Congregation of the Missionary Sons of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, popularly known as Claretian Congregation, is founded by Saint Anthony Mary Claret at Vic in Spain. With the words, â€œToday great work is beginningâ€, spoken by Fr. Anthony Claret, gathered with five young priests Fr. Stephen Sala, Fr. Joseph Xifre, Fr. Dominic Fabregas, Fr. James Clotet and Fr. Manuel Vilaro in a cell in the Seminary in vic on the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross and Our Lady of Mount Carmel, 16 July 1849, the foundation of the Congregation was laid.
Anthony Claret lived and worked in the turbulent days of the Napoleonic wars , when Europe was torn by war and bloodshed causing people to suffer untold miseries. During this period of religious and moral degradation and degeneration Fr. Claret inspired by the cause of Christian charity, came forward to help his unfortunate people. He held aloft the torch of truth and peace to guide the despairing people, sunk in sin and ignorance. He led the way and many followed him.
Claret did not act on the spur of the moment. He had been thinking for a long time about preparing priests to proclaim the Gospel of life and love and then bringing together those who felt animated by â€˜a spirit like hisâ€™, in order to do with others what he could not do by himself. His experience as an itinerant missionary in Catalonia and the Canary Islands convinced him that people needed to be evangelized and there were not enough priests who were sufficiently prepared or zealous enough for this mission. But, as Claret acknowledged, it was not his own idea but a divine inspiration that caused him to start what seemed such a shaky enterprise. â€œHow great can it be since we are so young and so few?â€ asked Fr. Manuel Vilaro, one of the priests gathered at the Seminary in Vic.
Had it not been for God, the conditions surrounding the Congregationâ€™s birth would have caused it to fail. Only 20 days after its founding, Fr. Claret received news of his appointment as Archbishop of Cuba, which he had to accept despite his reluctance. The Congregation was left in Godâ€™s hands and Blessed Motherâ€™s protection. The infant Congregation was then placed under the guidance of one of the co-founders, Fr. Stephen Sala.
At the death of Fr. Stephen Sala in 1858 Fr. Joseph Xifre, one of the co-founders, took over the directorship of this child Congregation. Archbishop Claret, called back from Cuba to Madrid to be Confessor to Queen Isabella II, contrived to remain very close to the new Superior General and to all the missionaries. The founder continued his apostolate with increasing zeal and ardour becoming a model and inspiration for all who joined this missionary order. He was actively involved in all the major activities of the Congregation like the General Chapters and the assemblies. He prepared the Constitutions for the Congregation, which the Holy See approved on 11 February 1870, a few months before his death. He provided guidance for the Institute, as well as contributed financial help for its needs. He also wrote his Autobiography for the good of the Congregation and at the insistence of the Superior General, who had once been his spiritual director.
The Congregation then suffered a new and difficult situation with the coming of the Spanish Revolution in 1868. The state suppressed the Congregation and all the Missionaries had to seek refuge in France. Archbishop Claret was persecuted and finally exiled to France where he died a holy death on 24 October 1870 at Fontfroide in Southern France. But the Founder had the great satisfaction of seeing new foundations spring up throughout Spain, as well as in Africa (Argel) and Latin America (Chile). Soon after his death his cause was taken up for canonization. This was also the time when the Congregation had its first martyr, Fr. Francisco Crusats.