Who is a Fransalian?

A Brief History Of The Fransalians (MSFS Congregation)

Beginnings of the Congregation

Who is a Fransalian?

FRANSALIAN is another name for the Missionary of St.Francis de Sales

FRANSALIAN is a man of living faith who is deeply in love with God. He is in daily communion with Him, through the Eucharist, the sun of religious existence, as well as through his awareness of His presence. This love of God is shown in his love for his neighbour and for the entire creation. He is a confident optimist who is aware that God is present in his life, in his community, and in the events of history. He lives the salesian charism of joyful holiness, firm gentleness, and positive regard for the other, with hospitality, cheerful availability and genuine humanness. The Good News of God’s love is made known through his witness in the form of service to humanity. Knowledge is his eight sacrament. He is a realist who is well equipped to read the signs of the times. He has his feet planted firmly on the ground, while reaching for the skies. He is a man who is open to and lives the culture of the people, courageous to respond to their needs. He is a committed messenger of hope, filled with missionary zeal. And all this in firm solidarity with is confreres, the Missionaries of St. Francis de Sales.

A Brief History Of The Fransalians (MSFS Congregation)

The congregation of the Missionaries of St. Francis de sales was founded in France in 1838 by the Servant of God, Fr. Pierre Mermier under the patronage of St. Francis de Sales had a humble beginning. It was the realization of the long-cherished desire of Fr. Mermier, an apostle of parish missions.

The political disturbances in the country, especially the French Revolution had its impact in the spiritual realm too as it left the people in a deep spiritual crisis and indifference towards their religious duties. Sensing the signs of the time Fr. Mermier took upon himself the task of a spiritual renewal in his people by preaching parish missions. This special apostolate in turn gave rise to a community of preachers gathered around Fr. Mermier. His firm missionary zeal was amply clear from his slogan “I want missions.”

The newly formed community of missionaries, consisting of six members, began to live together at La Roche–Sur-Foron in 1834. Realizing the need to give a formal shape to the team Fr. Mermier went ahead with the plan of forming it into a religious society. A rule of life was drawn up by him in 1836 and the community moved into a new house, La Feuilette at Annecy. Msgr. Pierre Joseph Rey, Bishop of Annecy who was a source of constant support and inspiration to the missioners conferred the canonical approval on the young congregation on 24th October, 1838 and entrusted it to the care and patronage of St. Francis de sales.

The mission plan of Fr. Mermier included foreign missions too and he expected Rome to entrust his little congregation with a mission in Africa. But contrary to the expectation, the vast mission territory of Visakhapatnam, in India was entrusted to the MSFS in 1845. Accepting the challenges, Fr. Mermier prepared his best six men to be set out for the new mission. The pioneering team consisting of Fr. Jacques Martin, Fr. Joseph Lavorel, Fr. Jean Marie Tissot, Fr. Jean Thevenet, Bro. Pierre Carton and Bro. Sulpice Fontanel bid farewell to their confreres and homeland and boarded the ship on 8th June 1845 and arrived at Pondicherry after three months, on 8th September.

The missionaries rendered their services from the four mission centers of Visakhapatnam, Yanam, Kamptee and Aurangabad. Fr. Mermier, realizing the urgent needs of the Visakhapatnam Mission left no stone unturned in finding finance and personnel for the same. Gradually the Congregation began to extent its missionary work to other countries as well.

In 1862, Fr. Mermier, the holy founder, left for his eternal reward, leaving all his confreres grief- stricken.

Many of the missionaries who came to India learned many Indian languages and some of them were so proficient that they wrote many books in many of these languages. They worked hard, facing all the difficulties. Sicknesses, inclement whether and hard work took away the lives of many young, zealous missionaries. The vast territory of Visakhapatanam was divided into two in 1887, forming the new diocese of Nagpur, with Alexis Riccaz msfs as its first bishop. However the vastness of the territory and the increase in the need for more personnel and resources led to the division of the original Visakhapatnam mission into many dioceses and were handed over to the other religious congregations in the course of time. The Fransalians too, in turn, grew large and began to spread out to the other parts of India. And today it has seven provinces in India, viz., Visakhapatanam, South–West, South-East, North–East, Nagpur, Pune and Debrugarh.

