The Edmundites have a rich history dating back to 19th century France where the order was founded. Who we are is defined in large part by our long history of responding to real and challenging issues of the day. Whether it was the founding of Saint Michael’s College, one of the first Catholic colleges in Vermont, standing up for Civil Rights in Selma, AL, answering the Pope’s call to serve the poor in Latin America or establishing an alternative school for African American boys in New Orleans, Edmundite history is written by a deep and spiritual desire to help those most in need.
The Society of Saint Edmund began in the 1840s in a rural region of France to revitalize the faith of people who had become increasingly alienated from the Catholic Church. Our founder, Father Jean-Baptiste Muard began the Society at St. Mary’s Abbey in Pontigny, one of the great Cistercian monasteries of France and the final resting place of Saint Edmund of Canterbury.
Known as “auxiliary priests,” the Edmundites took on assignments and challenges that local clergy were unable to do. 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 opened several Catholic schools.
Coming To North America
At the end of the 19th century as politics became increasingly hostile towards religious orders, the Society of Saint Edmund decided to establish a new ministry in Canada. By the start of the 20th century, the Society lost everything they built in France. Forced to leave the country, a small group of Edmundites began again by ministering the French-speaking Catholics in Quebec.
Asked to serve the French-speaking Catholics of northern Vermont, the Edmundites responded and established several parishes as well as Saint Michael’s College in Colchester, VT. 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.
Call to Venezuela
When Pope John XXIII urged American religious congregations to commit 10 percent of their members to work in Latin America in 1961, the Society of Saint Edmund was among the first to respond. Since 1964, Edmundites have served in Caracas in two adjacent parishes, Prados del Este, a parish in a middle class neighborhood and Las Minas, a parish in an impoverished barrio. With the same spirit that brought both parishes together to build a church in the barrio, Prados del Este and Las Minas remain vibrant faith communities today that demonstrate active concern for the less fortunate.
The New Millennium
The Society of Saint Edmund remains committed to its legacy of taking on exceptionally challenging work. With fewer priests and brothers, our four core ministries, Social Justice, Education, Spiritual Renewal and Pastoral Ministry, continue to flourish thanks to dedicated and committed lay partners who share our vision and mission.
Though our numbers are smaller, 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 directing a thriving campus ministry at Saint Michael’s College, feeding the hungry and homeless in Alabama, counseling recovering alcoholics in 12-step programs and making a home for people in the Catholic Church. Our ministries may be diverse, but it is always with the intention of making God known and loved, in deep and meaningful ways.
The Edmundites took as their patron saint, Saint Edmund of Canterbury, the 13th century Archbishop of Canterbury, whose life was filled with self-sacrifice for others. His final resting place in Pontigny, is where the Society of Saint Edmund first began its ministry in 1843.
“The Edmundites are quite different today from what we were in 1843 or 1924, but we have always been on the move. We’ve always been responsive to what is being asked of us, either by the Church or when we interact with people and that’s going to carry on. We’re very hopeful, but ultimately, people have to be open to what God is asking of them.”
– Father Richard Myhalyk, SSE