From the Archives: The Apostleship of Prayer and the Messenger of the Sacred Heart

POST BY MAllen

At the end of this month there will be four days of celebration in Rome for the 175th Anniversary of the foundation of the Apostleship of Prayer, which has been re-invigorated and rebranded in recent years as the Pope’s Worldwide Prayer Network

The Apostleship of Prayer started in France in 1844, at a Jesuit training college in Vals. The young Jesuits there were anxious to start on their missionary activities abroad, especially in India, but became disheartened because they realised they still had many years before they could be ordained and trained as missionaries. Their spiritual director, Fr Francis Xavier Gautrelet SJ, suggested to them a way of devoting their life to the mission immediately, through the simple offering to God of everything they were doing in their everyday lives. Fr Gautrelet made them understand that what counted was not doing much but loving much. The specific practice he recommended to them was a simple prayer, every morning, in which they would dedicate everything they did each day to Jesus. 

The enthusiasm of the young French Jesuits for the Apostleship of Prayer meant that it spread quickly through the region near Vals. It was taken up enthusiastically by lay Catholics as well as by the religious, and soon spread far beyond France, becoming a huge fellowship. Part of its rapid spread lay in its simplicity. At its core, all it required of people was a short prayer affirmation, said aloud or silently, to dedicate all the day’s activities to Jesus. It did not need membership cards, subscriptions, meetings or other trappings of a large organisation, although at times it did develop a more formalised organisational structure.

The Apostleship of Prayer soon came to have a special devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, particularly under the directorship of Fr Ramière SJ. In 1861 Fr Ramière started to publish a magazine for the Apostolate, the Messager du Coeur de Jesus. This was the fore-runner of many different versions of the Messenger. By 1941 there were 72 Messengers in 44 different languages. 

The Jesuit in Britain Archive holds material relating to the Apostleship of Prayer in Britain, and to the English version of the Messenger of the Sacred Heart, which was produced by the Jesuits based at Wimbledon. This material has recently been catalogued and throws interesting light on aspects of the Apostleship of Prayer in an English context. In the late nineteenth century, two Jesuit Fathers were responsible for the Apostleship of Prayer and the Messenger, Fr John Gretton SJ, and Fr Augustus Dignan SJ. They particularly promoted a branch of the Apostleship of Prayer aimed at Seamen in the Navy and Merchant Navy, and at all others in boats, including the Coastguards and fishermen. This was the Apostleship of the Sea. 

The Apostleship of the Sea identified Catholic officers in the Navy, Royal Marines and Royal Naval Reserve who could help with the cause. They produced literature to be circulated among seamen and made elaborate efforts to ensure that The Messenger and other Catholic newspapers were distributed to ships and boats. 

List of Roman Catholic Officers in the Royal Navy, Royal Marines and Royal Navy Reserve, and a membership booklet of the Apostleship of the Sea.

List of Roman Catholic Officers in the Royal Navy, Royal Marines and Royal Navy Reserve, and a membership booklet of the Apostleship of the Sea.

Literature produced or circulated by the Apostleship of the Sea, and Instructions on how to distribute packets of Catholic literature to ships and boats.

Literature produced or circulated by the Apostleship of the Sea, and Instructions on how to distribute packets of Catholic literature to ships and boats. 

Fifty years later, in the middle of the Second World War, the Apostleship of Prayer marked its centenary. Pope Pius XII wrote a letter to the Director of the Apostleship of Prayer, Norbert de Boynes, to celebrate the centenary in 1944. The Director of the Apostleship of Prayer in England was Fr Geoffrey Bliss SJ, who circulated the Pope’s letter to all English Catholic bishops, and to bishops in the colonies. They wrote back to him, stating their appreciation for the work of the Apostleship of Prayer. A notable feature of these letters is how many of the bishops comment on the greater need for the Apostleship of Prayer during the Second World War. 

Letters from the Bishops of Capetown, Westminster, Kumasi and Southwark, stating their support for the work of the Apostleship of Prayer as it celebrated its centenary during the Second World War.

Letters from the Bishops of Capetown, Westminster, Kumasi and Southwark, stating their support for the work of the Apostleship of Prayer as it celebrated its centenary during the Second World War. 

The Messenger of the Sacred Heart continued to be published by the Jesuits at Spencer Hill, Wimbledon for many years. In 1969 it amalgamated with Stella Maris, another Jesuit publication, with Stella Maris being consigned to 4 pages within the Messenger. Stella Maris was the subject of one of our earlier blog posts.

Front covers of The Messenger from 1919 and from 1964.

Front covers of The Messenger from 1919 and from 1964.

However, declining circulation led to the English edition of The Messenger closing in 1971 with the Irish Messenger taking over much of the content. By contrast, the Apostleship of Prayer is flourishing today as the Pope’s Worldwide Prayer Network and the Eucharistic Youth Movement.

If you are interested in the archives relating to the Apostleship of Prayer and the Messenger, or in the work of the Jesuits in Britain Archives, please contact us.

Lucy Vinten Mattich, Assistant Archivist