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​Missionaries of the Holy Family mark 125th anniversary worldwide

September 10, 2020 | posted by Very Rev. Philip Sosa, MSF

Topics: Vocations

Missionaries of the Holy Family mark 125th anniversary worldwide

The founder of the Congregation of the Missionaries of the Holy Family, Venerable John Berthier, M.S., had these thoughts in mind in the early years: (1) promote the message of Our Lady of La Salette to help people draw closer to the Lord and (2) provide more missionaries for the Church through belated vocations.

The Missionaries of the Holy Family were founded on September 28, 1895 in Grave, Holland. September 28, 2020 marks the 125th anniversary.

In 1908, Venerable Berthier witnessed the ordination of 25 priests. In time, they began sending the priests out to different parts of the world. The history of the Missionaries of the Holy Family (MSF) in the United States then began in 1918.

Father Jacob Bongarts was sent by Father Anthony Trampe, general superior, to seek a place for a mission in 1918, but returned to Grave, Holland without success. In 1923, a friend of Father Trampe, Father Francis Schaefers, who had been a former scholastic with Father Trampe, offered the missionaries a piece of land in Hillman, Minn.

Father Joseph Grundhoff was sent to Minnesota in 1924. Father Trampe followed later and met with Bishop Timothy McNicholas of Duluth. A log cabin on Long Lake was used to celebrate Mass until a mission house and church were built.

Father Trampe then went to San Antonio and met with Archbishop Arthur Drossaerts. He was offered a parish in New Braunfels and later other parishes were offered. His last stop was St. Louis, Missouri where he met with Archbishop John J. Glennon. The congregation was allowed into the Archdiocese of Saint Louis, but was not offered a parish.


On March 7, 1926, Father Anthony Elsing with two other priests and one religious brother arrived in Galveston. They proceeded to San Antonio to meet Archbishop Drossaerts who offered him a house in New Braunfels. A parish was staffed here first, Our Lady of Perpetual Help, and several others followed: Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish in Seguin, Holy Family Parish in New Braunfels, St. Joseph Mission Church in Redwood, and St. John Mission Church in Hunter.

Our largest presence today is in the Archdiocese of San Antonio where we still have three parishes and two mission churches.

The next diocese to invite Father Elsing was Corpus Christi. Our Lady of Victory Church in Beeville was the first parish given to the missionaries in 1929. Bishop Emmanuel Ledvina gave Sacred Heart Parish in Corpus Christi to the missionaries in 1936. Several others were offered and accepted over the next few years.

In 1956, the Diocese of Brownsville offered Saint Joseph Church in Donna to the missionaries. Later, a few more parishes were offered. Many of the parishes also had mission churches which needed to be served. Most of our priests were in Texas, and when vocations began to drop in the 1980s and 1990s, some of our parishes had to be given back to the diocese. We now have only five parishes and three mission churches in North America.


The first priest elected to go to Mexico was Father Charles Zeyen in 1959. His territory was in the Diocese of Saltillo. Several priests were sent to Mexico to open other missions. Father James Lienert was sent to Mexico in 1967 and retired in 2000. He established many mission chapels in the areas he worked. Father Richard Oberstar also served our neighbors to the south, but we no longer have a presence in Mexico.


In May 1974, the provincial presidency approved a proposal to establish a house in Ottawa, Ontario. A house was purchased in June 1975 and named Holy Family House. Father Arthur Ockwood was the director, and Father Dan Hawkins did vocation work. A novitiate house was set up, and on September 1, 1979, it was erected as a canonical house. Due to a decrease in vocations, the house was closed and sold.

Hillman, Minnesota

Father Grundhoff was the first priest to arrive in 1924. The first Masses were held in a cabin on Long Lake. Construction began on a two-story mission house on April 27, 1925 and finished on November 11 of the same year. This served as a residence and a place for Mass. In May 1932, construction of the Holy Family Church began and was completed in November.

The mission house served as a school in 1939. In 1940, it was remodeled and became a scholasticate and novitiate house. In 1943, it returned to only being a mission house, but, in 1957, it became a novitiate house again until 1967. Holy Family Parish was given back to the Diocese of Duluth in 1972.

St. Louis

The first priests to arrive in St. Louis were Father Joseph Whalen and Father John Parr in 1926. The first mission house was on Oakland Avenue, and several priests arrived in 1929.

A large house was acquired in 1933 to accommodate more priests and scholastics on Clayton Road. This residence also served as the first provincial office with Father Joseph Mathey elected as provincial superior in 1948.

In 1944, property for Holy Family Seminary was bought in Overland. It served as a house of studies and a novitiate. In 1957, a high school and college department were added. The seminary served many purposes in its time. However, because of low enrollment, it was closed and sold in 1994. A house of philosophy named after Saint Thomas Aquinas was built in 1959 in Farmington, and it continued in this capacity until 1972.

The provincial office moved to different locations within the Archdiocese of St. Louis. Today, the Missionaries of the Holy Family have one parish in St. Louis, St. Wenceslaus Church, where the missionaries have served since 1960. The second floor of the rectory houses the provincial office.

Visit the website to learn more about the missionaries and their history at