Thus today the MSFS is a large congregation spread over many countries in the world, rendering valuable services to the humanity by holding on to its charisma of preaching missions, evangelization and education of the youth.

Beginnings of the Congregation

Difficult Beginnings

The beginnings they say are always difficult and Father Peter Mary Mermier experienced this maxim when on 24th October 1838 he founded the Congregation of the Missionaries of St. Francis de Sales. He had an ardent zeal for the Missions. At the same time it must be noted that Fr. Mermier had also some human defects. He was once told: “….. If you do less, you will achieve more.” Barely seven years after founding this small congregation, half of his members were sent to India. These included four fathers and two brothers. They left Europe and reached the coast of India at Pondicherry after an adventurous sea voyage that lasted three long months. These Missionaries, like their founder had put their trust in God and dared to venture into the unknown without the knowledge of the language, people, customs or the climatic conditions. They moved onwards steadily learning the language and the peoples. This small Congregation slowly spread to the different parts of the world.

Mermier’s Mission

It was in 1825 and 1826 that Mermier preached his missions in various parishes of Savoy. He had an ambition, to start Mission preaching. Slowly priests joined his mission group, and they numbered six zealous priests. Now Fr. Mermier was keen to found a Congregation exclusively for Mission preaching and with the help of Bishop Rey, he initiated the formation of a Congregation with a handful of dedicated priests. This Congregation was known as the Missionaries of St. Francis de Sales. June 1834, the six missionaries entered the new house at La Roche. Their first Rules were taken from different religious Congregations.

La Feuillette

The house at La Roche was too small for the future development of the Congregation and a new plot and a new building under the supervision of Fr. J. Martin was completed on the 27th August 1837. The Community now began residing at La Feuillette. This small group of religious also came in possession of the Hill of Les Allinges. This was bequeathed to the Missionaries by Bishop Rey, because it was in this very chapel that St. Francis de Sales celebrated often the Divine Mysteries for the conversion of his motherland. This became a pilgrim center and was developed by Fr. Martin and later by Fr. Neyret. When they left for India Fr. Jean Anthonioz took charge of the place and developed it further with the help of the hard working brothers. Les Allinges was also a Pilgrim Center dedicated to St. Francis de Sales right up to the present days in1983. Bishop Rey also bought and developed the Sanctuary at Notre-Dame de La Gorge, with a chapel under the name of our Lady of Gorge. This was also entrusted to the Missionaries of St. Francis de Sales. Fr. Martin was responsible for the construction of the residence and the Church. He was its first Chaplain till he left for India.

La Feuillette witnesses its First Vows.

On September 24th 1838 after a fervent retreat the six missionaries took their vows in the Chapel of La Feuillette. They were Pierre Mermier, Jacques Martin, and Philippe Gaiddon, Joseph Cheminal, Aime Petitjean and Joseph Lavorel. Fr. Mermier had these inspiring words to say: “For ten years I have been devoted to the work of mission preaching, to the august service of Jesus Christ the first Missionary. I desired one thing and asked the Lord for I, that I might live with brothers. I have prayed to be able to start a society devoted to this apostolate and I see it born today….I see that I have much to suffer. I see myself without experience, filled with defects, unable to direct a society…yet, I am not discouraged, I count on the grace of God and your will.” St. Francis de Sales became the official Patron saint and Protector of the Congregation. The Missionaries were to imitate his virtues in a special way.

Bishop Rey’s address to the Missionaries.

This new society had now to have its own legal existence, so that they could own properties and administer them. This Government permission was received on 29th September 1838. It was Bishop Rey who handed this Royal Document to Fr. Mermier at La Feuillette on 21st October in the presence of several Priests. Bishop Rey addressed the Missionaries in these words: “Study St. Francis de Sales, imitate his Virtues, take as your own his methods of direction, gentle towards sinners. You will discover this method in his letters. You will see the treasures of his heart in his Treatise on the Love of God. Read these pages burning with zeal…With gentleness show a strong zeal against vice.”

