Our History

From humble beginnings in France, to missions around the world

The Priests of the Sacred Heart (SCJ) are known in many areas of the world as “Dehonians,” after our founder, Fr. Leo John Dehon. They are also referred to as “SCJs,” the initials of the official name of the congregation: “Sacerdotum Corde Jesu.”

Our roots are in France, within the crowded factory town of St. Quentin. It is there that our founder was struck by the injustice of poverty and social neglect. His dream was to establish a community committed to continuing Christ’s work of building God’s kingdom of justice and love.

Dehonian priests and brothers have carried the founder’s dream around the world. We are now found in over 40 countries on five continents with our most recent initiatives in places such as Angola, Chad, the Philippines, India, Vietnam, Albania and Ukraine.

What follows are just a few steps along the timeline of the congregation:

July 13, 1877

July 13, 1877

Bishop Thibaudier issues in writing his authorization for Fr. Leo John Dehon to found a religious congregation. The original name of the community was the “Oblates of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.”

June 28, 1878

June 28, 1878

On the feast of the Sacred Heart Fr. Dehon makes his first profession of vows; the congregation begins.

September 14, 1878

September 14, 1878

The first house of the congregation, Maison du Sacré-Coeur, is established in St. Quentin, France. It was the seat of the General Curia until 1903.

June 29, 1880 

The first priest, Fr. Ernest Jacques Herr, is ordained for the congregation.

February 2, 1883

The first house outside of France is established at Sittard (Netherlands). It was an international novitiate and apostolic school.

December 3, 1883

December 3, 1883

The congregation is suppressed; three months later, on March 29, 1884, the Holy See grants authorization to reestablish the congregation but under a new name: “Congregation of the Priests of the Sacred Heart of Jesus” (Prêtres du Sacré-Coeur).

September 15-16, 1886

The first general chapter is held in St. Quentin, France, at St. John’s College.

November 10, 1888

Frs. Grison and Blanc are sent to Ecuador as the congregation’s first missionaries. However, the mission did not take hold and the missionaries were forced to leave. The congregation returned to Ecuador in 1997.

June 12, 1893

June 12, 1893

Ministry begins in northern Brazil; the first house is established in Camaragibe (Pemambuco).

July 6, 1897

July 6, 1897

Frs. Grison and Lux sail to the Congo, arriving in Stanley Falls on October 17, 1897.

April 1, 1903

In the midst of civic anti-clericalism, the French government dissolved its recognition of Catholic religious orders, including the Dehonians. On April 4 the Holy See granted permission for the congregation to transfer its General Curia from France to Brussels.

July 4, 1906

The Holy See approves the congregation definitively, and its Constitutions for ten years.

August 17, 1907

August 17, 1907

The General Council accepts the mission of Finland; however, only four years later its missionaries were forced to leave as all foreign-born priests were expelled by the government. In 1921 the Dehonians were able to return to Finland and continue to minister there today.

September 8, 1907

The congregation begins ministry in Italy with the opening of a school in Albino.

October 6, 1908

The congregation divides into two provinces: the Western and Eastern Provinces.

April, 1910

April, 1910

Four SCJs go to Canada to begin the congregation’s presence in North America. The first house is established in Wainwright, Alberta. This initial effort stalled after a few years but the congregation returned to Canada in 1948, focusing on ministry in Quebec and Ontario.

April 25, 1910

The congregation requests permission from the Holy See to start a mission in Cameroon. German SCJs began ministry there in 1912.

April 8, 1911

April 8, 1911

The Western Province is divided into two: the Dutch and the French-Belgian Provinces. The Eastern Province becomes known as the German Province.

1916

German SCJ missionaries go to Spain. The first house of the congregation is established in 1919 in Puente la Reina, Navarra.

1919

1919

Fr. Fohrman of the German Province goes to the United States to raise funds for the German Province. In 1923 he accepts a mission in Lower Brule, SD, and establishes the first SCJ presence in the United States. The Dehonians continue to minister there today.

