Congregation of the Holy Spirit (Spiritans) is a Roman Catholic Religious Congregation of over three thousand members worldwide, founded in 1703. We dedicate ourselves to working with the poor and in those situations where the Church has difficulty in finding workers.
Claude Poulart Des Places (1679-1709), our founder came from Rennes in Northwest France, where he was academically very bright and became a lawyer at the age of 18. However, hearing the call of the Church, he entered the seminary in Paris. While there he was struck by the poverty of the poor in pre-revolution Paris, and he opted for the poor and joined their way of life. He helped homeless chimney sweeps to read and write and in 1703 opened a hostel for poor seminarians dedicated to the Holy Spirit. Those who passed through this hostel and were ordained were proud to call themselves graduates of the Spiritan College, or Spiritans, and so the story began. Two years after his own ordination Claude died of pleurisy at the age of 30 in 1709.
Francis Mary Paul Libermann (1802-1852) Our “second” founder was born in 1802, the son of the Rabbi of Savernne in eastern France. He was being trained to follow his father as Rabbi when, in his studies he came across the Gospels and studied St John’s Gospel. This so affected his faith that he baptised a Catholic and decided God was calling him to the Priesthood rather that the Rabbinate. This caused him great suffering as his father and the family declared him ‘dead’. Just before he was to receive the diaconate he was struck down by epilepsy that caused his ordination to be delayed 10 years.
While still working in the seminary, as a servant, he had two friends Eugene Tisserant and Frederick Le Vavasseur who told him of their concerns for the plight of “liberated” slaves in the Caribbean and Indian Ocean. Libermann was convinced to join them, and they then asked him to prepare a rule of life for their project. This he did and then went to Rome, where, after a year long struggle with the authorities, it was approved by the Pope and the path was set for Francis and his two confreres to spent the rest of their lives in the service not just of the liberated slaves from Africa but of African people everywhere on that continent.
Libermann’s vision and life style was so similar to the older Spiritans, struggling to reform and rebuild after the horrors of the French Revolutions, and Rome proposed that the two groups amalgamate and so strengthen each other. After the fusion of the two communities in 1848, Libermann had the personnel and the Spiritans the places for all who were enthused about going to work in Africa. He found himself being left at home to shoulder the endless chores of recruitment, training, funding and all the paperwork required with civil and Church authorities. In 1852, just 3 years after drawing up the “Rule of Life” for the Spiritans, Libermann was facing final illness and premature death.