Founding of the Holy Cross Sisters.

Father Mermier now focused his attentions to the two evils existing at that time. The pitiful state of some of the country girls, who had no means of following any career or of even embracing the religious life, because of the dowry system and the evil of ignorance that prevailed among the young. Fr. Mermier had been in search of some one to begin a religious Congregation for girls. It was during one of his mission expedition that he singled out Claudine Echernier who was in the service of Fr. Pierre Delalex. She was a pious woman and the project was materialized after the conversation between the three, Fr. Mermier, Fr. Delalex and Claudine. In May 1839 ten girls attended a retreat of three days, preached by Fr. Mermier. In November 1841 Bishop Rey approved the Rules drawn-up by Fr. Mermier and the Bishop approved the Congregation of the Daughters of the Cross. This small Congregation of the Daughters of the Cross developed and established schools in the villages. The first Rule established two categories of Sisters, namely those who lived with their parents and did manual work and those who lived in Community either as Sister Teacher or Sister Worker. They worked mostly among the poorer section of the people. The Superior General of the Missionaries of St. Francis de Sales was at the same time the Superior of the Holy Cross Sisters. But after September 24th 1887 Bishop Isoard of Annecy separated the two Congregations.

Fr. Mermier seeks approbation from Rome.

Bishop Rey died in Annecy at the age of seventy-two. And was buried in the Chapel of La Feuillette. Bishop had the dream of obtaining the approval for the Missionaries of St. Francis de Sales Congregation, but unfortunately he died before he could obtain it. Fr. Mermier had answered the invitation for the African Missions. Having met Bishop, Fr. Mermier was now keen to get the approval from Rome for this small Congregation. His visit on 2nd October was with Cardinal Franzoni, Prefect of the Propagation of Faith. However it was not in his power to grant the approval of his Congregation. Finally on 16th October. Cardinal Ortini, who questioned him regarding the approbation, received him. His first question was; how many houses? And Mermier answered only one. He further asked him how many members he had in the whole Congregation, and his answer was only eleven. The Cardinals last question was where have the Missionaries worked till now. Fr. Mermier’s slow answer was only in the Diocese of Annecy. The answer of the Cardinal was obvious: “cannot grant approbation.” Though the encounter with Cardinal Ortini was negative, Fr. Mermier did not give up. This incident did humiliate him but he kept his cool and zeal. It was on the 21st November that Cardinal Ortini agreed to re-examine the Constitution and appointed a Franciscan Consultor, Fr. Joachim Bossomaro to study them and give his report. Finally on 2nd of October 1843, Cardinal Ferreti gave a favorable decision. The Sacred Congregation of Bishops conferred on the humble Founder and his Institute the Degree of Praise, which is the first step. Fr. Mermier, on his return to La Feuillette was given a hearty welcome by his Confreres. Here we have the words of Fr. Gaiddon: “Father and Friend, Leader and Model, Founder and Master and added: ‘you are the Rock’ of the Community.

