Fathers of Mercy, the, a congregation of missionary priests first established at Lyons, France, in 1808, and later at Paris, in 1814, and finally approved by Pope Gregory XVI, February 18, 1834. The founder, Very Rev. Jean-Baptiste Rauzan, was born at Bordeaux, December 5, 1757, and died in Paris, September 5, 1847. After completing his ecclesiastical studies, he taught theology and sacred eloquence, and later was chosen Vicar-General of Bordeaux. Here he inaugurated a missionary movement to save the Faith to France. On the recommendation of Cardinal d’Aviau, Archbishop of Bordeaux, Cardinal Fesch, Archbishop of Lyons, who was especially interested in the project, invited Father Rauzan to Lyons, where, in 1808, he gathered around him a number of zealous and noted preachers. So effective was their preaching in the Diocese of Troyes, that they won the favor of Napoleon I, and received from the Government, unsolicited, subsidies to defray the expenses of their missions. This favor, however, was short-lived, for, owing to Napoleon’s quarrel with Pius VII, the society, which was called the Missionaries of France, was suppressed. In 1814, at the suggestion of Cardinal Fesch, Father Rauzan rallied his co-laborers, adding others, among whom were the young Vicar-General of Chambery, de Forbin-Janson, afterwards Bishop of Nancy, the Abbes Frayssinous, who founded St. Stanislaus’s College and instructed the young missionaries in sacred eloquence, Legris Duval, the St. Vincent de Paul of his day, Le Vasseur, Bach, Caillau, Carboy, and others.
Starting with renewed zeal, the Missionaries of France not only evangelized the cities of Orleans, Poitiers, Tours, Rennes, Marseilles, Toulon, Paris, and many other places, but established the works of St. Genevieve and the Association of the Ladies of Providence, who still exist in many parts of France, rendering valuable services to the pastors. Father Rauzan founded the Congregation of the Sisters of St. Clotilde for the education of young ladies. He was befriended by the royal family, who not only assisted him financially, but gave him the celebrated Mount Valerian, at that time the center of piety, and later one of the principal forts protecting the capital.
In 1830 during the second Revolution the Missionaries of France were dispersed and exiled, and their house in Paris sacked. Father Rauzan went to Rome, where he received a paternal reception from Gregory XVI, who encouraged and authorized him to found a new society, to be known as the Fathers of Mercy. The Brief of approbation, which also contains the constitutions, was given February 18, 1834, and on the 15th of March of the same year a second Brief, affiliating the new society to the Propaganda, and the former
Missionaries of France accepted these constitutions on the 8th of December following. Among its members have been such influential and eloquent preachers as Msgr. Faillet, Bishop of Orleans, Msgr. Duquesnay, Archbishop of Cambrai, Msgr. Bernadon, Archbishop of Sens, who later became a cardinal. The Fathers of Mercy resumed their missionary labors in France, only to meet again the disasters which befell all religious societies through the decree of expulsion in 1880. However, through the influence of their many friends in Paris, and claiming the enforcement of the authorization given to the society by Louis XVIII in 1816, the Fathers of Mercy retained their mother-house in Paris until the separation of Church and State in 1905, when they moved to Belgium.
In 1839, at the suggestion of Bishop Hughes, of New York, Msgr. Forbin-Janson introduced the Fathers of Mercy into the United States, their first field of labor being in the Diocese of New Orleans. Bishop Potiers, of Mobile, Alabama, then invited them to take charge of Spring Hill College. Two years later, Fathers Lafont and Aubril were sent to look after the increasing French population in New York City, where the Fathers of Mercy now have charge of the parishes of St. Vincent de Paul, Manhattan, and of Our Lady of Lourdes and St. Frances de Chantal, Brooklyn. They also have a house of studies in Rome, houses in Belgium, France, and other places. By a decree of Propaganda (August, 1906), the Very Rev. Theophile Wucher was named Vicar General of the Institute for three years and took up his residence in New York. In their activities the Fathers of Mercy embrace all works of apostolic zeal. One of their chief characteristics is, that they must at all times consider themselves auxiliaries of the secular clergy, and in every way conform to the will of the bishop in whose diocese they may labor. The end and mode of life the congregation imposes upon its members differs little from that of every good secular priest.