History of the USA Region

Missionaries of St. Francis De Sales have been present in USA for more than 50 years. Confreres from Europe, England, India and USA have been in ministry in parishes in USA during this period of time. There has always been a desire to implant the Congregation in USA. Attempts had been made as early as 1935 to start some sort of mission in the country, but without success. In 1949, Frs. Basil Luyet and Grorod visited seven bishops without success. When Fr. S. L. Paul arrived in St. Louis in 1964, he was asked to sign a declaration that he did not intend to establish an MSFS community. In a letter to Fr. Waldron, Fr. Luyet summarized that "religious who want to do missionary work in mission territories or in more destitute urban areas, and who are not concerned with fund-raising problems, may be welcome."

In 1968, Superior General, Fr. Adrien Duval, decided to proceed actively to establish a mission and commissioned the provincial of the English province, Fr. Pat Waldron, to proceed to the U.S. before the end of the year, and to make contact with whoever was agreeable to our presence there. Fr. Waldron arrived in the U.S.A. on December 6, 1968 and made contact with seven bishops without success.

Finally in 1969, Fr. Waldron visited Atlanta, where he made a favorable impression on the archbishop and Fr. Gill was assigned to St Joseph's Parish in Athens. In February 1970, the council of the English Province decided that Atlanta would be the most favorable location for establishing a foundation for the MSFS. It was suggested to the Superior General that a priest from the English Province be sent to Atlanta for a period of five years to set up a foundation.

Archbishop Thomas A. Donnellan entrusted the care of St. Patrick's Church, Norcross, GA, to the MSFS on April 24, 1972.  In five years, this parish had grown from 82 families to 900 families. A new Church was constructed with the capacity for seating 500 people in 1981.  

On July 3, 1974, Archbishop Thomas A. Donnellan entrusted the pastoral care of St. Lawrence Church, Lawrenceville, GA, to the MSFS. In 1994, this parish of 1600 families was handed back over to the Archdiocese due to lack of personnel.

Fr. Ken Bayer, the first American MSFS priest, was ordained in September 1975. He served as parochial vicar and as pastor at St. Lawrence and St. Patrick.  In May 1992, Fr. Ken Bayer was diagnosed with leukemia and suffered an untimely death on September 27, 1993. With his death, it became impossible for the MSFS to run two parishes.  St. Lawrence parish was handed back over to the Archdiocese and confreres concentrated on ministering at St. Patrick’s Church.

In November 1974, Fr. Zacharias Mannukuzhumpil, then provincial of Visakhaptnam Province, commissioned Fr. Kurian Aranjanil and Fr. Augustine Tharappel to establish a house of MSFS in USA.  Fr. Augustine was a student of psychology at St. Mary’s University at that time. Most Reverend Francis J. Fuery, the Archbishop of San Antonio, gave Fr. Augustine his approval for establishing a MSFS Community in the Archdiocese of San Antonio. A house was opened to explore possibilities of establishing a community and articulating its vision and mission. During this period, Fr. Adrian Duval, then Superior General, made a visit to USA and encouraged Fr. Augustine to actively pursue this project. The project was abandoned in 1976 due to a lack of personnel.  Fr. Augustine Tharappel completed his studies and returned to India and Fr. Kurian returned shortly thereafter.

In 1975, MSFS were offered a house in secluded woods by the widow of Ed Barton, one of the key men involved with the construction of the church in Lawrenceville. It was named Villa Luyet, in honor of Fr. Basil Luyet, MSFS, who had died in 1968 at Madison, WI. He was very well known in the research field of cryogenics. Villa Luyet was established as a novitiate house, and a place for preparing possible candidates for the seminary in 1995 and Fr. Joe Mendes was appointed Vocation and Formation Director.

The desire for implanting the Congregation in USA began to materialize more fully and in reality when Ken Bayer (1975), Martin Kopchik (1986), John DeVore (1986) and John Tiernan (1998) from USA joined the congregation and were ordained priests.

