The congregation of the Missionaries of St. Francis de sales, founded in France in 1838 by the Servant of God, Fr. Pierre Mermier under the patronage of St. Francis de Sales, had a humble beginning. It was the realization of the long-cherished desire of Fr. Mermier, an apostle of parish missions.
The political disturbances in the country, especially the French Revolution had its impact in the spiritual realm too as it left the people in a deep spiritual crisis and indifference towards their religious duties. Sensing the signs of the time Fr. Mermier took upon himself the task of a spiritual renewal in his people by preaching parish missions. This special apostolate in turn gave rise to a community of preachers gathered around Fr. Mermier. His firm missionary zeal was amply clear from his slogan ‘I want missions.’
The newly formed community of missionaries, consisting of six members, began to live together at La Roche-Sur-Foron in 1834. Realizing the need to give a formal shape to the team Fr. Mermier went ahead with the plan of forming it into a religious society. A rule of life was drawn up by him in 1836 and the community moved into a new house, La Feuilette at Annecy. Msgr. Pierre Joseph Rey, Bishop of Annecy who was a source of constant support and inspiration to the missioners conferred the canonical approval on the young congregation on 24th October, 1838 and entrusted it to the care and patronage of St. Francis de sales.
The mission plan of Fr. Mermier included foreign missions too and he expected Rome to entrust his little congregation with a mission in Africa. But contrary to the expectation, the vast mission territory of Visakhapatnam, in India was entrusted to the MSFS in 1845. Accepting the challenges, Fr. Mermier prepared his best six men to be set out for the new mission. The pioneering team consisting of Fr. Jacques Martin, Fr. Joseph Lavorel, Fr. Jean Marie Tissot, Fr. Jean Thevenet, Bro. Pierre Carton and Bro. Sulpice Fontanel bid farewell to their confreres and homeland and boarded the ship on 8th June 1845 and arrived at Pondicherry after three months, on 8th September.
The mission entrusted to the MSFS was a large territory including parts of the present day states of Andhra Pradesh, Orissa, Madhya Pradesh, Chattisgarh and Maharastra.The missionaries rendered their services from the four mission centers of Visakhapatnam, Yanam, Kamptee and Aurangabad. Fr. Mermier, realizing the urgent needs of the Visakhapatnam Mission left no stone unturned in finding finance and personnel for the same.
Gradually the Congregation began to extent its missionary work to other countries as well. The MSFS mission in England began in 1861 -thanks to the generosity of Captain Charles Dewel who was in the military unit at Kamptee in India. He offered his house and property at Malmesbury, back in his home country, England to the MSFS and Fr. Francis Larive who was instrumental in initiating the process was sent from Kamptee to England in 1861 to open the new Mission. The work of the pioneering missionaries bore rich fruit and the English mission, in the course of time, developed into a full- fledged province.
In 1862, Fr. Mermier, the holy founder, left for his eternal reward, leaving all his confreres grief- stricken.
Many of the missionaries who came to India learned many Indian languages and some of them were so proficient that they wrote many books in many of these languages. They worked hard, facing all the difficulties. Sicknesses, inclement whether and hard work took away the lives of many young, zealous missionaries. The vast territory of Visakhapatanam was divided into two in 1887, forming the new diocese of Nagpur, with Alexis Riccaz msfs as its first bishop. However the vastness of the territory and the increase in the need for more personnel and resources led to the division of the original Visakhapatnam mission into many dioceses and were handed over to the other religious congregations in the course of time. The Fransalians too, in turn, grew large and began to spread out to the other parts of India. And today it has five provinces and a region in India, viz., Visakhapatanam, South-West, North-East, Nagpur, Pune and the Chennai region.
Back in France, in 1903, the MSFS lost their motherhouse at Annecy along with the tombs of the holy founder and other early missionaries, as it became the property of the state. Hence another house adjacent to it was bought making it the motherhouse and christened it as ‘Proupeine’. About six decades later, the state authorities, while digging at the site of the old motherhouse found the tombs of Fr. Mermier and other early MSFS confreres. It is said that when the grave of Fr. Mermier was opened in the presence of the ecclesiastical and civil authorities his body was found incorrupt, with even the vestments intact. Soon the mortal remains of the venerable founder and the other holy men were transferred to the new house on 24th October 1960.
The Fransalians have established their missions in the American countries too. In 1926 the Mission in Brazil was begun at he invitation of the Archbishop of Sao Paulo. In the course of time it took deep root and grew into a province. The mission in the United States was begun in 1972 and today it has spread to a large number of dioceses rendering valuable service to the Church there. In 1994 an MSFS mission was opened in Chile.
The original desire of the founder, to take up a mission in Africa was materialized when a team of four Fransalians from Vishakapatanam landed in Tanzania in 1988. The MSFS foundation there has grown into a full- fledged province and missionaries have extended their work to other countries in the continent like Kenya, Uganda, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Chad, and Cameroon.
The MSFS missionaries have made their presence felt in many other countries like Germany, Italy, Spain, Austria, West Indies, Philippines, Australia, United States of America, etc.
Thus today the MSFS is a large congregation spread over many countries in the world, rendering valuable services to the humanity by holding on to its charisma of preaching missions, evangelization and education of the youth.