His sending of Missionaries

Fr. Mermier had a great desire and zeal of sending Missionaries to India. The Congregation was still in its initial stages, only four years old, and having only ten priests and four brothers. Besides the Congregation was financially poor, yet they were bold in offering their services for missionary work and hence wrote to the Cardinal Prefect of their intentions. Cardinal Franzoni was all praise to this small Congregation and assured Fr. Mermier that Propaganda would discuss the erection of new Missions in the eastern part of India and they would be entrusted to the Missionaries of St. Francis de Sales. On the 2nd of May 1845 Cardinal Franzoni wrote to Fr. Mermier that the Sacred Congregation was pleased to entrust to the Missionaries of St. Francis de Sales the Province of Vizagapatnam. This letter was received with joy at La Feuillette on the 10th of May. A hurried preparation had therefore to be made to send missionaries to India. Fr. Jacques Martin, Fr. Joseph Lavorel, Jean Marie Tissot, Fr. Jean Thevenet, Bro. Suplice and Bro. Fontanel were chosen as the first batch of Missionaries. The farewell ceremony of these missionaries was very touching, namely with the kissing of the feet. All embarked on the 5th of June on a ship called Le Courrier de L’Inde, which set sails on the 8th of June and arrived after almost three months. They reached Pondicherry on the 8th of September evening. (about 89 days.) Here at Pondicherry the missionaries had to spend four months, because of certain difficulties. The Missionaries along with Fr. Gailhot, the Pro Vicar, took ship on the 16thth of January for Madras. They were well received by Mgr. Fennelly and after a stay of nine days embarked for Kakinada; and finally after a tiring journey reached Yanam. The Pro-Vicar Fr. Gailhot appointed Fr. Martin as parish priest and Fr. Martin remained in Yanam to begin his ministry with Bro. Suplice as his companion. The rest of the Missionaries together with Fr. Gailhot took ship and on 19th February 1846 reached Vizagapatnam. Large crowds of Christians gathered to welcome them. They were happy to have us in their midst. Among these Christians there was an old French soldier who came to express his joy at the same time to find out if he still knew French after forty long years. Now the Fathers were ready to begin their responsible Apostolate. The Pro-Vicar, Fr. Gailhot sent Fr. Thevenet to Jaulnah(Jalna) and Fr. Lavorel to Kamptee.(Nagpur). Fr. Tissot was kept in Vizagapatnam, with the two bothers.

Early Upsets

The Missionaries of St. Francis de Sales had come to India with great expectation, but though they were men filled with zeal the under current was against them, not because of any fault of theirs. It was Fr. Gailhot the Pro-Vicar who created a set back in their apostolate. He catered only to the needs of the English-speaking people. Fr. Martin and Fr. Lavorel had already informed Fr. Mermier regarding this situation. The issue came to a climax when Fr. Thevenet and Bro. Suplice were unable to bear the difficulties any further. They wrote, complaining to Rome and to Fr. Mermier, about the Pro-Vicar, on four serious lapses. Rome brought it to a conclusion by appointing Fr. Sebastian Theophilus Neyret m.s.f.s. the Pro-Vicar of Vizagapatnam, in November 1845. Fr. Martin who was left alone in Yanam, was experiencing also some difficulties with the parishioner; besides he did not receive any letters from Vizag., this really upset him and to distract his worried mind he began taking long walks in the full heat of the day. On the 2nd of May he suffered a stroke from which he never recovered. He died on 5th May at 4 a.m. His death was deeply felt by all the Confreres. Fr. J.M. Tissot was sent to Yanam and remained a year, till Fr. Dupont replaced him.

Prepares to send more Missionaries

Fr. Mermier asked Fr. Sebastian Neyret to prepare to leave for India to take charge of Vizagapatnam Mission as its Pro-Vicar. Accordingly he left Annecy on the 19th October 1846. On the 4th January, he arrived in Alexander, Egypt, where his two companions, Fr. Jean Marie Dupont and Bro. Charles Gaillard met him on their onward journey. They arrived in Madras on 10th March via the Suez Canal. They remained as guests to Fr. Fennelly, then on April 24th 1847 they arrived at Yanam, where Fr. Tissot and the Brothers welcomed them. Fr. Dupont was appointed Parish Priest of Yanam with Brother Charles as his companion. Mgr. Neyret proceeded to Vizagapatnam with the others.

Fr. Sebastian Theophilus Neyret was born at Giez in 1802. He was ordained priest in 1826, Chaplain to the St. Joseph Sisters in Evian for 13 years. In 1845 he entered the M.S.F.S. congregation and was appointed chaplain of les Allinges. He had expressed great wish to go to India. Fr. Mermier knew him to be a ‘solid man’, virtuous, very prudent, learned and naturally was the choice for the Pro-Vicar.