Many MSFS confreres, Frs. Sean Fleury,  Desmond Daly, Gerry Gill, Joe Meehan, Felix Mendes, Terry McGrath, Francis Hamilton, Christopher Yamold, Joe Thevenet, Martin Griffin, Vincent Ferandes, John Rodrigues, S.L.Paul, Ken Bayer, Martin Kopchik, Joseph Mullakkara, Joseph Mendes, Patchala Hrudayaraj, Abraham Mullenkuzhy,  Matthew Thayil, John Tiernan served  these two parishes well during a period of 35 years.

In 1990, the American Mission of the Congregation became an autonomous mission directly under the authority of the Superior General with Fr. Ken Bayer as Mission Superior.

In November 1990, Fr. Joseph Mullakkara, from Visakhapatnam Province, came to Atlanta to support the  American Mission and joined the community at St. Patrick’s Church.  In 2000, after ten years of service to the American Mission, he began ministry in St. Lawrence Parish while being directly under the authority of his provincial.  In 1994, Fr. Joseph Mendes, from Nagpur Province, came to support the American Mission and joined the community at St. Patrick’s Church. He served the American Mission at St. Patrick’s Parish as parochial Vicar and at Villa Luyet as Novice Master.  In 2001, after seven years of service to the American Mission, he began his ministry as Chaplain to the Visitation sisters, chaplain to Mother Teresa’s sisters and parochial vicar at St. Marguerite d’Youville Church in Lawrenceville while being directly under the authority of his provincial.      

In 2000, Fr. Joseph Mullenkuzhy, from North East India Province, and Fr. Mathew Thayil, from Nagpur Province, came to support the American Mission and joined the community at St. Patrick’s Church. Fr. Joseph Mullenkuzhy returned to India in December 2001 as he was appointed Provincial of the North East province. Fr. Mathew Thayil returned to India in August 2001 as he was called to fill in the position of Fr. Agnelo Fernandes when he was elected Superior General.

Fr. John Tiernan left the MSFS in 2003. With these turn of events, the American Mission had only three confreres to carry on its work and the care of St. Patrick’s was no longer possible. The parish was handed over to the Archdiocese in March 2003.

Establishment of USA Region

In 1996, Fr. Emile Mayoraz, then Superior General, commissioned Fr. Augustine Tharappel, from the South West province, to establish a ministry in USA, which was unique to the Fransalian charism in view of raising the then American Mission to a Region.  Fr. Augustine began his ministry in the Diocese of Tyler as parochial vicar at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in May 1996.  After eighteen months of pastoral ministry, he established Wellspring, Fransalian Center for Spirituality, on January 24, 1998.

Wellspring, “Fransalian Center for Spirituality”, is a well-established Center for Spirituality in the Diocese of Tyler, founded by Fr. Augustine Tharappel and blessed by Msgr. Joe Strickland on January 24, 1998. The main focus of Wellspring is to offer spiritual growth programs. Groups meet regularly to deepen their spiritual life, and others to learn the contemplative way. Weekend retreats are offered for different groups from parishes, especially during the seasons of Advent and Lent. Deacon candidates for the Diocese of Tyler have had their spiritual formation program at Wellspring during the summer months. “Spiritual Moments”, a journal of spirituality, is published twice a year.

On September 15, 1998 Wellspring moved to the present location. A three bedroom house and 1.27 acres of property was purchased for this purpose primarily through local donations and a contribution from the American Mission. A large hall, a library, a small chapel, offices for Wellspring ministry and offices for the work of MSFS USA Region have been added to the original house over a period of several years.

In September, 2002,  responding to the proposals of 22 confreres in ministry in USA, the General Council proposed to form a USA Delegation juridically under the Superior General. This delegation was to be established with the four confreres of the American Mission, Frs. Martin Kopchik, John DeVore, John Tiernan and Augustine Tharappel as a starting point and other confreres whom their Provincials would designate for this purpose.

