What is a Redemptorist?
1. CSsR: The Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer
The Redemptorists are a religious congregation of men founded in 1732 by Saint Alphonsus Liguori. Their mission is to spread the Gospel to the poor and most abandoned. They began this work among the poor and forgotten shepherds living in the hill country surrounding Naples, in southern Italy.
The Congregation grew and expanded its ministry outside of Italy when, in 1785, Clement Hofbauer and Thaddeus Heubl returned to their homeland, Austria, to establish the Congregation there. Through many trials the Congregation grew and, in 1830, was approached to send missionaries to America. In 1832, when the Congregation was 100 years old, six Redemptorists (three priests and three Brothers) journeyed to America. At the present time, there are over 6,000 Redemptorists working for people in nearly every part of the world. More than 1,000 Redemptorists work in the United States and Canada.
The four letters, “C.Ss.R.”, which you might often see after the name of a Redemptorist stand for the official Latin title given to the Congregation: Congregatio Sanctissimis Redemptoris. In English, the title translates as Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer. However, professed members of the Congregation are more commonly called Redemptorists.
2. Constitutions and Statutes
At the Second Vatican Council, each religious congregation was called to renew the life and the rules of their communities. Documents such as the Constitutions and Statutes are not easy reading, but several passages can shed light on this community.
Const. 1: Who are the Redemptorists?
The Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer, founded by Saint Alphonsus, is a clerical missionary religious institute approved by the Holy See. Its purpose is to “follow the example of Jesus Christ, the Redeemer, by preaching the word of God to the poor, as He declared of Himself: ‘He sent me to preach the Good News to the poor.’”
Const. 3: Evangelization of the poor.
The most abandoned, to whom in particular the Congregation is sent, are those for whom the Church has not yet been able to provide sufficient means of salvation, those who have never heard the Church’s message, or at least do not receive it as the “Good News,” and finally those who suffer harm because of division in the Church.
Const. 21 and 22: The Community.
To fulfill their mission in the Church, Redemptorists perform their missionary work as a community … An essential law of life for the members is this: That they live in community and carry out their apostolic work through community.
The whole purpose of community life is to have members, like the apostles, in a spirit of genuine brotherly union, combine their prayers and deliberations, their labours and sufferings, their successes and failures, and their material goods as well, for the service of the Gospel.
Const. 46 and 47: Religious Profession.
The members of the Congregation… by religious profession… bind themselves totally to the work of the Gospel and to the perfect practice of apostolic charity, for this is the very purpose of the Congregation.
Profession is deeply rooted in Baptismal consecration, and is a fuller expression of it. By this act, the members are incorporated in a particular way into the Mission of Christ as ministers of the Gospel, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
Const. 52 and 54: The Mission.
Apostolic charity … is the principle that unifies their entire life. For it identifies them in a certain sense with Christ … Community life is really at the service of the apostolate.
Const. 78: The Aim of Formation.
The aim of formation for both candidates and members is to lead them to such a degree of human and Christian maturity that, with the help of God’s grace, they will be able to dedicate themselves intelligently, willingly and wholeheartedly to the service of the missionary Church in Redemptorist community life, in order to preach the Gospel to the poor.
3. The Work of the Redemptorists
The major types of work done by the Redemptorists of North America can be summarized briefly to give some idea of the variety and scope of their apostolic endeavours.
At the request of many bishops, the Redemptorists have assumed the care of parishes. Redemptorist parishes can be found in big cities like New York, Chicago, Toronto, Philadelphia, and San Francisco. You will also find Redemptorist parishes in smaller cities like St. John’s, Newfoundland; Greeley, Colorado; Saint John, New Brunswick; Saskatoon, Saskatchewan; and Great Falls, Montana. Poor and abandoned souls are present everywhere — in the noise and clamour of a big city, as well as in the quiet countryside. As parish priests, Redemptorists maintain the missionary zeal taught to them by their founder, Saint Alphonsus Liguori.
Saint Alphonsus wanted his men to be preachers. They were to travel from town to town and parish to parish bringing the Word of God to the people. In modem times this often means a parish mission or renewal. A Redemptorist will go to a parish and each day, for a week or more, preach special sermons calling the faithful to a fuller practice of the Christian life and a deeper love for God. There will be special devotions, visits to the sick, and a time for the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
Redemptorist special preachers also conduct triduums and novenas (three- and nine-day periods of prayer). They are frequently called upon to preach retreats to lay people, priests, Sisters, and Brothers. Many times these retreats take place in retreat houses established by the Redemptorists.
Redemptorists, called to serve the “most abandoned,” strive to meet the special needs of the Church. Some Redemptorists work for the American and Canadian bishops, serving in social justice ministry and as hospital and military chaplains. Some are gifted in ministry to Blacks, Hispanics, Orientals, and other ethnic groups. Others work for the deaf, the chemically dependent, the separated and divorced, and those alienated from the Church. The Redemptorists strive to meet current challenges in the life of the Church.
Redemptorists of North America have undertaken work as missionaries in many foreign lands. Redemptorists labor in Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, the Virgin Islands, Thailand, Vietnam, Japan, Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay, the Antilles, the West Indies, Haiti, and Nigeria.
By this missionary work they have fulfilled a dream of their founder, Saint Alphonsus, that Redemptorists might spread the gospel to the whole world.
Apostolate of the Pen
Following in the footsteps of Saint Alphonsus, who wrote more than 100 books in his own lifetime, Redemptorists work to spread God’s message through the apostolate of the pen. Liguori Publications, located close to St. Louis, Missouri, is one of the largest Catholic publishers in North America. Although best known for the Liguorian Magazine, Liguori Publications also produces educational bulletins, books and pamphlets, and audio-visual resources.
4. Different Provinces
The Redemptorist Congregation is divided into jurisdictions called provinces and vice-provinces. A province is an independent, self-sustaining group; a vice-province is generally an offshoot of a province that has some local responsibility but, as a rule, depends on the province for personnel and financial assistance.
In Canada, there are four provinces. The oldest is the French-speaking Province of Ste-Anne de Beaupre in Quebec. The English-speaking Redemptorists of the Edmonton-Toronto Province are located across Canada. The Yorkton Province serves Ukrainian Byzantine Rite Catholics in Canada and the United States.
In the United States, there are three provinces and two vice-provinces. The Baltimore Province in the northeastern United States is the largest and the oldest. The Denver Province extends from the north-central to the western United States, including Alaska and Hawaii. The Vice-Province of Richmond, Virginia, comprises the southeastern United States, and the Vice-Province of New Orleans covers the south-central portion of the country.
Formed over 250 years ago, Redemptorists remain inspired by the missionary goal of their founder: To follow the example of Jesus the Redeemer by preaching the Word of God to the poor, as he declared of himself, “He sent me to preach the Good News to the poor.”