"All this is essential for the success of the mission."
Venerable Jean-Baptiste Muard
Born in 1809, in Vireaux, France, Father Muard was the eldest of three sons. His Seminary experience was turbulent due to the political revolutions in France during those years. In 1834, he was ordained to the Priesthood in the Diocese of Sens. In time, he was stationed at St. Martin Parish in Avallon where he had the experience of preaching a Parish Mission for a neighboring community. After seeing how well it was received, he realized the importance of this particular ministry. He considered becoming a Marist Father so as to be able to focus in this area of ministry, but was advised against this by Saint John Vianney during a visit with him in 1841. In 1843, he established the Society of Saint Edmund at the former Cistercian Abbey at Pontigny where the great Saint Edmund of Canterbury was buried. Although Father Muard would go on to pursue a more austere life with the Benedictine family, what he began in Pontigny was only the beginning of a great legacy.
Fr. Pierre Boyer, SSE
Father Boyer came to the community in 1845 at the invitation of Father Muard. Together, the two held a vision for a community of diocesan missionaries voluntarily living in community life. In 1849, Boyer took over as Superior of the Community and spent time with both the Jesuits and the Dominicans to learn about Religious Life, and discern a model that would be most conducive to the mission of this unique community at Pontigny. He took this work very seriously, drawing off the experience of previously established communities. On the Feast of Saint Michael in 1852, a Solemn Mass was sung and the community formally professed their vows, officially establishing "The Society of the Fathers and Brothers of Saint Edmund, Oblates of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary."
Coming to America
Known as “auxiliary priests,” the Edmundites took on assignments and challenges that local clergy were unable to fulfill. Ardent and powerful preachers, they brought the message of the Gospel from village to village. The order flourished and, in time, the Edmundites re-established Mont-Saint-Michel as a place of pilgrimage and they opened several Catholic schools.
At the end of the 19th century, as politics became increasingly hostile towards religious orders, the Society of Saint Edmund moved across the Atlantic to North America. Answering the need for French speaking priests in the Diocese of Burlington, the Edmundites came to Vermont, and in time also established Parishes and ministries in Canada. Saint Michael’s College in Colchester, Vermont is among the Edmundite endeavors in the United States. The College’s first building, Founders Hall, was dedicated in 1904 and in 1913, Saint Michael’s became the first Catholic college in Vermont empowered to grant college degrees. In 1904, the Bishop of Burlington also asked the Edmundites to administer Saint Anne’s Shrine in Isle LaMotte, a sacred place in the Champlain Islands visited by thousands each year for reflection, prayer and recreation.
Fr. Francis Casey, SSE
In 1937, Father Francis Casey, SSE, and Father Paro left Colchester, Vermont and headed south. Father Casey borrowed some money from his brother, and immediately began going door to door building spiritual and material support for his mission. Upon his arrival in Selma, he immediately got to work making sandwiches and providing food and clothing for the poorest of the poor. He went on to be the founder and first director of the Edmundite Southern Missions, and built churches in Selma, Anniston, Mobile, Heron Bay, and Elizabeth City. He also built Good Samaritan Hospital, upon his realization that the area badly lacked medical care. He was stunned by the level of poverty in the south and he made an appeal early on to his friends from the north to come help him in his cause. The Sisters of Saint Joseph came to his aid and worked side by side with the Edmundites in their cause.
Most Rev. Moses B. Anderson
Bishop Moses B. Anderson was ordained to the Priesthood in the Society of Saint Edmund in 1958. He was ordained a Bishop in 1983, and was at the time one of only seven African American Bishops in the United States. In 1984 he contributed to the USCCB document "What We Have Seen and Heard," a joint document from the African American Bishops of America calling on African American Catholics to "reclaim our roots and to shoulder the responsibilities of being both black and Catholic." Bishop Moses worked tirelessly for social justice and equality, even into his retirement years. In addition to his role as Auxiliary Bishop, from 1992-2001 he also served as Pastor of Precious Blood Parish, a predominately black Parish in Detroit. He noted that ministry in the area of equality and social justice was difficult because of realities such as the acquittal of the police officers in the Rodney King beating trial.
Father Jeremiah Purtill, SSE
Father Jeremiah Purtill, SSE, graduated from Saint Michael's College in 1929, but was originally from Pawcatuck, Connecticut. During his years in Vermont he became friends with Father Bernard Flanagan who would go on to be the first Bishop of the newly established Diocese of Norwich. By 1953, Father Purtill was Superior General of the Society, when he was approached by his old friend (now) Bishop Flanagan about a property in Mystic, Connecticut that was trying to be gifted to the Church by its owner, Mrs. Alys Enders. The 11 acre property would make a perfect home for the Novitiate for the Society and he gladly accepted her gift just prior to her death in January 1954. Father Purtill immediately put the land to good use, and it continues to thrive today as a ministry of hope, healing, and renewal. Although it no longer serves as the location for the Novitiate, most of the Members of our Community today completed their Novitiate Year at Enders Island.
The Legacy Continues
When Pope John XXIII urged American religious congregations to commit ten percent of their members to work in Latin America in 1961, the Society of Saint Edmund was among the first to respond. In 1964, the Edmundites established two adjacent parishes in Caracas: Prados del Este, a parish in a middle class neighborhood and Las Minas, a parish in an impoverished barrio, and they remain vibrant faith communities today that demonstrate active concern for the less fortunate.
The Society of Saint Edmund remains committed to its legacy of taking on exceptionally challenging work. Our work has grown tremendously over the years, and our four core ministries of Social Justice, Education, Spiritual Renewal, and Pastoral Ministry, continue to flourish thanks to dedicated and committed lay partners who share our vision and mission.
Today we remain what we have always been: a missionary band with a tremendous zeal to help those most in need. Today, you will find Edmundites in Vermont, Alabama, and Connecticut. Whether directing a thriving campus ministry at Saint Michael’s College, feeding the hungry and homeless, counseling recovering alcoholics in 12-step programs or just making a home for people in the Catholic Church, our ministries are diverse, and always with the intention of making God known and loved, in deep and meaningful ways.