The Missionaries of Our Lady of La Salette in France
Until 1880 the history of the Congregation of the La Salette Missionaries in France is indistinguishable from the history of the Congregation in general. All the communities were situated in the diocese of Grenoble: at the Shrines of La Salette and of Pipet in Vienne, in Corps and in Grenoble. The founding of an apostolic school in 1876 prepared the extension of the Congregation beyond the borders. In 1880 a group of missionaries left for Norway; of the eleven La Salettes, seven were scholastics! The following year saw another new frontier, this time in nearby Switzerland, with the founding of a scholasticate in Le Valais. Before long, Swiss seminarians were joining the young Frenchmen. In the course of the last years of the nineteenth century, French members left for North America and Madagascar. Soon after, others would leave for South America and Poland.
Meanwhile, the Congregation had taken root in various parts of France: in the center, at Noirétable, taking charge of the ancient shrine of Our Lady of the Hermitage (1889); near the Mediterranean, at Mont Saint Clair in Sète, where a La Salette shrine already existed (1898); at Villeurbanne near Lyons (1899), founding an orphanage. But all that changed when, in 1901, the French government adopted a law making it impossible for religious congregations to exist without a special authorization, which was very rarely granted. We had to leave our Mother House, the Shrine of La Salette. The houses in Grenoble (rue Chanrion) and Corps (Saint Joseph) were confiscated, along with a recently opened house in Châtillon-sur-Chalaronne, close by the parish of the holy Curé of Ars. To give an example of the absurd situation thus created: Frs. Angelier and Gachet were condemned to prison sentences for having continued to live at Our Lady of the Hermitage! Any La Salettes wishing to minister in France had to conceal their identity as members of the Congregation. Formation houses had to go into exile; in 1901 a house was founded in Tournai, Belgium. It provided safe haven for the apostolic school and later the scholasticate as well.
The First World War (1914-1918) brought about, indirectly, a distinct change in Church-State relations. Religious were able to return to France. In 1914 the La Salettes took on a youth ministry in a poor neighborhood in Paris. Then they returned to Grenoble, Corps, Our Lady of the Hermitage and finally, in 1943, to our Mother House at the Shrine. They preached parish missions and took charge of parishes. Apostolic schools were once again opened in France. The last one, founded in 1950 in Voiteur in the east of France, not far from Switzerland, would continue in existence for over thirty years. The scholasticate was ultimately established at Alaï-Francheville near Lyons, in a house which, during the war, had served as the seat of the General Administration of the Congregation.
If this presentation of the history of the Province of France is to be considered objective, we need to add some painful details. At the end of 1968 the Province had 165 members, among them 102 priests (not counting those in Madagascar). All of them had entered the Congregation in France. According to the most recent statistics (the end of 2010), there are now only 39 members who entered the Congregation in France. The last ordination of a French-born member of the Province goes back to 1978! Houses have had to be closed for lack of personnel. Reinforcements have arrived, fortunately: twelve priests and one deacon coming from other Provinces, first Poland, then South America, Madagascar, Africa, Asia. With their help, a new house was founded in 2007 in the Archdiocese of Besançon, where we have assumed responsibility for the Marian shrine of Our Lady of the Oak.