Mark McIntyre on the many different activities undertaken by the Company and the sense of fellowship that characterizes it
The Company of Mission Priests has, since its foundation just after the Second World War, sought to model in the church a pattern of truly collaborative ministry, even before it was fashionable. Through the clergy houses, where a group of priests ministered together, there was a sense of working together for the sake of the kingdom and the people of God. My own experience as a student before ordination was that this ethos rubbed off on the congregations. I found there was again a sense of working together, priests and people, to give a vibrant model of Christian life. It is true to say that where this CMP model of ministry works best, the Shepherd gets stuck in with the tasks to be done and is there with sleeves rolled up and hands in the sink!
In recent years the Company has rediscovered a heart for mission under the inspiration of St Vincent de Paul, our co-patron. St Vincent is an ideal inspiration for us, because of his untiring work for the poor and his desire to preach and encourage parish missions. St Vincent himself modelled a pattern of ministry that was truly collaborative, founding the Congregation of the Mission and the Ladies and Daughters of Charity. The work of CMP today is very varied; many are working in urban parish settings, some in schools and others in institutions such as prisons and detention centres. Many members of the Company have been involved in the growing work of parish mission weeks and weekends and have seen their own parishes strengthened by them.
A final important element of the Company of Mission Priests is the sense of fellowship and joy shared by its members. The Company is organized into regional Chapters which meet at least three times a year. But members who live in the same town or immediate area are encouraged to establish a Cell Group that meets more frequently for prayer and meals together so that we can support one another personally and in our ministry. One of the abiding characteristics that I have found in the Company’s life is the support and acceptance of who I am both as a person and as a priest. St Vincent de Paul often refers to those who worked with him in the mission as his ‘Confreres’ – brothers with him in the mission. Again at its best CMP seeks to model this pattern of life amongst its members and with the congregations we serve.
Alexander Lane on the recent history of the Company and the events of the General Chapter
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 Vincentian 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 and guidance.
As part of this ongoing formation in the Vincentian tradition it was decided that we would devote a General Chapter to this aim. An approach was made to the CM Fathers at St Lazare in Paris, the Maison Mère (mother house) of the Congregation of the Mission and the final resting place of St Vincent De Paul. They gladly welcomed us into their midst for a week in June. The week consisted of our usual ‘in house’ business, as well as some fantastic input on the life of St Vincent and St Louise de Marillac from Sr Brenda Mattinson Dc. We visited the places associated with St Vincent, and not only said Mass at Clichy, where Vincent was parish priest, but also we renewed our Promises and admitted Fr James into our company in the Church in front of St Vincent’s remains, a wonderful experience. I had the joy of playing the Cavaille Coll organ on that occasion. General
Chapter is always a highlight of our year as a Company, when we spend time together, laughing and enjoying each other’s company, as well as attending to the serious business of the Chapter.
In a first for the company we were also via Skype to greet Fr Gregory Gay cm, the Superior General of the Congregation of the Mission, who has become a good friend to us. All in all a most memorable Chapter.
James Hill describes his admission to the Company and how the presence and spirit of St Vincent inspired him
I’m not one for old bones. It was, therefore, with some indifference that I went to the Maison Mère of the Congregation of the Mission, where the body of St Vincent de Paul, its founder, lies in a beautiful casket above the high altar of their chapel.
I was there for the General Chapter of the Company of Mission Priests, to which I was due to be admitted. Twenty or so of us met at St Pancras Station and travelled to the Gare du Nord and then across Paris on the Metro; the foolish of us pulling behind us unnecessarily full suitcases for a five day stay – well, you just never know what the weather’s going to be like, do you?
My initial indifference soon evaporated as we met in the chapel for Evening Prayer. The sense of holiness and prayer in that place was palpable, and it was a wonderful place in which to pray individually and as a Company. I was admitted to the Company on the Thursday as we celebrated Mass beneath the body of St Vincent, who had dedicated his life to the service of the poor. There was something very special about that moment and I felt that God was calling me afresh to follow in the footsteps of St Vincent in my life and in my parish by seeking Christ in the poor and underprivileged and serving him in them. I was especially moved by St Vincent’s maxim: ‘You are the servants of the poor …they are your masters.’ This has opened my eyes anew to the needs of the poor and underprivileged in my own parish, of whom there are many, and my congregation and I are looking for ways in which we can reach out to them in the spirit of St Vincent.
I commend the writings and spirituality of St Vincent to you, both clergy and laity. They are full of wisdom and insight as to how we might better live out our Christian vocation in the service of Christ in our neighbour. I also commend the Company of Mission to Priests to ordinands, deacons and priests who feel that they may have a vocation to live out the Vincentian life in our Company.
However sceptical I may have been at first, the presence of St Vincent and his spirit have inspired me afresh in my ministry. May he continue to witness to the service of the poor; may he pray for the Company of Mission Priests and for the parishes and institutions we serve; may he continue to inspire all Christian people to recognize Christ in the poor and to meet and serve him in them. ND