Page 4, 26th July 1957

26th July 1957
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IF you read the Catholic Press with care. you will have noticed some weeks ago, a very significant paragraph. It stated that a Pontifical Requiem Mass with Archbishop Godfrey presiding, was to be sung at St. James's, London, WA. for Maria Segovia.

The name Maria Segovia may have conveyed little, although she was co-foundress and director-general of an organisation with 1.500 university graduate members, any one of whom might be working unknown to you, by your side, for they are under-cover girls, women secret agents, labouring for God. They belong to the secular Institute of Si. Teresa which is part of a new Catholic growth that has developed within the Church over the last half-century. Even the name " secular institutes" became official only in 1947, under Pope Pius XII's Provide Mater Ecciesia.


MEMBERS of Secular Institutes are people who devote themselves to God by private vows. They work within the world wearing no distinctive habit or uniform, and generally performing the same jobs they had before becoming aware of their religious vocation. Although they continue their ordinary work, living with their families or perhaps, by permission, in "digs," their Institute always has somewhere a house of its own.

Some Institutes have certain common devotions such as to the Blessed Sacrament; some require their members to make an annual eight-day retreat or a monthly day of recollection, but members of all Institutes must take a vow of chastity and make also promises of obedience and poverty.

It is sometimes asked whether married people may join Secular Institutes, 'the Instruction Corn Sanctis.s.imus 0948) gives a directive on this point. There may be members in the strict sense, as well as members in the broad sense.

The latter are less closely united to the Institute and do not undertake, or cannot undertake so perfectly, the evangelical counsels of chastity arid promise obedience and poverty. These members in a broad sense are similar to the associates attached to religious orders by spiritual bonds, similar to Third Orders, but, they are quite different front members in the strict sense who renounce marriage, vow chastity and promise obedience and poverty.


ALL Institutes make a formal profession to acquire evangelical perfection in the world. A Society will therefore not be recognised as an Institute unless its members profess perfectly the evangelical counsel of chastity and are free from every tie which could prevent the complete gift of themselves to the apostolate. " The reason for their creation is not only the sanctification of the members but a complete gift in the exercise of the aposiolate " (Motu Proprio: Primo Pelletier).

Although all the Institotes follow the evangelical counsels, externally, they may be very different.

Thus the Secular Institute of which Maria Segovia was directorgeneral, worked for the Catholic education of girls front kindergarten to university level. 'I heir first house in England, Cedar Court, Wimbledon. was a finishing school for girls from abroad who wished to study English and the English way of life. Members of other Institutes have different aims and work in different ways. They come from all levels of society and are to be found in all sorts of jobs, manual, clerical and executive. Those who are free may be directed to social work, to run catechism classes, to provide help for the clergy or the missions.


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THE number of people who are now members of Secular Institutes, is not easy to assess, for many are religious underground workers who prefer to remain unknown and unknowable.

The French "Documentation Catholique" published on January 24, 1954, a " brief " account of the Institutes which nevertheless filled 40 close-printed columns. There are about 500 in France, with 200-300 members in each group. or approximately the same number as there are nuns in the French regular communities. Spain and Italy have approved Institutes with 3,000 members. '

The Opus Del, a secular Institute which began in Madrid now has 200 houses in 30 countries. It is one of the oldest groups and cioinposed mainly of intellectuals. A German-inspired Instltute, the Sehoenntait Sisters of Mary, which began in 1914 and received official recognition in 1948, has now branched Out to other part,. of Europe and also has a house at Madison, Wisconsin, U.S.A. Some of the Institutes have members who are associated with religious Orders. Thus the Franciscan, Missionari Della Regalia Di Christo, was founded by Padre Ciernelli. (}.Fl., ie Milan in 1919. A similar example is the Little Company of Jesus Crucified I founded in 1891, all of whose members belong to the third Order of St. Dominic.

The Carmelites provided the inspiration for the Institute of Our Lady of Life which, beginning at Venasque, France, in 1932, has now spread to the United States, and the Jesuits, too, have given spiritual backing to several Institutes in Paris.


pRIESTS as well as laymen and laywomen are members of some Institutes. The Franciscan Missionari Della Regalita Di Christ°, is one of these having 2.000 women members and separate branches for priests and laymen. The Company of St. Paul, founded some 40 years ago in Milan, now has over 200 priests and lay members and covers a vast field of social work from university lecturing to helping ex-convicts; member!' write, publish, print, doctor, teach and even have a film centre An Institute which, on the other hand, is open only to laywomen, celebrates its 20th birthday this year. The Analliares Lalques des Missions was founded in Brussels by Father Lebt, the members offering their lives to the service of God in the mission lands.

Small groups are sent out and have a common domicile even when doing different types of work (teaching, medicine), for it is felt that with certain notable exceptions young women in mission countries derive strength from their fellowworkers. Native leadership is encooraged and there are already more than 100 African women training at the Auxiliaries' centres. Similar attention is given to the apostolate among students from missionary countries who are studying in the West.

These are the people who will have such great influence among their own people when they return to their native lands. Who can say, for example, how much was lost when Dr. Kwame Nkrumah, first Premier of Ghana, brought up as a Catholic, came into contact as an L.S.E. student, not with fervent fellow-Christians, but with devoted Communists?


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THE Union of Carita.s Christi, like the Belgian Auxiliaries, also celebrates its 20th birthday this year. It began on August 4, 1937, with 10 members, emphasises self-renunciation. and although entirely a lay movement offers the possibility of consecration by the Church.

It received its Brief of Approval on December 6, 1950, and four years later could point to a membership of 250 in France, North Africa and Brazil. I note from a recent advertisement in THE CATHOLIC HERALD, that there is an office in London at Flat E, 123 Old Brampton Road, S.W.. Secular Institutes carry out work that can he mundane or spectacular. In France many groups work in bars and restaurants, whilst others rescue women and girls from alcoholism and prostitution.

Still others succour the needy with food and shelter. A Dutch Institute, Mary. Mother of the Good Shepherd, which is based at Rotterdam, aims at assisting the welfare of parishes by teaching as well as nursing, arid by caring for families and individual children.

In Italy. the Congregation of the Holy House of Nazareth, work in the factories and mills of the industrial north. but before doing so have technical training so that they can take their place alongside the workers. They do the same work for the same hours, and pay. as other factory hands. and rely on example for conversions. Today the Congregation. established after 1940 from earlier beginnings, has 50 members.

The Holy Father has spoken of "these truly providential Secular Institutes" as " new and unrivalled forms of confederation which particularly answer the needs of our time, and in which many can live a life a-holly conducive to the attainment of Christian perfection."

Though they can never cancel out the old forms of religious life, nor act as a substitute for them the Secular Institutes do provide for many people what Jacques Maritain has called " a new form of sanctity.They prove also that within the Church there is room for all, active and passive, priest and layman, and that in the conversion. of the world to Christ, there is no gift or talent however small, that cannot he utilised.

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