Augustinians of the Assumption
Devoted to combat the spirit of irreligion in Europe and the spread of schism in the East
Augustinians of the Assumption, or ASSUMPTIONISTS.—This congregation had its origin in the College of the Assumption, established in Nimes, France, in 1843, by the Rev. Emmanuel d’Alzon vicar-general of that diocese, some account of whose life and work is given at the end of this article. Although it was organized in 1847, the members did not take their first vows until 1850; they took their public vows at Christmas of the next year. A second house was established in Paris, and they continued their work there, encouraged by the Holy See. The congregation was formally approved by a Brief of November 26, 1864. The chief objects of the congregation are to combat the spirit of irreligion in Europe and the spread of schism in the East. To this end the Assumptionists have devoted themselves to the work of Catholic higher and secondary education, to the spread of truth by means of the Press, to the conduct of pilgrimages, and to missionary work in the East. In addition to their college at Nimes they established Apostolic schools where poor students were educated for the priesthood without expense to themselves. They established “La Bonne Presse”, which issued periodicals, pamphlets, and books in great numbers, the chief publication, “La Croix”, appearing simultaneously in several different cities. Their activities provoked the resentment of the French Government, and in 1900 the congregation was suppressed within French territory, this action being based on the charge that they were accumulating a fund to be used in a royalist movement to overthrow the Republic. Many of the Assumptionists left France after this, but some remained as secular priests under the authority of various bishops.
At the time of their suppression the Assumptionists maintained twenty Apostolic schools which in twenty-five years gave more than 500 priests to the secular clergy. These schools have all been closed, but the congregation has taken up the work in other quarters. Similar schools have been established in Italy, Belgium, England, and the United States. “La Bonne Presse” was purchased at the time of the suppression by Paul Feron-Vrau, a wealthy manufacturer of Lisle, and all its publications have been continued without any change of policy. Much of the good accomplished by the Assumptionists was effected through this medium. They entered into competition with the irreligious press in family circles, in workshops, and places where workmen congregate, with excellent results. The Catholic papers established by them have a greater circulation than many famous non-Christian papers. Until recently no popular Catholic paper has reached a degree of circulation equal to that of “La Croix” or of “Le Merin”. These two papers are issued at the rate of three million per week; Saturdays this is increased to four million copies. To this must be added the circulation of 600,000 copies of “The Lives of the Saints”, 70,000 of the “Les Contemporains”, besides the many copies of the “Revue scientifique”; “Cosmos”; “Questions actuelles”; “Les Echos de l’Orient”; the “Petit Bleu”, and many others. In Chile, where these Fathers have been for thirteen years, they publish in Spanish “Echoes from the Sanctuary of Lourdes”. In their journalistic work they were aided by the Oblate Sisters of the Assumption, an order established by them to assist in their Oriental missions, but whose activities are not confined to that field. Until the suppression they directed the women’s section in the publishing rooms of the “Christian Press” as well as the hospitals, orphan asylums, and schools.
Among other works carried on by the Assumptionists in France prior to their suppression was that of the “Association of Our Lady of Salvation”, a society devoted to prayer, almsgiving, and setting a good example for the reformation of the working class. This society was established in eighty dioceses, and it succeeded in drawing the higher classes of society more closely to the workingmen. It encouraged everywhere social prayer, and social and national expiation, and discouraged human respect, social apostasy, and isolation in piety. It raised funds to convey workmen, pilgrims, paupers, and sick poor to Lourdes, to the number of a thousand each year; it was zealous in the cause of workmen’s clubs, and of Catholic schools, and was active in the movement in favor of the keeping of Sunday as a day of rest. Another field of missionary labor was found among the Newfoundland fishermen. Every year 12,000 or 15,000 fishermen leave the coasts of France, Belgium, and Ireland, to go to the Banks of Newfoundland for codfish. The Protestants have long maintained a flotilla of hospital ships, with which they go to the aid of these unfortunate men and, while ministering to their material needs, draw their souls to heresy. The Assumptionists found here a field for their activity and zeal. They have organized the most prominent Catholic sailors into a committee and have been encouraged to equip two Catholic hospital ships, which now succour the unfortunate fishermen. The vessels have already been wrecked twice, but have been replaced, and the Assumptionists have continued their labors.
The Assumptionists have been active missionaries in the Orient, where at the present time 300 of the congregation, Fathers and Brothers, and nearly 400 Sisters are engaged. Their labors take them from the Balkans to the Dead Sea. They have established there twenty-two permanent residences, thirty regular missionary stations, and fifteen institutions entrusted to the Oblates of the Assumption. In the schools in Turkey in Europe and Turkey in Asia the Assumptionists have 2,500 scholars. Here the Oblates have opened a hospital, an orphanage, and nine gratuitous dispensaries, where they care for about 30,000 sick every year. Of the twenty-two public churches of the congregation in the East twelve are parishes, and in four of them the Offices are held in the rites of the Orient (Greek, or Slav). These rites the Assumptionists have embraced to render the teaching of the Gospel more fruitful. The Orientals, whether from love of their legitimate traditions, or from ignorance, make of the exterior form of the rites a question of supreme importance. Called in 1862 to work for the conversion of the Bulgarians to Catholic unity, the Assumptionists founded in the Turkish quarter of Adrianople, and in Karagatch the European quarter, a residence with a Slav church and a Latin church, a hospital, three schools and a Bulgarian seminary of the Greek and Slav Rites, in which forty young men receive their maintenance and are prepared for the office of the sacred ministry. A similar work is being done at Philippopoli, the cradle of the Oriental missions of the Assumptionists. There is also a primary school, attended by 200 scholars, and an educational institute, many of the former pupils of which occupy important official positions in Eastern Rumelia. The Assumptionists have also churches and schools of different rites at Yamboli and Varna.
