Who are we?

Canadian Assembly 1

We are a Roman Catholic religious community of priests and brothers founded in France in 1878. We were founded by Leo John Dehon who was especially concerned with the appalling living and working conditions of factory workers. His hope was to recover the dignity and value of each person according to the compassion and love that are offered to us in Jesus. Today we number 2300 members serving the church in 42 countries.

Since 1910 Canadian members of the Priests of the Sacred Heart have served in ministries throughout Canada. At present we minister predominantly in the metropolitan areas of Montreal, Ottawa and Toronto. Our commitment to live together in community is the fullest realization of our solidarity with people. It is a sign that the brotherhood/ sisterhood for which people hunger is possible in Jesus Christ.

Prayer strengthens the bonds of our community life and at the same time it strengthens us for our mission. In our community houses we pray the Prayer of the Church, we celebrate the Eucharist, and honour our tradition of Eucharistic adoration. At these moments, we remember the death and resurrection of the Lord who brings us together, consecrates us, and sends us back onto the streets of the world in the service of the gospel.

Our founder, Fr. Leo John Dehon, was born in France in 1843. By the time he was ordained a priest in 1868 he had received doctorates in philosophy, theology, canon law and civil law.

Leo’s first appointment was to an industrial town called St. Quentin with 30,000 parishioners. He recognized immediately that working conditions, housing and the quality of the factory workers’ lives were appalling, as they lived in dire poverty. He jumped into the dirty, tired world St. Quentin with gusto because he believed that we respond best to God’s love by trying our hardest to meet the needs of those around us. Leo set about to help organize support systems for the parents and youth of poor families. Much of his priestly life was dedicated to bridging the gap between the church and the working poor.

Leo began to experience the call to live as a member of a religious community. He became increasingly aware of God’s love flooding into his life through the person of Jesus, and he wanted to return that love in the most genuine way he could. He became convinced that it was to be a community of men who were committed to cultivating a deep love for Christ, through lives of self-surrender to God and service to people, especially to the poorest of society. Leo felt that such a group was needed to respond to the serious wrong in society’s relationship with God and its abusive treatment of the poor and defenseless.

The local bishop asked the new community to establish and take responsibility for a new school: St. John’s College. Soon education, ministry to poor labourers, and apostolic service in foreign missions became the focus of the growing community. Leo guided the growth of the community in such a way as to make it clear that this religious brotherhood was to be a life of active ministry with a profound relationship with God fed by prayer and the Eucharist. Leo died in Brussels, Belgium, on August 12, 1925.

On April 8, 1997, Pope John Paul II declared him “Venerable”. It is a significant stage in the long process toward canonization.