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Society of Saint-Sulpice

Society of Saint-Sulpice
The seal of the Society of Saint-Sulpice
The seal of the Society of Saint-Sulpice
Abbreviation P.S.S. (American Sulpicians retain the original form, S.S.)
Motto Auspice, Maria (Guide us, Mary)
Formation 1641
Type Roman Catholic Society of Apostolic Life
Headquarters 6, Rue du Regard
Paris, France
Superior General
Rev. Ronald D. Witherup, P.S.S.
Website Society of the Priests of Saint-Sulpice

The Society of Saint-Sulpice (French: Compagnie des Prêtres de Saint-Sulpice, Latin: Societas Presbyterorum a Santo Sulpitio) is a Catholic Society of Apostolic Life named for the Church of Saint-Sulpice, Paris, in turn named for St. Sulpitius the Pious, where they were founded. Typically, priests become members of the Society of St. Sulpice only after ordination and some years of pastoral work. Uniquely, Sulpicians retain incardination in their own dioceses even after joining the society. The purpose of the society is mainly the education of priests and to some extent parish work. As their main role is the education of those preparing to become members of the presbyterate, Sulpicians place great emphasis on the academic and spiritual formation of their own members, who commit themselves to undergoing lifelong development in these areas. The Society is divided into three provinces, operating in various countries: the Province of France, Canada, and the United States.


  • In France 1
  • In Canada 2
    • New France 2.1
    • After Conquest 2.2
  • In the United States 3
  • Sulpicians today 4
  • Famous Members 5
  • See also 6
  • Notes 7
  • References 8
  • External links 9

In France

The Society of Saint Sulpice was founded in France in 1641 by Father Jean-Jacques Olier (1608–1657), an exemplar of the French School of Spirituality. A disciple of Vincent de Paul and Charles de Condren, Olier took part in "missions" organized by them.

The French priesthood at that time suffered from low morale, academic deficits and other problems. Envisioning a new approach to priestly preparation, Olier gathered a few priests and seminarians around him in Vaugirard, a suburb of Paris, in the final months of 1641.[1] Shortly thereafter, he moved his operation to the parish of Saint-Sulpice in Paris, hence the name of the new Society. After several adjustments, he built a seminary next to the current church of Saint-Sulpice. The Séminaire de Saint-Sulpice thereby became the first Sulpician seminary. There the first seminarians got their spiritual formation, while taking most theology courses at the Sorbonne. The spirit of this new seminary and its founder caught the attention of many leaders in the French Church; and before long, members of the new Society staffed a number of new seminaries elsewhere in the country.

Sulpician priests contributed to the parish community during the day, but at night they would return to their institutions. Jean-Jacques Olier attempted to control diverse social groups by having laymen of the community give reports on family life, poverty, and disorder. The Sulpicians were very strict in regards to woman and sexuality to the extent that they were eventually banned from the seminary unless it was for short visits in the external area with appropriate attire. The Sulpicians accepted aspirants to the company as long as they were priests and had permission from their bishop.[2] The Sulpicians would thus recruit wealthy individuals since Sulpicians did not take vows of poverty.[3] They retained ownership of individual property and were free to dispose their wealth.[3] The Sulpicians soon came to be known for the revival of the parish life, reform of seminary life, and the revitalization of spirituality.[2]

In the 18th century they attracted the sons of the nobility, as well as candidates from the common class, and produced a large number of the French hierarchy.[4] The Séminaire de Saint-Sulpice was closed during the French Revolution, and its teachers and students scattered to avoid persecution. That Revolution also led to the secularization of the University of Paris. When France stabilized, theology courses were offered exclusively in seminaries, and the Sulpicians resumed their educational mission. Sulpician seminaries earned and maintained reputations for solid academic teaching and high moral tone. The Society spread from France to Canada, the United States and to several other foreign countries, including eventually to Vietnam and French Africa, where French Sulpician seminaries are found even today.[5]

In Canada

New France

Saint-Sulpice Seminary in Old Montreal.

The Sulpicians played a major role in the founding of the Canadian city of Montreal, where they engaged in missionary activities, trained priests and constructed the Saint-Sulpice Seminary.

The Société Notre-Dame de Montréal, of which Jean-Jacques Olier was an active founder, was granted the land of Montreal from the Company of One Hundred Associates, which owned New France, in the goals of converting Indians and to provide schools and hospitals for both colonists and the indigenous population. The Jesuits served as missionaries for the small colony until 1657 when Jean-Jacques Olier sent four priests from the Saint-Sulpice seminary in Paris to form the first parish.[6] In 1663, France decided to take royal administration over New France, taking it away from the Company of One Hundred Associates, and in the same year the Société Notre-Dame de Montréal ceded its possessions to the Seminaire de Saint-Sulpice. Just as in Paris, the Montreal Sulpicians had important civil responsibilities. However, since they could obtain wealth, they also acted as seigneurs for Montreal as part of the Seigneurial system of New France.

