It was an unexpected honor to be asked to serve as the director for the Society for the Propagation of the Faith by Bishop Thomas J. Tobin. To be a successor in the position of the late Msgr. William Varsanyi and, more recently, Father Robert Perron is also an honor. It is also bittersweet because it was occasioned by the sudden passing of Father Perron on August 1, 2020.
After accepting the position the first thing I did was look into what the Society for the Propagation of the faith does. Even though I had been a pastor for several years, by that time my understanding of the mission of the Society was vague. In fact, I had confused it with a similar sounding organization in the Church. I was familiar with the Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith, which governs and supports mission territories. Our country was one such territory and our own Diocese of Providence was created while we were still classified as mission territory, just about 150 years ago. The name of that Congregation has since been changed to the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples. The Society for the Propagation of the Faith was founded by a young woman from Lyon, France named Pauline Jaricot in 1822 and in 1922 it became a Pontifical society and has a presence in all dioceses around the world.
The mission of the society can be described as to pray for, promote and support the mission that our Risen Lord gave the Church, as St. Matthew wrote at the end of his gospel: “And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age.” Matt. 28:18-20.
To evangelize is the responsibility of all the baptized and our diocese itself has people who are members of many different nations. The role of the Society is to support those who respond to the call of the Lord to go out far and wide all over the world and to help the church in need where there is not enough local support.
There are several ways that the Society in the Diocese of Providence does this. We organize the annual Missionary Cooperation Appeal, the Catholic Relief Services/Operation Rice Bowl and the World Mission Sunday Collection. Each of these programs have their own schedule throughout the year and we are responsible to make the offerings and account for them in a timely manner. There are also the many requests that come in from mission territories whose priests depend far more on Mass stipends than we are used to in America and those requests far exceed what is available.
There are other organizations that support youth, the formation of seminarians and more that I will be sharing information about over time. I have a special opportunity as a new director to serve and learn about the Society for the Propagation of the Faith and share what I know.
Father Francesco Francese is the director of the Society of the Propagation of the Faith for the Diocese of Providence.