From our first mission member in 1794 to the unification of the provinces in 2009, the U.S. Spiritans have been helping the poor and marginalized around the world. Today there are about 100 Spiritans in 19 American parishes; in various educational works, such as Duquesne University in Pittsburgh and Holy Ghost Preparatory School in Bensalem, PA, and in different justice and peace ministries at the service of the poor. Another fifty Spiritans, mostly from Africa and Ireland, work and study in the U.S. Whether speaking out in pastoral leadership, educating our youth, advocating social justice, or shepherding parish communities, the Spiritans are in motion all over our country.
The first Spiritan mission member of the Congregation arrived in late 1794 or early 1795 as a refugee from Guyane and became a highly respected missionary in Baltimore. Two others followed a few years later. The last survivor of this group died in 1839. The province was officially founded in 1872.
In 1964 the U.S. Province was divided into the Eastern and Western Provinces of the United States, which were reunified as the Congregation of the Holy Spirit Province of the United States in 2009.
Fr. Joseph Strub, C.S.Sp.
The most pivotal character in the establishment of the Spiritans’ American Province was the Alsatian Joseph Strub (b. 1833).
In 1854 he entered the Spiritan seminary of Notre Dame du Gard. Three years later he was sent to Senegal to finish his studies in the oldest African seminary at Ngazobil. He was ordained at Dakar in Senegal on Easter Eve 1858, professed on August 22, 1859, and became local superior of Dakar in November of 1861. While caring for yellow fever victims in 1863, he caught a liver ailment and had to return to Europe.
In 1864, he was appointed to the other Marienthal shrine in the German province, where he led the restoration and opening of a junior seminary, a Brothers’ novitiate and a training school for disadvantaged youths. During the Franco-Prussian War of 1870 he volunteered his services and received the Legion of Honor Award. In 1871 he became provincial superior, but two years later the Holy Ghost Fathers were declared to be Jesuit-affiliated and had to close their house. Fr. Strub went into exile.
Fr. Strub sailed for the U.S. on January 2, 1874 to lay there the foundations for a new province, ending up in Sharpsburg, near Pittsburgh, PA. Fr Strub became its pastor till 1878 and opened the college – now Duquesne University – the same year.
Fr. Strub spread the message of the Spiritans across the country when he:
- Opened a colony for German and Polish immigrants near Little Rock, AR
- Sent Fathers and Brothers to Detroit and Bay City, MI, to Millvale and Tarentum in PA for the French, German, Polish and Irish immigrants
- Founded missions for African-Americans in Pittsburgh, PA and Philadelphia, PA
- Fostered the introduction of the Pontifical Holy Childhood Association in support of the missions.
Fr. Strub died of the severe flu epidemic on January 27, 1890 and he was buried in the Sharpsburg, PA community cemetery. He was universally regarded as a very zealous and truly holy priest.
Missionaries at Home and Abroad
Over the years American Spiritans concentrated their missionary efforts at home with the poor, immigrants, African-Americans, Latinos and Native Americans. They developed educational institutions such as Duquesne University of the Holy Spirit in Pittsburgh, PA and Holy Ghost Preparatory School in Bensalem, PA both of which the Province of the United States sponsors.
American Spiritans have been sent as missionaries to Tanzania, Puerto Rico, Mexico, Sierra Leone, Nigeria, Poland, Ethiopia, Peru, Kenya, Uganda, South Africa, Paraguay, Haiti, Algeria, Brazil, and more recently to Vietnam, Taiwan, Australia, and the Philippines.
(The very first Spiritan to arrive in the U.S. was captured by the British during the French and Indian War in 1745. Retaliating for the French attacks on Annapolis, Nova Scotia, the British arrested Fr. Pierre Maillard and interned him in a Boston jail until he could be shipped to France.)
Internee, Exiles and Refugees 1745 – 1839
Out of the Frying Pan into the Fire, Kentucky and Ohio 1872 – 1876
Success in a Troubled Diocese, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 1874 – 1900
The Trials and Travails of Pioneering Arkansas 1878 – 1900
Rebellious Canadians, Rioting Poles, Disconnected Germans in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania 1884 – 1900
Ups and Downs in Starting Missions to the Blacks, The Northern States and Virginia 1881 – 1912
Internal Affairs 1878 – 1933
Serving the Blacks in the Deep South 1911 – 1935
Up North, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Michigan 1900 – 1940
Mid-twentieth Century, 1939 – 1958
The Contemporary Period, 1959 – present
The finest history of the Spiritans in the United States was written by the venerable Dutch philosopher, historian and archivist Fr. Henry J. Koren, C.S.Sp., in these books:
- The Serpent and the Dove: A History of the Congregation of the Holy Spirit in the United States (Spiritus Press, Pittsburgh, PA 1985). (The Serpent and the Dove refers in a symbolic language to the mixture of good and evil that penetrates any human individual or society.)
- A Spiritan Who Was Who, in North America and Trinidad 1732-1981, (Spiritus Press, Pittsburgh, PA 1985)
To The Ends of the Earth: A General History of the Congregation of the Holy Ghost” (Duquesne University Press, Pittsburgh, PA, 1983)