Fr. Agnelo Fernandes, Superior General, invited Fr. Augustine Tharappel, Coordinator of Fransalians in USA, to a joint meeting of the General council and the provincials on January 3, 2007. At this meeting after prayerful discernment, a unanimous decision was made to raise the status of the present American Mission to that of a Region of the congregation under the direct authority of the Superior General, thus form the “Missionaries of St. Francis De Sales, USA Region” henceforth referred to as “MSFS USA Region.”

When the General Council decided to raise the status of the then American Mission to that of a Region at their meeting on January 3, 2007, the American Mission consisted of three confreres, Frs. Martin Kopchik, John DeVore and Augustine Tharappel.  Besides the three confreres in the American Mission, there were also thirty five confreres in ministry in nineteen dioceses in USA, in thirteen different states and one confrere from North East Province pursuing studies in psychological counseling. All were involved in ministries well appreciated by people and their bishops and priests. Five of them were chaplains in hospitals, two were fully involved in retreats and spiritual direction while being in pastoral ministry in parishes, one was a student and the rest were fully immersed into ministry in parishes. These were the confreres who were being organized into the “MSFS USA Region” under the categories of permanent and short-term members.  At this time, there were three permanent members and 36 short-term members.

The Decree of the Superior General, Fr. Agnelo Fernandes, issued in Rome on April 8, 2007, canonically established the Missionaries of St. Francis De Sales, USA Region to be effective on July 3, 2007. Between the canonical establishment of the Region and the first Regional assembly, four more confreres were fully integrated into the region as permanent members. The Superior General requested each of the Indian Provinces and East Africa Province to allow two confreres of their province to be fully integrated into the newly formed Region. In response to this request, Fr. Joseph Mullakkara and Fr. George Puradiam from South West India Province, Fr. John Peter Arulanandam from South East India Province and Fr. Paul Kunnumpuram from Visakhapatnam Province were fully integrated into the newly formed USA Region as permanent members. There were thus seven permanent members at the time of the formal inauguration of MSFS USA Region. The generosity of these confreres and their provinces calls forth appreciation and gratitude.

On Tuesday, July 3, 2007, on the feast of St. Thomas the Apostle, the “Missionaries of St. Francis De Sales, USA Region” was inaugurated and  Fr. Augustine Tharappel was installed as the first Regional Superior during the  celebration of the Eucharist with Most Rev. Alvaro Corrada, the Bishop of Tyler, officiating. Our confreres, Frs. Mathew Thayil, Paul Kunnumpuram, Mathew Thottiyil, Luke Kalarickal and George Vattappara were present. More than 60 of the usual participants of Wellspring programs were also present.

Most Rev. Alvaro Corrada, the Bishop of Tyler, gave his approval for establishing the headquarters of the new region and assured his support. Information about the establishment of the region was sent to the Nuncio and to the conference of the Bishops in USA and the conference has welcomed us and offered support. Information about the establishment of the region was sent to all the bishops of the dioceses where our confreres are in ministry and have received acknowledgments with the offer of support.

We are now listed in the Official Catholic Directory as a religious Order of Men in the section on Religious Orders of Men and as Regional headquarters in the diocese of Tyler, Texas. This gives us recognition as a religious organization in the Church as well as in the state and affords us the benefits of the group ruling on tax benefits.

On July 5, 2007, the Regional Superior, Fr. Augustine Tharappel, convoked the first regional assembly to be held from September 17-20, 2007 at Wellspring in Tyler, Texas, USA. This first Assembly made a commitment to work toward giving a collective witness of our life as Fransalians in ministry in USA and revitalizing our community life for a community based mission and ministry, which was the call of General Chapter 2007.

