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History of the Congregation

The beginning of the Congregation of the Priests of the Heart of Jesus goes back to July 13th, 1877, a date in which Fr. Dehon, involved in a deep spiritual life, started his novitiate with permission of his bishop. After one year, on June 28th 1878, he professed his religious vows. In this way, in the shadow of St. John’s College the institute of the Oblates of the Heart of Jesus was born. Both college and institute are fruits of the spiritual and apostolic zeal of Fr. Dehon. Although the beginning was filled with prosperity and hope difficulties were also present: a fire destroyed the college and at the same time misinterpretations and misunderstandings provoked the intervention of the Holy See, resulting in the suppression of the newly founded institute. This difficult test made the founder humble and ready to manifest clearly his spirit of faith and abandonment to the designs of providence. Thanks to this attitude, Fr. Dehon was authorized to restart the institute, raising the same structure yet now on a more solid, evangelical basis. That moment was like a spring after the dark night of “Consumatum est”. It was during this difficult time when the name of the institute had to be changed. Although the first name – Oblates of the Heart of Jesus – was much more preferred by the founder, expressing more perfectly his spirituality, from 1884 the Priests of the Heart of Jesus became the official title of the Congregation.

1878 marked the beginning of his work in St. Quentin, France. In 1883 the first seminary for those aspiring to be missionaries was opened in Sittard, Holland. In 1889 in Clairefontaine, Belgium, another minor seminary was opened. In 1891 the first residence in Rome was opened, designed for clerical students and to be the seat of the General Administration. In 1895 the first house in Luxemburg was established and in 1903 also in Denmark (lasting until 1951). In 1904 the congregation was established in Bohemia (part of Check Republic until 1919), but we left that country in 1948. Other foundations include: Finland and Italy in 1907; Austria in 1909; Sweden, 1911; Germany, 1912; Spain, 1916; Switzerland, 1923. In 1928 the first house in Krakow, Poland was opened then there was England in 1936. In 1947 the first presence in Portugal was starting in Madeira. Our presence spread to Scotland in 1970 and Ireland in 1978. In 1985 the Congregation started in Yugoslavia. After the recent developments in some European zones, the congregation is also present in the newly created countries of Ukraine, Byelorussia, Slovakia, Croatia, Moldavia.

The first Ad gentes missionary activity of the congregation took place in Latin America. In 1888 after ten years of foundation, Fr. Dehon sent two religious to Quito, Ecuador. But they could remain there only until 1896, when they were sent away by the Masonic government. It was in this way that we started our presence in America. In 1997 once again the mission in Ecuador was opened; today there are two communities present promising hope for the future. In 1893, our fathers started the social apostolate in Northeast of Brazil. In 1910 four Dehonians went to Canada, starting in this way the congregation in North America. In 1903 the Dehonians established their presence in South Brazil. In 1920 the congregation started in the United States. In 1923 the mission among the “red skins” of Lower Brule was opened in South Dakota. In 1938 a first group of Dehonians from Holland, Italy and Spain arrived in Argentina and in 1940 a new parish “El Salvador”, in Montevideo was taken on in Uruguay. In 1950 the Dehonians established definitively the congregation in Chile, when in 1948 a few religious from Holland arrived and started their ministry. In 1953 two missionaries from Spain began their missionary activity in Venezuela.

In 1897 Fr. Dehon accepted a mission in the Congo. On December 25th of that same year Fr. Grison had already celebrated the opening mass of the mission, giving birth to the mission of St. Gabriel, near to Stanleyville (today Kisangani). In 1898 the Dehonians arrived to Tunisia, where they remained for two years. In 1912 the mission in the Cameroon was started. In 1923, the Apostolic Prefecture of Gariep, South Africa, was entrusted to the religious of Germany.
In 1947, the first Dehonians from Italy arrived in Mozambique. In 1874 religious from the province of South Italy established themselves in Madagascar and 1982 they were joined by some Dehonians from Portugal.

The large territory of South Sumatra (Indonesia) was entrusted to the congregation on December 27th 1923. The three first Dehonians (two priests and one brother) arrived there in September 1924. Through the initiative of the XVII General Chapter the mission in Philippines was created. That mission was assumed by religious from different provinces. Another new international experience was also started in India (1994) with Dehonians from several provinces.