In June 1848 Fr. Francis Larive and three others priests sailed from Bordeaux round the Cape of Good Hope which brought them to Pondicherry in November. They had with them the Papal Bulls appointing Fr. Neyret Vicar Apostolic of Vizagapatnam. He received his Episcopal Consecration in Madras from Mgr. Fennelly, thus becoming the first Bishop of the Congregation. The new Bishop faced great difficulties in the administration of his vast Vicariate but being a man of great zeal and faith he was able to surmount these difficulties. This he did by dividing the Vicariate into four Districts, namely Vizagapatnam, Yanam, Aurangabad and Kamptee. He called the sisters of St. Joseph of Annecy and helped them to start Schools at Vizag., Yanam and Kamptee. Charles Gaillard was sent to open a school for boys in Kamptee. He encouraged his Missionaries by example, letters and his frequent visits to the various stations. During his administration he build seven Churches and fifteen Chapels. Bishop Neyret had the privilege of ordaining two priests, Fr. Balmand in Vizag., on 16th March and Domenge in Jalna on 5th June 1852. His third journey in 1862 proved too much for him. He fell ill as soon as he reached Kamptee, and on the 5th November 1862 he breathed his last. He was buried in Kamptee Church at the age of 61 years.

Second M.S.F.S. Bishop

The second bishop of the Missionaries of St. Francis de Sales was Fr. J.M. Tissot. Mgr. Tissot received his Episcopal Consecration in Bombay on 4th April 1864, at the hands of Bishop Steins. John Mary Tissot was born in Megeve, Savoy on the 28th September 1810. He was ordained priest in 1836 by Bishop Rey, joined the M.S.F.S. Congregation in 1839. He was in the first batch to come to India. He began his Bishopric by visiting the Mission Stations. He went to Rome on ‘Ad Limina” visit to the Holy Father and to give a report of his Mission. In 1869 Mgr. Tissot had to go back to Rome for the 1st Vatican Council. On this trip, he took Fr. Joseph Tissot as his theologian. He returned to India in March 1871, along with four priests and sisters. We are told that he took interest in developing the Mission Stations. In 1873 he blessed the Church of Jabalpur. In 1879 he blessed the Church at Khandwa and in 1886 the year of his Sacerdotal Golden Jubilee, he blessed the Church of St. Francis de Sales in Nagpur. This was the largest and most beautiful Church of his Vicariate. Ten years later he was back in Nagpur, the Church now a Cathedral, to witness the consecration of the first Bishop of Nagpur Mgr. A. Riccaz. It was the Archbishop Colgan of Madras who consecrated him as Bishop, since Mgr. Tissot was too old and worn out.

Parish Missions

The Missionaries in India, while keeping the traditions followed by its Founder Fr. Mermier gave great importance to this Apostolate of Parish Missions. It has recorded that when a mission was preached in a certain area, the Church bell would peel as a sign of welcome to these priests and also for the people to assemble. Once they were gathered in the Church the Parish Priest welcomed the missionaries. Then began the Ceremony with singing and Mass. The Mission followed a special program. The morning exercise with the ringing of the bell for Angeles followed by Holy Mass for some pious souls or the employed people. The rest had Morning Prayer with a short homily. The Mission would continue for fifteen days to three weeks. All spiritual aspects were taken care off and great importance was given for confessions. The Mission ended with the planting of the Cross. Missions had great influence among the people giving themselves to a life of prayer and sacrifice. (See Parish Mission Preaching Manual)

Important Virtues

Gentleness and zeal combined with Hospitality were the hallmarks of the Congregation. The Founder Fr. Mermier himself laid stress on these virtues. “Self-denial, readiness to accept discomfort, to be all to all, everywhere, in the least things, like the grain of wheat buried in the ground. Charity and kindness to one’s neighbor are the hallmarks of God’s love. Since 1845 the Missionaries spread far and wide. Fr. Mermier had experienced a great deal of suffering. On June 6th 1860 he had a second attack of apoplexy but he recovered from it and had the joy to learn that the Holy See had approved the Congregation of St. Francis de Sales. Besides he was happy to learn that the Congregation had its beginnings in England. On May 24th 1861, Fr. Farive arrived in England to start a mission in Chippenham and was followed by Devizes. After a fall on 10th August 1862 which so incapacitated him because of the double fracture of the right leg he had to take to bed. On the morning of 30th September 1862 towards 9 o’clock, consumed with suffering, he calmly slept in the peace of the Lord.