In 1668, several Sulpicians go off to evangelize the Native People: the Iroquois in the Bay of Quinte, north of Lake Ontario, the Mi'kmaq in Acadia, the Iroquois on the present site of Ogdensburg in the State of New York and, finally, the Algonquins in Abitibi and Témiscamingue.[6] Dollier de Casson and Brehan de Gallinée explored the region of the Great Lakes (1669), of which they made a map. In 1676 was opened the mission of the Mountain on the site of the present seminary, where M. Belmont built a fort (1685). The brandy traffic necessitated the removal of this fixed mission and in 1720 it was transferred to Lac-des-Deux-Montagnes.[4]

The Sulpicians served as missionaries, judges, explorers, schoolteachers, social workers, supervisors of convents, almsmen, canal builders, urban planners, colonization agents, and entrepreneurs. Despite their large role in society and their influencing in shaping early Montreal, each night they would all return to the Saint-Sulpice Seminary. The administration of the seminary in Montreal was modeled on that of Paris, in which the company was run by the superior, the four-man Consulting Council, and the Assembly of Twelve Assistants. After separating from the French mother house in 1764, the superior, during his five-year renewable term, was to act like a father and was to be respected. The seminary kept careful records of all employees including birthday, place of birth, marital status, and salary. Female employees posed a particular problem since although a cheap source of labour, their presence in a male religious community was problematic. As land proprietors and Indian advisers, the Sulpicians were actively interested in military affairs. The first significant fortifications in Montreal were built at their expense.[2]

The Sulpicians strongly encouraged the Mohawk to move to a new settlement west on the Ottawa River, which came to be called Kanesatake. It was their former hunting ground. In 1716 the French Crown granted a large parcel of land to the Mohawk north of the Ottawa River, and a smaller adjacent grant to the Sulpicians. According to Alanis Obomsawin, the Sulpicians had the grant changed so that all the land was in their name, depriving the Mohawk of their own place.[7] A devoutly religious man, Onasakenrat became an ordained minister in 1880, and worked to translate religious works into the Mohawk language.[14][8] He translated the Gospels (1880) and several hymns. At the time of his sudden death in 1881, he was working on a translation of the remainder of the Bible, having completed up to the Epistle to the Hebrews. An oral account of the night before he died he had attended a ball in Montreal hosted by the Sulpician order, and when he had returned that night Sosé had complained to his wife about feeling ill and died later that morning. Suspiciously a priest had arrived that morning with a horse and sleigh and took Sosé's remains back to Montreal with him. Among the Kanehsatà:kehro'non it is believed that the Sulpicians had purposefully poisoned and murdered Sosé Onasakenrat because of the political and religious influence he had over his people.

After Conquest

In 1794 after the French Revolution, twelve Sulpicians fled persecution by the National Convention and emigrated to Montreal, Quebec. According to Pierre Auguste Fournet, the Sulpicians of Montreal would have died out had not the English Government opened Canada to the priests persecuted during the French Revolution. [4]

After lengthy disputes, in 1840 the British Crown recognized the possessions of the Sulpicians, though English business agents coveted them. This enabled the Sulpicians to keep all their holdings and continue their work.[4] Their vast land-holdings included the property through which entrepreneurs constructed the Lachine Canal in 1825. After convincing the government to designate the property on the banks of the canal as industrial zones, the Society began selling off parcels for industrial development at enormous profits, which helped finance their good works. As a result of the 1840 arrangement, the Sulpicians, under the auspices of the local bishop, were now able to construct and direct a seminary. This resulted in the famous Grand Seminary of Montreal, otherwise known as the Séminaire de Saint-Sulpice. This operation enabled the Canadian Sulpicians, after a long delay, to finally engage in their primary work: the formation of priests. They trained innumerable priests and bishops, Canadian and American, down to the present day.

Canadian Sulpicians may be found operating in seminaries in Montreal and Edmonton. In 1972 the Canadian Province established a Provincial Delegation for Latin America, based in Bogotá, Colombia. In Latin America, the Society functions in Brazil (Brasilia and Londrina) and Colombia (Cali, Cucuta and Manizales). They have also served in Fukuoka, Japan since 1933.[6]

In the United States

On 10 July 1791 four Sulpicians established the first Catholic institution for the training of clergy in the newly-formed United States: St. Mary's Seminary in Baltimore. They were the Abbés Francis Charles Nagot, Anthony Gamier, Michael Levadoux, and John Tessier, who had fled the French Revolution.[9] Purchasing the One Mile Tavern then on the edge of the city, they dedicated the house to the Blessed Virgin. In October they opened classes with five students whom they had brought from France, and hereby established the first community of the Society in the nation.

