (1881), Canada (1883), Nyasaland (Malawi) (1901), England (1891), United States (1903), Madagascar (1932), Zaire (1933), Indonesia (1938), and many others.57

2.  The Constitutions of 1904 and 1949

The Constitutions approved on October 10, 1904, were structured on the model of the "Normae" edited in 1901 by the Congregation for Religious. They should be considered as an intermediate step in an institutional evolution that began with the approbation of the Institute in 1853 and ended with the Constitutions of 1949. The Company had experienced a profound upheaval brought about by multiple external and internal factors that helped give a new image to the Institute. The Constitu- tions of 1904 and, even more, those of 1949 reflect the image of a Company inclined to assume more decisively its role of evangelization in the universal Church.

The Constitutions of 1904 express the contemporary theology of religious life and the mind-set of the community. "The Company of Mary, founded in the beginning of the eighteenth century by Blessed Louis Marie de Montfort, has as its primary end the personal sanctification of its members by the observance of the vows of religion and the Constitutions of the Company and by devotion to the noble and holy Slavery of Mary, according to the method of the Blessed Founder."

Personal sanctification is achieved by the classical means (vows and observance of the Constitutions), but also "by devotion to the noble and holy Slavery of Mary, according to the method of the Blessed Founder."58

Father Lhoumeau (general from 1903 to 1919), author of valued publications on the spirituality of Montfort,59 notes, not without a certain satisfaction, that "we must rejoice to see thus officially recognized, and by its own name, this devotion that characterizes the spirituality of our Institute" (letter of March 19, 1905).60

While holding a definite priority, the preaching of parish missions both in the Constitutions of 1904, as in those of 1949, were classed among the means that the Company uses to extend the reign of Christ through the reign of Mary.

3.  The Company of Mary Today

The post-Vatican II general chapters of the Company of Mary have given a strong impetus to the renewal of the Institute. The changes have been structural, but primarily they have consisted of a profound interior renewal in the light of Montfort spirituality. With close attention to the signs of the times and to the call of the Church, the chapters wished to discover anew and deepen their understanding of how to read, live, and announce the Gospel, and of the way of Montfort as evidenced in his life and writings, in particular in the Triptych (PM, RM, and LCM).

The renewal within the Company of Mary has strengthened the living of Montfort spirituality and also the joyful obligation of explaining and propagating it. It has invigorated the apostolate intrinsic to its spirituality, of proclaiming to the poor the reign of Jesus through Mary. It has emphasized the importance of preaching, especially of parish missions and retreats. Responding to this new awareness of Saint Louis de Montfort’s heritage, the Congregation for Religious and Secular Institutes approved not only the Constitutions of the Company of Mary but also the text of the founder’s Triptych. At the present time, this approbation is unique among those of postconciliar Constitutions. In a remarkable passage, the decree declares: "The same Sacred Congregation equally approves as a legislative text the ‘Original Rule,’ preceding the Constitutions and composed of three writings of the founder, in such a way that for the norms the Constitutions have priority, but for the principles, the Rule has priority." This passage is of basic importance because of the consequences it has not only for the law of the Company but even more for its ecclesial identity and the very life of the Institute.

"This Sacred Congregation expresses the wish that, thanks to the faithful observance of these texts, the fondest desire of the founder may be realized: May the Lord use the Montfort Missionaries to form ‘a company of guardsmen so that all give Him glory in His temple’" (PM 30).61

