The Vincentian Congregation, a clerical society of priests and brothers in the Syro-Malabar Church, comes under the category of ‘Societies of Common Life’ ad instar religiosorum.
It was established in 1904 in Kerala by Very Rev. Fr. Varkey Kattarath, who led a group of diocesan priests to found a congregation on the model of the Congregation of the Mission (C.M.), founded by St. Vincent de Paul in France. After an unstable beginning, the group was officially called the Vincentian Congregation in 1938, and raised to diocesan status in 1977.
Purpose and Charism
The Congregation draws its spirit and distinctive character from the life, works, and Common Rules of St. Vincent de Paul. The Congregation in Kerala has taken as its motto “He has sent me to proclaim the Good News to the poor” (Luke. 4:18).
The two main aims of the Vincentian Congregation are:
1. Preaching the Good News to the poor. All retreats held in Divine Retreat Centre are aimed at renewing the lives of the people in a deep and living experience of the Sacraments of the Church. The seven Sacraments are holy means of supernatural life instituted by Christ through which the saving power of God is bestowed upon everyone. It is through the power of anointing of the Holy Spirit that the Sacraments become effective signs of salvation.
2. Caring for the welfare of the poor and afflicted. In the different Homes attached to the Divine Retreat Centre, the Vincentians share their love and resources with more than 3,000 permanent residents. The St. Vincent’s Home cares for AIDS patients.The Divine Care Centre is home to the mentally ill. The Divine De-Addiction Centre looks after those addicted to alcohol and drugs. The Divine Mercy Home has elderly men and women abandoned by their families. The Maria Santhi Bhavan Home for the Aged cares for elderly women. St. Mary’s Home cares for destitute mothers and children.
The specific purpose of the Congregation to preach the Gospel to the poor is accomplished through popular mission retreats, charismatic retreats, and retreats for priests and religious. Almost 25% of the Vincentian community is engaged in full-time preaching, and a number of retreat centres have been established. It has been found that about 15% of those who attend the retreats are non-Christian.
Divine Retreat Centre, Kerala
The Centre began as a preaching ministry by the Vincentian fathers in 1990, and has become the largest Catholic retreat centre in the world. Over 10 million pilgrims from all over the world have attended retreats there since 1990. Retreats are conducted in English, Hindi, Konkani, Kannada, Tamil, Malayalam, and Telugu, and are back-to-back, non-stop every week of the year. The retreat fee, which is very modest, includes accommodation and all meals.