- “A Son of the Immaculate Heart of Mary is a man on fire with love, who spreads its flames wherever he goes. He desires mightily and strives by all means possible to set everyone on fire with God’s love. Nothing daunts him: he delights in privations, welcomes work, embraces sacrifices, smiles at slander, rejoices in all the torments and sorrows he suffers, and glories in the cross of Jesus Christ. His only concern is how he may follow Christ and imitate him in praying, working, enduring and striving constantly and solely for the greater glory of God and the salvation of humankind.” ̴ Saint Anthony Mary Claret (Autobiography nº. 494)
Antonio María Claret y Clará (Anthony Claret) said “today we begin a new enterprise” to five young priests in a cell in the Vic seminary on July 16, 1849. This was the founding of the Congregation of “Missionary Sons of the Immaculate Heart of Mary” in Vic, in the province of Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain.
Anthony Claret had been thinking for a long time about preparing priests to proclaim the Gospel and bring together a group of priests who shared his vision to accomplish work he could not do alone. Through his evangelizing missionary work in Catalonia and the Canary Islands he was convinced that people needed to be evangelized and there were not enough priests who were sufficiently prepared or zealous enough for this mission. He was a humble man who knew that his vision came from God and not through his own means. “How great can it be since we are so young and so few?” asked Fr. Manuel Vilaró, one of the priests gathered at the seminary in Vic.
Only 20 days after its founding, Anthony Claret received news of his appointment as Archbishop of Cuba in North America, which he accepted despite his reluctance. The Congregation was left in God’s hands and under the guidance of one of the co-founders, Esteban Sala, who died in 1858. Another co-founder, José Xifré, took over the directorship.
Archbishop Claret, called back from Cuba to Madrid, Spain to be Confessor to Queen Isabella II, contrived to remain very close to the new Superior General and to all the missionaries. He attended the General Chapters. He gave spiritual and financial guidance to his religious institute. He also wrote his autobiography for the good of the Congregation and at the order of the Superior General, who had previously been his spiritual director.
With the coming of the Revolution of 1868, the Congregation was suppressed by the state and all the Missionaries had to seek refuge in France, Archbishop Claret also had to go into exile there. He played a major role editing the Constitutions, which the Holy See approved on February 11, 1870, only a few months before his death in France. At this time the institute had its first holy martyr, Francisco Crusats. Archbishop Claret, the founder, had the great satisfaction of seeing new foundations established throughout Spain, as well as in Africa (Argel), and in Latin America in México, Chile and also, in the Philippines .