May 18, 1920

May 18, 1920

In the presence of Fr. Dehon, the foundation stone of the Church of the Sacred Heart of Christ the King is laid in Rome

December 2, 1920

The Italian Province is created; previously Italian SCJs had been a part of the French-Belgian Province.

December 5, 1923

The Holy See gives final approval to the SCJ Constitutions.

December 27, 1923

December 27, 1923

The apostolic prefecture of Benkoelen on the island of Sumatra is established and entrusted to the Dutch Province. This is the congregation’s first entry into Asia.

August 12, 1925

August 12, 1925

Fr. Leo John Dehon dies in Brussels. The size of the congregation at his death is 696 members plus 76 novices.

October 31, 1926

The General Curia is transferred to Rome.

1927

1927

The former Columbus College in Chamberlain, SD, is purchased by the congregation. It is renovated and becomes St. Joseph’s Indian School, which continues to operate today, with ministries that expand well beyond the school’s campus.

September 1, 1928

With the opening of a house in Cracow the congregation enters Poland.

July 1, 1929

July 1, 1929

Sacred Heart Monastery is dedicated in Hales Corners, Wis. (suburban Milwaukee), by Msgr. Traudt.

October 1, 1930

The French-Belgian Province is divided into the French and the Belgian-Luxembourg Provinces.

April 1, 1932

The Finnish Region is erected and placed under the jurisdiction of the Dutch Province. In 1997, jurisdiction moves to the Polish Province.

April 25, 1934

April 25, 1934

North American Province and the South Brazilian Provinces are established; they were previously under the jurisdiction of the German Province.

1936

The congregation establishes a presence in England.

1938

Dehonians take root in Argentina. Although two Spanish SCJ priests had been in the country since 1936 it was in 1938 that the congregation officially sent two groups, one Dutch and one Italian.

March 12, 1938

The North Brazilian Province is established.

November 9, 1940

The congregation accepts a parish in Montevideo, the first SCJ presence in Uruguay.

1943

1943

St. Joseph’s parish in Holly Springs is entrusted to the Priests of the Sacred Heart; it is the first Dehonian ministry in Mississippi. Now the congregation serves in five northwestern counties of the state through Sacred Heart Southern Missions.

January 10, 1947

Three new provinces are established: the English Province, the Spanish Province and the Polish Province.

March 27, 1947

Italian SCJs begin ministry in Mozambique.

October 17, 1947

The congregation establishes a school on the island of Madeira in Portugal. Later that year the first SCJ house is established in Lisbon.

1948

1948

The US Province sends its first foreign missionaries to Africa.

1950

The congregation officially begins ministry in Chile; SCJs had been in the country since 1948.

1953

The first SCJ house is established in Venezuela (Caracas), by two Spanish priests. The congregation continues to minister there, continuing to live among the people as they face some of their country’s most difficult political, economic and social challenges.

1959

Fr. Joseph DePalma of the US Province is elected as the fifth superior general during the 14th General Chapter. He was the first and only member of the US Province to serve as superior general.

May 1, 1960

The Italian Province is divided into two (North and South).

February 1, 1962

Two vice-provinces are created as offshoots from the North American Province: the Anglo Canadian and French Canadian Vice Provinces. The Indonesian Vice Province is created as an offshoot from the Dutch Province.

July 1, 1964

The Province of Congo is erected, though Dehonians had already served in the country since 1897.

November, 1964

27 Dehonian missionaries are killed during uprisings in Congo. However, the congregation has continued to be with the people of Congo throughout years of civil unrest.

December 27, 1966

The Portuguese Province is erected, separated from the jurisdiction of the North Italian Province.

1968

The new Sacred Heart Monastery/Sacred Heart Seminary and School of Theology campus is dedicated in Hales Corners (Milwaukee), Wis.

1970

The congregation begins ministry in Scotland (Kilwinning).