The newly established Region made a concerted effort to follow up on the two basic thrusts of the assembly: “Collective witness of life as Fransalians” and “Revitalizing Community life for a community based mission”. Two Regional Assemblies, four retreats, many community meetings, local superiors meeting and the circulars of the Regional Superior focused on developing a global vision of being Fransalians in mission, on transcending parochial, provincial and regional mentalities and growing in our identity as Fransalians. Confreres were constantly challenged to become sensitive to the needs of the whole congregation, especially to the needs of our developing missions in developing countries.

The region was organized into six local communities in 2007 and now there are eight local communities.  One more spirituality center, “Basil Luyet, House of Prayer” was established in 2008 in the diocese of Atlanta, Georgia, besides “Wellspring, Fransalian Center for Spirituality” which was founded in 1998, in the diocese of Tyler, Texas.   

Confreres in the Region are involved in the following ministries: counseling, spiritual guidance, pastoral, preaching and healing ministries. 

We have also become part of the Salesian family in USA and participate in Salesian initiatives. We are included in the Salesian network and are kept informed of activities and programs offered by different Salesian groups of priests, sisters and the laity.

Participation in the Mission Cooperative Plans of the dioceses, also known as “Mission Appeals”, was organized to benefit our missions in India and Africa rather than a particular province. By 2010, the mission office of the Region was established under the title “MSFS Mission Office” with Fr. George Puraidam as the Director and Frs. Mathew Thayil, Paul Kunnumpuram, and Joseph Kuzhupil as members.  The team has done an excellent work of raising funds for our missions.

MSFS Development Office was established for the purpose of discerning, planning and implementing the growth needs of the Region. The purpose of this office is also to help raise funds for our missions, especially by contacting funding agencies.

The Congregation was incorporated in the State of Georgia in 1974 as “Missionaries of St. Francis De Sales, Inc.” by the American Mission and in the State of Texas in 2000 as “Fransalian Missionaries, Inc.” by Fr. Augustine Tharappel with the approval of  Superior General, Fr,. Emile Mayoraz. 

Between 2007 and 2012, Fr. Luke Kalarickal from Visakhapatnam province, Fr. Mathew Thottiyil from South West province, Fr. Mathew Thayil and Fr. Joseph Pottemmel from Nagpur province and Fr. Davis Chackaleckel from North East province were fully integrated as permanent members of USA Region. Now, in 2012, there are 11 permanent members in the Region and 42 short-term members, organized into eight communities. The Region has a house and property in Snellville, Georgia in the diocese of Atlanta, Georgia and one in Whitehouse, Texas, Wellspring Spirituality Center, in the diocese of Tyler, Texas.  There are four young men discerning their vocation to religious life in the Region.

The Region has had its losses too. The loss of Fr. Ken Bayer to Leukemia on October 27, 1993 and Fr. Martin Kopchik to intra-cerebral hemorrhage on November 6, 2010 was deeply felt by all.  The deathes were a great loss for the Region. They were men of integrity, simplicity and prayer, with a deep sense of dedication to serving God’s people. The Region also lost Fr. John Tiernan who chose to leave the congregation for his own reasons.

The Region has begun well. Now, it must continue to stay focused on becoming more dynamic and vibrant. St. Francis De Sales advises to “Go courageously to do whatever you are called to do.”  The Region has been called to give a collective witness of life as Fransalians in mission in USA. It has been challenged to revitalize community life for a community based mission and ministry in USA. It must continue to respond to this call with great courage and generosity.

I close this historical sketch with a simple and profound thought from Tagore. "I thought that my voyage had come to its end to the last limit of my power - the path before me was closed, that provisions were exhausted and the time come to take shelter in a silent obscurity. But I find that thy will knows no end in me. And when old words die out on the tongue, new melodies break forth from the heart; and where the old tracks are lost, new country is revealed with its wonders." It is my hope and prayer that we will break forth into new melodies, explore new possibilities and respond to new opportunities revealed in new situations with new people in USA. May we as a young region continue to respond to God’s Will, as it unfolds for us, with great generosity.

Fr. Augustine Tharappel