P. L. Nava

Notes: (1) Blain, 119. (2) On the personality of Poullart des Places, cf. J. Lecuyer, En relisant Poullart des Places (On Re-reading Poullart des Places), in Cahiers spiritains 3 (1977), 3-17; 5 (1978), 3-20; J. Michel, Poullart des Places, in DSAM 12 (1985), 2027-2035. (3) Besnard I, 278. (4) Besnard, I, 278-279. (5) Besnard I, 279. (6) Cf. P. Eyckeler, Quelques Points d’histoire montfortaine, vol. 1, Des origines à M. Mulot, exécuteur testamentaire, duplicated, Rome 1972, 43-53. (7) P. Eyckeler, Compagnon de mission du Père de Montfort: Le frère Mathurin, in Spiritus 13 (1962), 397-398. (8) Cf. P. Eijckeler, Des origines, 29-40. (9) Cf. the document in P. Eyckeler, Des origines, 51. (10) Grandet, 208-211. (11) Besnard I, 328. (12) Besnard II, 309. (13) Cf. P. Eyckeler, Quelques points, vol 2, La société des missionnaires, duplicated, Rome 1973, 11. (14) Besnard, Marie-Louise, 127-128. (14) The text of the petition and the relevant episcopal certificates are in Grandet, 269-274. (15) Grandet, 270. (16) Cf. Louis Pérouas, ed., P.-F. Hacquet. Mémoires des missions des montfortains dans l’Ouest (1740- 1779): Contribution à la sociologie religieuse historique, Fontenay-le- Comte 1964, 1-10. It was probably Father Hacquet who played a part in the introduction of retreats. Pérouas puts forward the hypothesis that Mulot was against it. In fact, the running of retreats as ordinary ministry for the community of Saint-Laurent began the year after Mulot’s death (1749), and until 1767 Hacquet was practically the only one engaged in that type of preaching. (17) Cf. J-F. Dervaux, Folie ou Sagesse? Marie-Louise Trichet et les premiéres Filles de M. de Montfort, Paris 1950, 323-324, especially note 34. (18) There is uncertainty on the number of priests and brothers at that time. It is certain that Mulot, Vatel, Le Valois, Guillemot, and Brothers Mathurin and Joseau were present, but it is not certain that Fathers Aumond and Toutant were there. (19) Besnard II, 277. (20) Besnard II, 277. (21) Florence, 105. (22) AGCM: "Règles des prêtres missionnaires de la Compagnie de Marie, établis par M. de Montfort, Approuvées par plusieurs Evêques." This manuscript has raised several problems of date and authorship. (23) The texts of the episcopal approbations are given ibid., 50-53. (24) Cf. J.- M. Texier, Histoire de la Compagnie de Marie, 1:90-105. The original of the account is preserved in the Archives of the Daughters of Wisdom at Saint Laurent-sur-Sèvre. (25) Texier, Histoire, 1:253. (26) The text of this decree is given in J. M. Prat, Essai historique sur la destruction des Ordres religieux au dix-huitième siècle, Paris 1845. (27) P. Chevalier, introduction to Loménie de Brienne, 1:34. (28) Cf. the remarks in L. Pérouas, Réflexion historique sur l’apostolat des montfortains, in DMon 40 (1967), 1-11. (29) Cf. J.F. Dervaux, Le Droigt de Dieu: Les Filles de la Sagesse après la mort des fondateurs, Cholet 1954, 1:112. The author deals at length with this stormy period in the history of the montfort family (51-31). (30) [J.M. Frissen], L’atachement des congrégations montfortaines au Saint-Siège (collection of texts attached to the Circular of the Council, August 30, 1962), Rome 1962, 11-12. (31) T. Tackett, La Révolution, l’Eglise, la France, Cerf, Paris 1986, 266-267. (32) Paris, Archives Nationales, D XXIX 39 L 392, 5-6. (33) Cf. the report on the death of the two martyrs in the death register kept in the city hall of La Rochelle, in Texier, Histoire, 2:51-53. The cause of death is modestly described in the official account as "popular emotion" (52). (34) Cf. Texier, Histoire, 2:71. (35) Délibérations, 1:3. (36) Ibid., 37-38. (37) AGFS: Sr. Agathange, "Chroniques de la Congrégation de la Sagesse," ms., vol. 5, 1916.  (38) Délibérations, 1:50. (39) On the juridical nature of the Decree of Praise given by Leo XII, cf. P. L. Nava, L’approvazione canonica, 93- 101. (40) F.Laveau, Vie de Gabriel Deshayes, Vannes 1854, 139-140. (41) AGCM, Arm. 2: "Règles et constitutions des missionnaires du St. Esprit," ms., St. Laurent-sur-Sèvre 1837. (42) Ibid., ch. 7, n. 1 (43) Ibid., ch. 1, art. 1. Ibid., ch. 11, art. 10.  (45) AGCM, Arm. 14: Missions et retraites données par les Pères de la Compagnie de Marie de Saint Laurent-sur-Sèvre, vol. 1 (1740-1864), vol. 2 (1862-1865). (46) In his Mémoire, Father Marchand recorded twenty-three six-to-seven week retreats between February 1823 and March 1830, two retreats lasting about two weeks, and an unspecified number of retreats lasting between ten and twelve days; cf. J.H. Frissen, Mgr Julien-Marie Hilléreau, 7. (47) Cf. [J.M. Frissen], La place de la Vierge dans la vie personnelle de Montfort, la pensée du fondateur, l’histoire de la Compagnie (Textes et faits), General Chapter, Rome 1964, 44 pages. (48) Règle des prêtres missionnaires de la Compagnie de Marie, Tipografia della Rev. Cam. Apostolica, Rome 1853. (49) J. Dalin, Notice historique sur l’approbation des deux congrégations fondées par le Vén. Montfort, Vincent Forest, Nantes 1854, 13. (50) Règles et constitutions des missionnaires de la Compagnie de Marie, Vincent Forest, Nantes 1861. (51) Ibid., part 1, ch. 1, nos. 1, 32, 33. (52) Archives of the Sacred Congregation for Religious and Secular Institutes: L 15, 2, 34. (53) The Constitutions of the Missionary Priests of the Company of Mary, approved for ten years by the apostolic decree of July 6, 1872, were the result of various initiatives already taken for the preceding approbation and had been used ad experimentum since November 14, 1853. (54) Constitutions des prêtres-missionnaires de la Compagnie de Marie, Oudin, Poitiers 1872, 9-10, VI,6. (55) AGCM, Arm. 15, "Missions et retraites données par les Pères de la Compagnie de Marie de Saint Laurent-sur- Sèvre . . . (1865-1878)," vol. 2, ms. (56) Cf. Dervaux, Le doigt de Dieu, 2:251-294. (57) On the origins of the foundations in and outside Europe, cf. the chronology in La Compagnie de Marie: Origines des Provinces et des Missions, Statistiques à la date du 1er octobre 1951, in L’Echo des missions, 220 (1951), 1-12. (58) Constitutions des Prêtres Missionnaires de la Compagnie de Marie, Vatican Press, Rome 1905, 5. (59) Cf. F. Fradet, Le T.R.P. Lhoumeau, ancien supérieur général de la Compagnie de Marie et des Filles de la Sagesse, Lille 1921. (60) On the Marian character of the Company of Mary, cf. [Frissen], La place de la Vierge, especially 23-44; D.M. Huot, Engagement marial du montfortain: archaïsme ou exigence toujours actuelle?, in DM n.39 (1967), 1-18. (61) Cf. Missionaries of the Company of Mary, Montfortian Today, Rome 1984.

Taken from: Jesus Living in Mary: Handbook of the Spirituality of St. Louis de Montfort (Litchfield, CT: Montfort Publications, 1994).

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