Moved by compassion for the poor, especially those living in the country districts, who at that time formed a considerable section of the population, St. Alphonsus Maria de Liguori, in the year 1732, at Scala in the Kingdom of Naples, founded the Congregation of Missionaries of the Most Holy Saviour. Afterwards (1749), it came to be called the Congregation of Missionaries of the Most Holy Redeemer. These missionaries, after the example of the Redeemer himself, were to preach the Gospel to the poor: "He sent me to preach the Gospel to the poor" (Luke 4,18).
Alphonsus, with his companions, among whom St. Gerard Majella was outstanding, strove to come to the relief of the spiritual needs, at that time, of the poor of the country districts. These he sought to assist, especially by means of missions, spiritual exercises and renewals, after the manner of St. Paul (Acts 15,36).
But he felt an ardent desire, too, to preach the Gospel to non-Christians in Africa and Asia, as he often wrote in his letters, and to Christians separated from the Catholic Church, as for example, the Nestorians living in Mesopotamia. He took pains to enkindle this apostolic zeal in his sons, proposing in the Constitutions a special vow obliging them to preach the Gospel to non-believers (1743). This vow however was suppressed in Rome by those who revised them.
Alphonsus could never be shaken in the belief that his Congregation, under the protection of the Most Blessed Virgin Mary, would labour vigorously together with the Church in the task of winning the world for Christ. Hence, with all his might he exerted himself to secure the spread of the Congregation. He sought to give it interior strength by means of a vow of perseverance (1740) and simple vows. He strove to have it officially recognized by the supreme authority of the Church. In this last he finally succeeded when the Supreme Pontiff, Benedict XIV, on the 25th of February, 1749, solemnly approved both the Institute and it Constitutions and Rule.
From that time onwards the confreres took simple vows recognized by pontifical authority. With the apostolic constitution "Conditae a Christo" of Pope Leo XIII (8 Dec. 1900), these simple vows obtained the character of public religious vows.
Due in a special way to the untiring zeal of St. Clement Mary Hofbauer († 1820), "a man with a wonderful strength of faith and possessed of the virtue of invincible constancy," our Congregation spread beyond the Alps where it found new fields for its apostolic zeal. There also, with the assent of St. Alphonsus, who was informed of the matter, it adopted new missionary methods.
By degrees, the Congregation began to expand through the regions of Europe and from there, due to the enterprise of Father Amand Joseph Passerat († 1858), it crossed the ocean and extended through the Americas where it found an energetic apostle in St. John Nepomucene Neumann. It spread through other regions as well, till at last its boundaries extended to the limits of the world itself.
In this way the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer gradually entered different fields of apostolic activity, devoting itself to missionary work among the faithful, among non-Christians and those separated from the Catholic Church.
Urged on by the same missionary spirit, it fosters, too, the scientific study of pastoral practice, thus following in the steps of St. Alphonsus who, in 1871, was declared a Doctor of the Church and, in 1950, the Patron of all Confessors and Moralists. It aims also to propose a way, suited to the changing conditions of our times, that gives sure guidance in responding to the Gospel and acquiring Christian perfection.
All the members, therefore, striving to carry on the missionary work of the Most Holy Redeemer and the apostles, put forth their most earnest efforts to preserve the spirit of their holy founder, Alphonsus. They ever identify themselves with the energetic missionary activity of the Church, especially in everything that has reference to the poor, and devote all their powers to relieving the needs of the world today.
(The Petition of Alphonsus de Liguori and his companions to the Pope,asking for his approbation of the Institute and its Rules 1748)
Alphonsus de Liguori, a priest from Naples, with his companions who are also missionary priests, united under the title of the Most Holy Saviour, humbly bring to your Holiness' attention:
that the petitioner, having dedicated many years to the holy missions as a brother of the Apostolic Missions, worked in the Cathedral of Naples, and having felt deeply the great abandonment in which the poor find themselves in great areas of the Kingdom, especially the rural areas, has joined with the aforesaid priests, who have been his companions since 1732, under the direction of the late Mons. Falcoia, bishop of Castellamare, in order to dedicate themselves to help the rural poor by means of missions, instructions and other (ministerial exercises). These are the most in need of spiritual help, as frequently they have no one to administer to them the Holy Sacrament or the Word of God; their plight is such that many, for lack of (apostolic) labourers, reach death's door without knowing anything at all of the necessary truths of the faith. This is because the number of priests who dedicate themselves expressly to the care of the poor farmers is few, due to the expense involved and, even more, to the trouble such a work entails.
For these reasons, the suppliants have, for some time, been helping these poor folk with missions, searching out the rural areas and the most abandoned places of the six provinces of the Kingdom (of Naples), with such success everywhere that when His Majesty the King himself heard of this work, and especially the work undertaken for the benefit of the numerous shepherds of Apulia, he issued various decrees which granted them an annual subsidy to maintain their work, recommending it as most useful for the general good of the Kingdom. The most eminent Archbishop of Naples himself, who governs his Church with such zeal, has seen fit to summon these suppliants to help him give missions in the small towns of his diocese.
