We are called the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. The initials MSC are taken from our Latin title Missionarii Sacratissimi Cordis and it is by this abbreviation that we are best known. Our Congregation was founded by a young French diocesan priest, Jules Chevalier, who in 1854 at thirty years of age gathered a small group of like-minded priests together to form the first community of MSCs under the protection of Mary to whom he gave the title, Our Lady of the Sacred Heart. Their concern was global, but they began with efforts to restore the vitality of the faith in rural France.
Over 150 years later we are present in 54 countries and number 2000 members. Our ministries are varied, but all are trying to respond to the signs of the times, leading people to a deeper experience of God’s love for them.
The backdrop to Jules Chevalier’s vision
At times we may feel that, more than ever in the past, ours is a time of drastic change and upheaval, but if we could go back in time to just fifty years before Jules founded the MSCs we might well find ourselves in an even more chaotic situation. Revolution had come to France in 1789 proclaiming its much overdue ideals of Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité (liberty, equality, brotherhood). This Revolution, and the many that followed, fundamentally pushed Europe and much of the world towards a bill of human rights and towards democracy, but it is also true that brutal violence often overwhelmed the nobler passion for greater freedom, and that the ideal of brotherhood was often tarnished by new greed, power and oppression. It left a society for which the old values had gone and new values had been bloodied – and it often left the common people, who should have been the first beneficiaries of the fruits of the revolution, confused and indifferent, without values or direction, and often as impoverished as they had been before.
That was the time in which Jules Chevalier grew up. Much of the initial furore had died down – that ferocious energy which translated the search for equality into a liquidation of all that was seen as “against people”, including the nobility and the wealthy, the priests and the intellectuals. Much of the church and society of his day dreamed again of restoring the “old order”, but many people of good will were torn between that what the Church had been for centuries and that which was good in the new ideas on reason and freedom.
For Jules – especially in the years of growth towards ordination to the priesthood – the choice was not between restoring the old or ruthlessly pursuing the new values and structures. He dreamt of a new world, but one that was built on the experience of God’s love in our lives. God loves the world and its people – and when that becomes a living faith in us, we too may start believing in the force of love, strong enough to overcome any division we make between poor and rich, powerful and oppressed, privileged and marginalized. In Jesus of Nazareth – God-Incarnate, God living as one of us – he recognized God’s love for humankind most definitely expressed: Jesus reaching out to those who were oppressed and without direction, those sick in mind or body, those not recognized, respected or valued by established society. A man who could forget himself – he did not stand on his position or power – because he always remembered others. He dared to live from the heart and kept on telling people that this is how God relates to us and how he wants us to relate to one another. And with that, Jules Chevalier enriched the then very popular devotion to the Sacred Heart and formed it into a Spirituality of the Heart, a way of following him by living from the heart.
1854 – the beginning of a new religious family committed to spreading God’s love
Just over one hundred fifty years ago, on December 8, 1854 – in Issoudun, France – Jules Chevalier founded the Congregation of the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart, a religious congregation for men who as priests and brothers would live-out and spread that spirituality all over the world. Soon (in 1874) they were followed by a congregation for Sisters: the Daughters of our Lady of the Sacred Heart. Later the two congregations were complemented by a third, the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart. And from the very beginning, Jules Chevalier envisioned the same spirituality as a driving force not only for vowed priests, nuns and brothers, but also for committed lay people.
It was the harsh reality of the Government’s persecution of religious orders and congregations that drove the early MSCs out of France in 1880. What must have felt like a catastrophe at that time, turned eventually into a blessing. New homes were found in Spain and in the Netherlands, and from there the Congregation rapidly spread out all over the world.
Text courtesy of the Philippines Province