Group founded by Louis de Montfort
Mary, MISSIONARIES OF THE COMPANY of.—The Company of Mary was founded by Blessed Louis-Marie Grignion de Montfort in 1713. As early as 1700 Montfort had conceived the idea of founding a society of missionaries. Five months after his ordination, November, 1700, he wrote: "I am continually asking in my prayers for a poor and small company of good priests to preach missions and retreats under the standard and protection of the Blessed Virgin". For many years he prayed, fasted and caused others to pray for the realization of his project. In 1713 he went to Paris with a view to recruit members for his community. The director of the seminary Du St-Esprit promised to send him such young priests as would feel called to do missionary work. During the intervals between his missions Montfort wrote the Rule of the Company of Mary (1713). When he died in 1716, two young priests, Father Vatel and Father Mulot and a few lay-brothers whom Montfort had associated with himself during his missions, were the only tangible result of his prayers, travels, and austerities. Nevertheless the founder felt confident that his company was to develop at the time marked by Divine Providence, and addressing his little flock, he bade them not to fear or lose courage.
From 1718 till 1781 the "Montfortists", although few in number, gave over 430 missions, most of which lasted a month. Continuing their founder's fight against Jansenism, they preached the tender mercies of the Divine Heart, and the love of Jesus Crucified. They exhorted people to renew their baptismal vows. Above all, they strove to draw the faithful to Jesus Christ through devotion to the Blessed Virgin. They promoted everywhere the daily recital of the Rosary. Through their preaching, La Vendee and Brittany were kept free from heresy and the hearts of the brave Vendeans were strengthened for their heroic struggle, as has been asserted by the fathers of the Provincial Council of Poitiers (1868). Three priests and four brothers of the Company of Mary shared the martyr's death with the Vendean heroes. Montfort's community, debilitated by the Revolution, was reorganized by Father Deshayes, elected general in 1821. He received from Leo XII a brief of praise for the Company of Mary and for the Daughters of Wisdom. Pere Dalin (1837-1855) obtained canonical approbation of both congregations. Hitherto the missionaries had but one residence, the mother-house at St. Laurent-sur-Sevre. During Pere Dalin's administration as general, several establishments were made in France. Under Pere Denis (1855-1877) the community accepted at Pont-Chateau, Diocese of Nantes, the direction of a seminary destined to furnish priests to Haiti. Pere Denis also sent several of his missionaries and brothers to Haiti. This was the company's first attempt at foreign missions.
So far the missionaries had been recruited from the secular clergy. This mode being too uncertain, too slow and more or less prejudicial to that unity of spirit which ought to characterize a religious family, Pere Denis established a school in which boys, called to the missionary life, should be educated by and for the company. Together with the foreign missions and the foundation of mission schools, what hastened the spreading of the company, was the expulsion of the religious from France in 1880 and in 1901. In 1880 the French novices took refuge in the Netherlands, where a novitiate and a scholasticate were established. In 1883, a school was also begun at Schimmert. The year 1883 saw the establishment of the first house in Canada. After the election of Pere Maurille as general, in 1887, the membership of the community doubled. The Beatification of Montfort, in 1888, gave a new stimulus to the company's expansion. In Canada a novitiate and a scholasticate were founded near Ottawa (1890); a mission school at Papineauville (Quebec), in 1900; in Rome, a scholasticate; several missions in Denmark. In 1901 the company took charge of the Vicariate Apostolic of Nyassa Land (Africa), which numbers at present 1 vicar Apostolic, 20 missionaries and 600 converts.
Pere L'Houmeau's (1903) administration as general has been marked by the foundation of two residences in the Diocese of Brooklyn: Port Jefferson and Ozone Park (1904); the foundation of the Vicariate Apostolic of San Martino (Colombia, South America) having 1 vicar Apostolic, 12 fathers and a few brothers; the sending to Iceland of 2 priests and 2 brothers (1903), the only Catholic missionaries now evangelizing that country; several establishments in British Columbia; the definite approbation of the Constitutions in 1904; the division of the congregation into provinces; the acquisition of the Diocese of Port de Paix (Haiti), and the transfer of the French mission school to Romsey, England (1910). The company actually numbers about 500 members. The provincial of the American province resides in Montreal. The initials S. M. M. which the missionaries affix to their signature are an. abbreviation of "Societatis Marine a Montfort", of the Company of Mary (founded) by Montfort.
JOHN H. BEMELMANS