To fulfill this objective, the suppliants, with the canonical approbation of the Ordinaries and the permission of the King, have united to live together in some houses or retreats, located outside the populated areas, in various parts of the Kingdom, such as the dioceses of Salerno, Bovino and Nocera, and most recently, in the diocese of Conza, in which the suppliants have, with the apostolic consent of the Sacred Congregation of Bishops and religious, been given the Church of St. Mary, Mater Domini, with an adjoining house, together with a benefice of the clergy of the Caposele area and some rents assigned to them by various benefactors, most notably the Archbishop of the said diocese. These houses, besides being residences for the suppliants who have continually preached missions, also provide an opportunity for the people from the rural areas where they have taken part in a mission, to renew their confession and rekindle their fervour through devout preaching.
In these same houses, close spiritual exercises have been given several times during the year, sometimes for ordinands, as well as for pastors and priests sent by their bishops, and sometimes for the laity as well. This has proved to be of great benefit to them as well as to the others, because the priests, after being renewed by these exercises, have become worthy ministers of the Church for the good of their parishioners. All of this work goes on without interruption, giving ever-greater assistance and positive benefit to the people.
The Lord has greatly blessed this work, not only with the conversion of many abandoned souls and with the good done in the rural areas where the suppliants have laboured, but also with a growing number of candidates who, up to now, have been joining their association, which at this moment numbers nearly forty members.
Most Holy Father, this is the actual state of this new work. But if Your Holiness does not see fit to grant us your apostolic approbation, the mission will not be able to continue its favourable advance. For that reason, this suppliant and his companions, prostrate at your feet, beg you, for the love that your Holiness has for the glory of Jesus Christ and for the spiritual health of so many rural people who are the most abandoned children of the Church of God, to bestow your apostolic approval on them so that the aforementioned association be erected and constituted as a Congregation of secular priests under the title of the Most Holy Saviour, always subject to the jurisdiction of the local ordinaries, like the Congregation of the Fathers of the Missions and of the Pious Workers, but with the special character of having their houses outside the populated areas and in the midst of the most needy dioceses, so as to dedicate themselves better to the service of the rural people and to be more available to them in their need.
Deign also to approve the Rule that in its own time will be placed at your feet, in the expectation that Your Holiness, who has so much zeal for the good of souls, particularly for those poor rural people, (as is evident from the circular letter sent to the bishops of the Kingdom of Naples, insisting that they help in every way possible with the holy missions), will deign, through your supreme authority, to give stability to this work which is not only very useful but very necessary to help so many poor souls who live deprived of spiritual aid in the rural parts of this Kingdom.
And they shall have it as a the grace of God.
In Naples, after much prayer and consultation to help him discern clearly.... he came to understand that he had to return to Scala. Surely there was poverty in Naples as well..., but there were many others there that could help the poor escape from their place as society's marginalized. In Scala, the poor were alone, with no one to help them...,totally abandoned. During St. Alphonsus' time, these shepherds and country peasants were the most downtrodden group in society: "they were not considered men as other men..., they were the disgrace of nature." It was because of their lot in life that St. Alphonsus chose to be at their side, to share his life with them and to bring to them, in abundance, the Word of God.
The Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer was St. Alphonsus Liguori's response to the call he experienced coming from Jesus through the poor... The Year 1730, Alphonsus was exhausted from his missionary labors. His doctors ordered him to get some rest and breathe some clean mountain air. With a few of his companions, he went to Scala, on the Amalfi coast south of Naples. High up in the mountains was the Sanctuary of Santa Maria dei Monti, a perfect place for rest, a perfect place for contemplation near the Mother of Our Lord: mountain heights, beauty, and below, the sea....
But, Scala also meant poverty. In the mountains there lived groups of shepherds who came to the missionaries asking them for the Gospel, the Word of Life. Alphonsus was surprised at their hunger for the Word of God and recalled the words of the prophet: "The babes cry for food, but there is no one to give it to them" [Lam 4:4]. His first biographer tells us that when Alphonsus left Scala, a part of his heart remained with these shepherds and that he would weep thinking of how he could help them.
On November 9, 1732, in his beloved Scala, St. Alphonsus Liguori founded the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer to follow the example of our Savior Jesus Christ announcing the Good News to the poor. He was 36 years old. His life became one of mission and service to the most abandoned. The Congregation was approved by Benedict XIV on February 25, 1749.
Redemptorist Missionaries continue the charism of Alphonsus in the Church and in society. "Strong in faith, rejoicing in hope, burning with charity, on fire with zeal, in humility of heart and persevering in prayer, Redemptorists as apostolic men and genuine disciples of Saint Alphonsus follow Christ the Redeemer with Hearts full of joy; denying themselves and always ready to undertake what is demanding and challenging, they share in the mystery of Christ and proclaim it in Gospel simplicity of life and language, that they may bring to people Plentiful Redemption" (Redemptorist Constitutions, No. 20).
Redemptorists live in missionary communities, always welcoming and prayerful, like Mary of Nazareth. By means of missions, retreats, parish ministry, ecumenical apostolates, the ministry of reconciliation and the teaching of Moral Theology, they proclaim the love of God our Father which in Jesus "dwelt amongst us" so as to become profound mercy and The Word of Life which nourishes the human heart and gives life meaning so as to live it to the fullest in freedom and solidarity with others. And, like Alphonsus, Redemptorists make a very clear option for the poor affirming their dignity and greatness before God and believing that the Good News of Our Lord is meant in a special way for them.
There are over 5,500 Redemptorists; they work in 77 countries on all 5 continents helped by many men and women who collaborate in their mission and together form the Redemptorist Family. "Our Lady of Perpetual Help" is the missionary icon of the Congregation.