In their efforts to “make fit return of the charity received,” the Catholics of the diocese were enthusiastic in their support of the society.
Two weeks ago, on May 22, Pauline Marie Jaricot, foundress of the Society for the Propagation of the Faith, was beatified. The joyful occasion of her beatification gives us the opportunity to reflect on the ways in which, through the society she founded, her life and legacy have touched the Archdiocese of Boston.
Pauline Marie Jaricot was born on July 22, 1799, to Antoine and Jeanne Jaricot in Lyon, France. Though Catholic by birth, she experienced a deep conversion during her teenage years and took a vow of perpetual virginity at age 17. In her early 20s, Jaricot became interested in supporting missionary work, organizing a group of 1,000 women employees in her sister and brother-in-law's silk factory to contribute one penny a week each to the work of the Paris Foreign Missions Society. Her efforts led to the founding of the Society for the Propagation of the Faith in 1822, dedicated to supporting missionary efforts worldwide. On May 3, 1922, Pope Pius XI declared the Society for the Propagation of the Faith "Pontifical" to indicate its status as an official instrument of the Holy Father and of the Universal Church.
The Church in the United States was one of the earliest beneficiaries of the work of the Society for the Propagation of the Faith. The very first collection taken up by the society went partially to China and partially to the Diocese of Louisiana and the two Floridas, which then extended from the southern United States to Canada. Later, the society would prove indispensable to the fledgling Diocese of Boston in its early years.
At the request of Bishop Benedict Fenwick, the Society for the Propagation of the Faith provided financial assistance to the Diocese of Boston from about 1830 until 1845. During those years, the diocese received more than 230,000 francs, or 46,000 dollars, in aid -- a considerable sum for the time. Aid received from the Propagation of the Faith helped to sustain the churches, priests, and institutions of New England at a time when the Catholic population was still too small to support itself.
In an 1840 report, Bishop Fenwick wrote, "Comparing the diocese in 1840 with the diocese in 1825, the difference is very great, thanks to the succors of the directors of the Society for the Propagation of the Faith ... A few more years of kind attention on the part of the good society in France, and all will be well; the diocese will be able to take care of itself, and of its own institutions."He went on to express his hope that "a fund will spring up at no distant day from among (the Diocese of Boston's) own
children, which will prove as beneficial to others as the good society in France will have procured to Boston." His dream would be fulfilled in the second half of the 19th century, when the Diocese of Boston transitioned from a beneficiary of the society to one of the most prominent contributing dioceses in the world, culminating in the creation of a diocesan office of the Society for the Propagation of the Faith in 1898.
Boston was only the second diocese in the country to establish a diocesan office for the Society for the Propagation of the Faith. The Sacred Heart Review commented that the office would "soon result in removing our actual indebtedness, and ... enable us to do generously for others what others have already done for us."
In their efforts to "make fit return of the charity received," the Catholics of the diocese were enthusiastic in their support of the society. Within three years of the establishment of the diocesan office of the Society, under the leadership of Father Joseph V. Tracy, more than three quarters of diocesan parishes had established branches. In 1903, Servant of God James Anthony Walsh (later founder of the Marist Fathers and Brothers) succeeded Father Tracy as diocesan director, and his work bore fruit for missions around the world. By 1904, the Archdiocese of Boston was the largest global contributor to the society, out-contributing even the Archdiocese of Lyon, its birthplace.
For Father Walsh, the work of the diocesan office of the Society for the Propagation of the Faith was not complete until every Catholic was contributing in accordance with his or her own means. "The gospel," he wrote, "must go to men through men and every Catholic is responsible for his share ... We must not wait until it is too late, when fields now ripe for the harvest have rotted for lack of reapers. We need not be urged by others if already we ourselves have heard, ever so faintly, the cry from afar."
During her lifetime, Pauline Jaricot liked to say that she was not only the foundress of the Society for the Propagation of the Faith, but also, more importantly, its nurturer. Her example has inspired generation after generation of nurturers who have heard the "cry from afar" and contributed to the work of missions.
The Society for the Propagation of the Faith remains active in our diocese today; to learn more and support its work, please visit www.propfaithboston.org.
VIOLET HURST IS AN ARCHIVIST FOR THE ARCHDIOCESE OF BOSTON.