In March, 1792 three more priests arrived, Abbé Chicoisneau, Abbé

  • Church and organ of St-Sulpice: (in French and English)
  • U.S. Province of the Society of Saint-Sulpice Official website
  • Canadian Province of the Society of Saint-Sulpice Official website

External links

  • Kauffman, Christopher J., The Sulpician Presence, The Catholic Historical Review, Vol. 75, No. 4 (Oct., 1989), pp. 677-695
  • Young, Brian. In Its Corporate Capacity: the Seminary of Montreal as a Business Institution, 1816-76 (Montreal, McGill-Queen's University Press, 1986), Ch. 1, “Holy Housekeeping: The Company and Business Management,” pp. 3-37


  1. ^ a b c "Beginnings", Sulpicians-Province of the US
  2. ^ a b c Young, Brian. In Its Corporate Capacity: the Seminary of Montreal as a Business Institution, 1816-76 (Montreal, McGill-Queen's University Press, 1986), Ch. 1, “Holy Housekeeping: The Company and Business Management,” pp. 3-37
  3. ^ a b Kauffman, Christopher J., The Sulpician Presence, The Catholic Historical Review, Vol. 75, No. 4 (Oct., 1989), pp. 677-695
  4. ^ a b c d Fournet, Pierre Auguste. "Society of Saint-Sulpice." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 13. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1912. 20 Feb. 2015
  5. ^ Gautier, Jean. (1957), Ces Messieurs de Saint Sulpice, Paris: Fayard.
  6. ^ a b c "Founder", The Society of priests of Saint-Sulpice, Province of Canada
  7. ^ Kanesatake: 270 Years of ResistanceObomsawin, Alanis. , National Film Board of Canada, 1993, accessed 30 Jan 2010
  8. ^ [2]
  9. ^ a b c Fenlon, John Francis. "Sulpicians in the United States." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 14. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1912. 20 Feb. 2015
  10. ^ St. John's Seminary History", Brighton Alston Historical Society
  11. ^ Meehan, Thomas. "San Francisco." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 13. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1912. 20 Feb. 2015
  12. ^ "Mission and History". Theological College, CUA. Retrieved February 18, 2012. 
  13. ^ "Theological College, Washington, D.C.". What We Do. Sulpician Order. Retrieved February 18, 2012. 
  14. ^ Kauffman, Christopher. (1988), Tradition and Transformation in Catholic Culture: The Priests of Saint Sulpice in the United States from 1791 to the Present, New York: Macmillan.


See also

Famous Members

The 2012 Annuario Pontificio gave 293 as the number of priest members as of 31 December 2010. He also gave a guest lecture for MGPO 435 (international Business History) in McGill University.

Sulpicians today

The American Province has also distinguished itself by producing several outstanding scholars and authors in the field of theology and scriptural studies. Among the most well-known is Scripture scholar Raymond E. Brown, S.S., whose fame goes well beyond Catholic circles.

In 1989, U.S. Sulpicians began a collaborative approach to priestly formation with the bishops of Zambia. As of 2014 the American Province has several seminary placements in Zambia and a number of new Zambian Sulpicians and Candidates.[1]

In 1917, the construction of the Sulpician Seminary began in Washington, D.C., next to The Catholic University of America. The seminary, which became an independent institution in 1924, changed its name to Theological College in 1940.[12] It has graduated over 1,500 priests, including 45 bishops and four cardinals.[13] American Sulpicians gained a reputation for forward-thinking at certain points of their history, to the suspicion and dissatisfaction of more conservative members of the hierarchy. They were on the cutting edge of Vatican II thinking and thus gained both friends and enemies. A constant in the Sulpician seminaries has been an emphasis on personal spiritual direction and on collegial governance.[14]

In 1898, at the invitation of the Archbishop of San Francisco, Patrick William Riordan, the Sulpicians founded what continues to be their primary institution on the West Coast, Saint Patrick Seminary, Menlo Park, California.[11] From the 1920s until about 1971, the Society operated St. Edward Seminary in Kenmore, Washington. The grounds now form Saint Edward State Park and Bastyr University. For a brief period in the 1990s, the Sulpicians were also involved in teaching at St. John's Seminary in Camarillo, the college seminary for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.

The Society helped to found and staff for a time St. John's Seminary, part of the Archdiocese of Boston (1884–1911).[10] In that same period, for a brief time they also staffed St. Joseph Seminary, serving the Archdiocese of New York (1896–1906). The Sulpicians who staffed that institution chose to leave the Society and become part of the archdiocese. Among their number was Francis Gigot.

A decade later, Dubourg was instrumental in the transfer from New York City of the widow and recent convert Elizabeth Seton, who had been unsuccessful in her efforts to run a school, in part to care for her family. With his encouragement, she and other women drawn to the vision of caring for the poor in a religious way of life came to found the first American congregation of Sisters in 1809. The Sulpicians served as their religious superiors until 1850, when the original community located there chose to merge with another religious institute of Sisters.[9] In 1829, Sulpician Fr. James Joubert worked with Mary Lange, a Haitian immigrant, to establish the first community of black sisters in the United States, the Oblate Sisters of Providence.[1]

. Louisiana Territory of the bishop Later he became the first [9]

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