1973

Our Lady of Guadalupe parish in Houston is entrusted to the Priests of the Sacred Heart; it is one of the oldest parishes in Houston.

1974

Dehonians go to Lesotho to run a technical school in the southern African country.

March 14, 1982

The Holy See approves the text of the new SCJ Constitutions, drafted in accordance with the norms of the Second Vatican Council.

1986

The English as a Second Language program (ESL) is established at Sacred Heart Seminary and School of Theology. Hundreds of students from around the world, including many who serve in leadership positions today, are alumni of the program.

August 1, 1986

Polish SCJs begin ministry in Croatia.

1988

Maison Dehon, the first AIDS hospice in Quebec, opens.

1989

The first feast-day Mass is held at the Sacred Heart Shrine on the grounds of Sacred Heart Seminary and School of Theology.

May 17, 1989

The first SCJs arrive in the Philippines.

July 1, 1990

Polish SCJs begin ministry in Belorus.

December 8, 1990

Polish SCJs begin ministry in Moldova.

November 2, 1991

Dehonians from the South Italian Province begin ministry in Albania.

December 19, 1991

The Province of Chile is established, separated from the jurisdiction of the Dutch Province.

March 14, 1992

The Region of Maranhão is erected, falling under the jurisdiction of the South Brazilian Province

March 14, 1998

The Mozambique Province is established, separated from the jurisdiction of the North Italian Province.

May 10-20, 1994

An international General Conference of the congregation is held at Sacred Heart Monastery in Hales Corners.

October 6, 1994

The SCJ presence begins in India.

November 28, 1994

The regions of Aliwal and De Aar merge to form the South African Province. The SCJ presence in these two regions had been under the jurisdiction of the German Province (Aliwal) and the US Province (De Aar).

November 30, 1995

The Cameroon Province is erected, separated from the jurisdiction of the French Province.

January 1, 1996

The Austria-Croatia Region is erected, falling under the jurisdiction of the German Province.

August 1, 1996

Polish SCJs begin ministry in Slovakia.

August 1, 1997

Polish SCJs begin ministry in Ukraine.

May 1, 1999

The District of India is established, and the French and Luxembourg-Walloon Provinces merge to become the Franco-European Province.

May 31, 1999

The Philippine District is erected.

March 11, 2001

Blessed Mariano Juan de la Cruz García Méndez, an SCJ priest killed during the Spanish Civil War, becomes the first Dehonian beatified.

June 7, 2002

The two provinces of Canada merge to become the Canadian Region.

March 15, 2003

Dehonians begin ministry in Angola.

August 17, 2003

The Venezuelan Region is erected as an entity separate from the Spanish Province.

February 17, 2004

Dehonians establish a presence in Vietnam.

August 14, 2010

The congregation begins ministry in Paraguay.

October 10, 2010

The congregation begins ministry in Chad; the presence falls under the jurisdiction of the Cameroon Province.

2011

The SCJ wing of Sacred Heart at Monastery Lake opens.

2012

The public apartments at Sacred Heart at Monastery Lake are opened for rental to those 55 and above.

May, 2015

Fr. Heiner Wilmer, SCJ, is elected the 10th superior general of the Priests of the Sacred Heart.

August, 2015

Fr. Edward Kilianski, SCJ, is elected as the 15th provincial superior of the US Province of the Priests of the Sacred Heart.

May, 2016

Fr. Francis Vu Tran, SCJ, former member of the US Province, is named district superior of the Vietnam District of the Priests of the Sacred Heart.

July, 2016

 SCJs from around the world lead youth groups to Poland for World Youth Day. Prior to the official activities, hundreds of Dehonian youth spent time together, hosted by the Polish Province.

August, 2016

Dehonians in Canada sponsor a Syrian refugee family in Ottawa.

November, 2017

Archbishop Christophe Pierre, apostolic nuncio to the United States, is the main presenter at SHSST’s Dehon Lecture.