St. Vincent de Paul
The Company of Mission Priests
Sixty Years of Service
The Millennium and a Diamond Jubilee
The Company of Mission Priests, a dispersed men’s community founded in 1940, has now completed 60 years of service to the Church, and is looking forward to many more such years.
The outbreak of World War II presented the Church of England with many urgent pastoral and practical problems. In January 1940, these problems led the Superiors of the three Religious Communities (SSJE, CR and SSM) to issue an Appeal addressed to the clergy, supported by a covering letter from the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Cosmo Land. There was a need, they said, to form a company of Mission Priests, who would undertake to remain free from the personal and financial obligations of marriage and family life so that they could work, if necessary, without a full stipend, and be available to go wherever they might be needed. In this way, the pastoral and provision made for the future growth of the “housing estates which threaten to become new centres of heathenism.”
These Mission Priests, the Appeal suggested, would not take vows, as members of the Religious Communities did, but would bind themselves to this form of Apostolic Life by a solemn Promise to be renewed annually; and could withdraw from the Company on giving the required notice.
A number of priests responded, and the first members were admitted on the 2nd of May 1940. By 1944, the Company had 26 members, 19 of whom were serving in the parishes, while the others were chaplains to the Armed Forces or working in Africa. Since then, the Company has continued to serve both Church and people, primarily in the large housing estates and inner-city areas of England, but also, for many years, overseas, in Guyana and Madagascar.
A crisis, and its outcome
In 1992 the Company had over 40 members; but the decision of the Church of England’s General Synod in that year to proceed to the ordination of women to the priesthood caused a crisis of conscience for many. As a result, in 1994 over half of the members withdrew in order to seek admission to the Roman Catholic Church.
During 1994 and 1995, the remaining members engaged
in a serious and prayerful re-examination of the Company’s life
and purpose. This led, among other things, to a recognition of our affinity
in spirit, and work, with the original body of Mission Priests, founded
by St. Vincent de Paul in 1625, and, then, to our joy, to a growing
affiliation with the worldwide Vicentian family, which includes the
Congregation of the Mission, the Daughters of Charity, and our own Anglican
Sisters of Charity, as well as the Society of St. Vincent de Paul and
some other bodies. We have gained much from this ecumenical closeness,
and we are very grateful to our confreres and sisters for their help
The new millennium finds us doubled in number since 1995, and with signs of further growth. We can still be found working primarily in the big housing estates and inner-city areas, engaging in mission, but a great change has meantime come over us. Once we were well known for operating “clergy houses”, where two or more of our members lived and worked together. Now, because of the shortage of clergy, the needs of the Church are different; so very many of our members live and work separately. However, we try to arrange for such members to be able to share with others nearby, wherever possible, in some elements of common life, prayer and recreation, as well as in the regular meetings of the Company in its regional and general Chapters.
All members of the Company undertake to observe simplicity of life, to remain unmarried so long as they are members (“and in all personal relationships to exercise that care which befits priests leading dedicated lives”), to observe a personal rule based on the principles derived from St. Vincent de Paul’s instructions, included in the Company’s customary, and to consult the Warden and Council about changes of work.
We welcome enquires from priests and ordinands who may be interested in learning more about the Company, and possibly joining us. For further information about CMP, contact the following (website forthcoming):