The International Formation Center offers an integral program of ongoing Vincentian formation to the members of the Congregation of the Mission. Its aim is to realize the goal of following Jesus Christ the Evangelizer of the poor (Constitutions #1). Our location in Paris enables participants to experience the historical, religious and cultural setting of Saint Vincent’s life and work, and to understand the factors which shaped the history and spirit of the Congregation of the Mission. Visits to “Vincentian Paris” and “Vincentian France” – the places connected with Saint Vincent’s life and mission – create an experience of getting back to our Vincentian roots. Getting to know the world of Monsieur Vincent and the history of the Congregation is balanced by the challenge of understanding and exploring the meaning of our Constitutions and Statues for today’s world, which is remarkably different culturally, economically, politically and religiously from Vincent’s world of 17th century France. The program provides a setting for the personal renewal of each confrere and the formation of an international community. The Eucharist, prayer, personal sharing, celebrations and living together foster a spirit of fraternal communion.
The idea of continuing formation for the Congregation began in the time of Saint Vincent himself. At the first Assembly held during his lifetime, in October 1642, we read:
Next, the Assembly decided two things: (1) that henceforth there would be a second probation, which would take place at Saint-Lazare or wherever else the Superior General would indicate; that it would take place only six or seven years after the seminary, for an interval of one year, without, nevertheless, limiting the power of the Superior General, who can always either delay the six or seven years, or shorten the said year of probation, as he deems advisable for the good of the individual and the need of the Company. (XIII, 295)
Although this was his clear wish and the wish of the Assembly, the time was not ripe for such a program. The Assembly of 1668 spoke to the question, but the members said the time was still not ripe. The Assembly of 1711, however, agreed that the time was then. Consequently, Father Jean Bonnet, Superior General 1711-1735, decided with his council to begin the program on 15 August 1712, at Saint Charles, the former minor seminary on the Saint Lazare property. Ten confreres participated during nine weeks, and at the end, Bonnet reported, they were “very happy and edified,” as were the confreres at Saint Lazare. This “seminary of renewal,” or “seminary of recollection” as it was called, lasted for a few years, but difficult financial problems in France caused its suspension. It seems not to have been revived, although it was often called for even up to 1786. It would take many generations and crises before the General Assembly of 1992 decreed that such a program should begin again. Many times in the previous years, particularly during General Assemblies, the need for ongoing formation had been mentioned. The topic, in general terms, forms part of the Constitutions and Statutes; as art. 81: The formation of our members should be continued and renewed all through life. (Also Statute 42.) The result was that Father Maloney stated, at his election: “We will not discuss the question of a Formation Center any more, we will establish one.” Many confreres have served at CIF since sessions began in 1993: