The Order of the Missionaries
of Saint Francis de Sales
The first missionaries were priests from the diocese of Annecy, brought together by Father Pierre-Marie Mermier (1790-1862) to go from parish to parish to perform missions, preaching to restore the faith that had been affected by the troubles of the French Revolution.
In 1838, this group became a religious order, under the patronage of Saint Francis de Sales, bishop and apostle to this region from 1602 to 1622.
The new Order was given double approval, from the Bishop of Annecy, Monsignor Pierre-Joseph Rey, and the King of Sardinia, Charles Albert (Savoy only became a part of France in 1860).
In 1845, the order was assigned a vast mission territory in the centre of India – a mission that has grown enormously, especially since the country’s independence in 1947.
In 1856, the Founder acquiesced to the insistent requests from the Bishop of Annecy and agreed to run two schools in the diocese, in Evian and Mélan.
The religious persecution that was rife in France at the start of the 20th Century drove the Missionaries into exile, with two consequences: strengthening the mission in India and… the founding of the Institut Florimont, in September 1905.
The position of the Order outside Europe is to be celebrated; however, it is more difficult in traditionally Christian countries. There are now more than 1,354 members (since 2014).
The Superior General, Father Abraham Vettuvelil, resides in Rome; he is assisted by an Assistant General and 4 advisors.
At the “level” below, there are 9 provinces, which combine local communities on a geographical basis. The apostolic activities are still those of preaching, undertaking far-reaching missionary work, teaching and educating young people.
The Missionaries are at work on 5 continents, mostly in Asia (India, the Philippines), America (Brazil, Chile, USA, Saint Lucia), Africa (Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, Namibia, South Africa, Mozambique, Chad, Cameroon).
The fall in vocations in Europe has limited their commitments; they still work in France, Switzerland, England, Italy, Germany, Austria, the Netherlands, as well as in Australia.
The Institut Florimont is part of the Swiss-French Province. The scarcity of vocations has led to close collaboration with lay people: there are no more religious figures in the faculty and their presence is focused on spiritual guidance. Since 1995, the Institut has been governed by lay people. An advisory committee that includes the Superiors from the Swiss-French Province oversees the institution with them. For the Order members, this is not a case of protecting their economic interests – Florimont belongs to the Order – but of sharing the evangelical and Salesian inspiration that led to the foundation of the school with trusted colleagues.
The work and the expertise of the lay people ensure the vitality of Florimont. The Missionaries of Saint Francis de Sales are present in another educational institute in the Swiss-French Province, at the St-François de Ville-la-Grand School, near Annemasse.
This school has a different history. It is a small seminary that developed as part of French Catholic Education.
The Order owns the land, but the buildings (for more than 1,400 pupils) were built by the Association des Amis de l’Ecole St-François. Here once again there is a harmonious and efficient collaboration between the Order and lay people, and the members of the Order are focused on offering spiritual guidance.
India plays host to the greatest number of educational establishments run by the Missionaries, due to the wonderful success of the “Fransalians”.
There are now more than a hundred establishments: primary schools, high schools, colleges, professional schools, and boarding schools. Some are older than Florimont, and several have more than 3,000 pupils.
Here once again there is a great collaboration with lay people as the schools are open to students from all faiths.
To continue this commitment to helping young people, the religious Superiors take care to train “supervisors” who can become leaders and points of cohesion, respecting everybody’s religious beliefs. Their schools are intended to be humanist places imbued with the evangelical and optimistic values of Saint Francis de Sales, far from any proselytism.
The community of MSFS in Florimont, Sept 2015