At the instance of Cardinal Vincenzo Vannutelli, when he was Apostolic delegate, the Assumptionists went to Constantinople and established themselves in the Turkish quarter at Koum-Kapou. The animosity of the Turks and the jealousy of the Greeks and Armenians caused the new missionaries to be very badly received. To escape persecution they worked on their building at night, doing their masonry, carpentry and painting themselves. By this stratagem they constructed their church of Anastasia, the first church consecrated to Catholic worship in this quarter since 1453. This church, to favor the conversion of the schismatics, was consecrated to the Greek Rite and dedicated by the Apostolic delegate himself. The congregation possesses other Greek churches at Kadikoi (Chalcedon), on the Asiatic bank of the Bosporus, and at Gallipoli. In order to prepare a native clergy, the Assumptionists have opened at Stamboul (Constantinople) a petit seminaire, where sixty young men are instructed in the Greek Rite. At Kadikoi, in the great Leonine seminary, they follow with the ordinary theological course special lessons in preparation for the pastoral ministry. They are also given instructions in liturgy, history, canon law and in the Greek, Turkish, and Slav languages. At the day of its opening this seminary had thirty scholars and eight professors. At Stamboul, as at Kadikoi, there are flourishing schools for boys and girls, with more than 700 scholars in attendance. They do not suffice for receiving all the scholars who present themselves. To the labors of teaching are united those of the apostleship, in behalf of the natives as well as foreigners. At Stamboul and at Kadikoi, the priests preach and hear confessions in Italian, French, German, Greek, and Turkish. In the various houses established throughout the empire at least ten living languages are spoken. Greeks, Latins, and Orientals unite for the conferences of St. Vincent de Paul, and the Sisters visit and care for the sick to the number of 10,000 annually.
Their knowledge of the Oriental languages has been of great service to the Assumptionist Fathers in their journalistic labors. Twelve of the Fathers who are the most skilled in these studies write in the Oriental Review. They have their special bulletin, “Les Echos de l’Orient”, which circulates among Greeks and Orientals. Because of the Oriental love of splendor in external worship the feasts of the Blessed Sacrament are celebrated with great pomp. With the consent of the authorities, and under the protection of a corps of soldiers, the processions of the Blessed Sacrament are conducted through all the streets around Santa Sophia. The Catholic funerals solemnized with reverential pomp produce also a great effect upon the impressionable natives. In 1890 the Congregation of the Propaganda confided to the Assumptionists the territory in Asia Minor extending from Broussa to Angora. It practically embraces the ancient Bithynia. Already six residences have been established there; in the city of Broussa, with its population of 100,000, they have established a large college and two churches, one of which is the Latin parish. The towns of Eski-Chehir, Ismid, Sultan Eschoir, Koniah (Iconium), Fanaraki have each a residence for the priests with a public church; the Oblate Sisters are also established in these places. At Jerusalem the Assumptionists have erected the Hostelry of Our Lady of France for the reception of pilgrims, annexed to which is a scholasticate of forty religious. They have established there also the Society of the Croises of Purgatory, and they have a church in which to receive the Latin pilgrims. The Eucharistic Congress at Jerusalem in 1893 was held in the Hostelry of Our Lady of France.
Emmanuel-Joseph-Marie-Maurice d’Alzon, founder and first Superior General of the Augustinians of the Assumption was born at Le Vigan, France, August 30, 1810, and died at Nimes, November 21, 1880. He was a member of a noble family, and, being an only son, encountered strong opposition when he decided to enter the clerical state. He studied at the seminary of Montpellier and later at Rome, where he was ordained priest December 26, 1834. On his return to France the next year he was appointed Vicar-General of the Diocese of Nimes, which position he held for forty-five years, serving under four bishops. Among his earliest notable works was the establishment at Nimes in 1843 of the College of the Assumption, for the education of the children of the aristocracy. This college later became the cradle of his congregation. He was associated with Gueranger, Louis Veuillot, and other champions of the Catholic cause. With the “Revue de l’enseignement chretien”, which he founded and directed, he restored the Christian spirit in classical studies. To combat Protestantism in southern France he established the Association of St. Francis de Sales. He also suggested the idea of the ecclesiastical caravan, formed by the priests at Nimes, who by request of Msgr. Plantier came to Rome to visit the sovereign pontiff. This was the beginning of the great French pilgrimages called the national pilgrimages, the directors of which were for many years the religious of the order founded by Pere d’Alzon. By his “alumnats”, or Apostolic schools, he supplied the education of the poor children called to the priesthood, who, owing to lack of means, could not be admitted to the seminaries. The Fathers of the Assumption opened fifteen of these houses which in twenty-five years gave more than 500 priests to the secular clergy. To sustain this work of charity, Pere d’Alzon founded the Association of Our Lady of Vocations, enriched with numerous indulgences, by Pius IX and Leo XIII. The brotherhood, by a decree of the Holy See, has been canonically established in the chapel of the College of Nimes, and has received the approbation of many bishops. Pere d’Alzon was much esteemed by the Popes Gregory XVI and Pius IX. The latter in 1863 sent him to Constantinople to found in the East the missions of the Congregation of the Assumption. More than once he was proposed for the episcopate, but he always declined the honor, preferring to devote himself to the work of his congregation.
THOMAS GAFFNEY TAAFFE