The Society of Helpers, formerly known as the Society of the Helpers of the Holy Souls, is a Roman Catholic religious congregation of women founded in Paris, France in 1856, with the objective of assisting the souls in Purgatory through their service to the needy of the world. The Sisters use the postnominal initials of "A.P." (French: Auxiliatrices des âmes du purgatoire) in Europe, or, alternately, "H.H.S" in English-speaking countries.
The Society was founded by Blessed Eugenia Smet, A.P. She was educated at the Convent of the Sacred Heart in Lille, where she distinguished herself by her intellectual gifts and devotion to the souls in Purgatory. She went to Paris on January 19, 1856 (the society dates its foundation from this day); three days later, Smet obtained the permission of Archbishop Marie-Dominique-Auguste Sibour to establish her congregation in Paris. On December 27, 1857, the foundress, with five of her first companions, pronounced her first religious vows. A Jesuit was appointed chaplain, and the Rule of St. Ignatius was adopted. The congregation was dedicated to Our Lady of Providence.
The Helpers have worked with the poor and the marginal of their societies since their founding. They work in a variety of ministries, based in Ignatian spirituality, with the goal of working for peace and justice in a lifestyle based in contemplation. Rather than focus on a particular ministry, Smet decided to respond to such needs as presented themselves.
The first branch house was established at Nantes, July, 1864. In 1867 six nuns were conducted by Bishop Adrien Languillat to Shanghai to take charge of an orphanage. In December, 1869, a house was established in Brussels. The Helpers did good work in the ambulances for the wounded of both nations during the Franco-Prussian War. On 25 June, 1878, the constitutions of the order were approved by Pope Leo XIII. From 1874 to 1880 communities were established at Cannes, Orléans, Tourcoing, and Montmartre.
The foundress, Eugénie Smet, was beatified in Rome on May 26, 1957 by Pope Pius XII. Her feast is kept on February 7, the anniversary of her death. As of 2015 they numbered some 500 Sisters in twenty four countries.
In the UK
The first foundation in the UK was in the Archdiocese of Westminster, at 23 Queen Anne Street, Cavendish Square. They removed to Gloucester Avenue, Regent's Park, in 1882. As of 2019 sisters serve in London, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Liverpool and Burnley.
In May, 1892, seven “Helpers” sailed to New York City, and were heartily welcomed by Archbishop Michael Corrigan. The first convent was a very small house in Seventh Avenue; there they laboured for nearly three years, when they removed to 114 East 86th Street. During 1905 a course of lectures on hygiene and first aid to the injured was given. In 1906, they had five houses in the same neighbourhood. Children from the public schools come to the convents for religious instruction and preparation for First Communion and Confirmation. There were sewing classes for girls.
In May 1903, some Helpers were sent to St. Louis, Missouri led by Mother Mary St. Bernard. Archbishop John J. Glennon asked them to work among the African-American community. Home visitation was a major part of the Sisters’ work in North St. Louis.
In 1905, the Sisters went to San Francisco, where they settled in a house in Howard Street, which was destroyed in the earthquake of 1906.
The leadership team of the U.S. Province is located in Chicago. The province produces an annual publication, Voices of Hope.
- "Our Story", Society of Helpers -UK
- One or more of the preceding sentences incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Herbermann, Charles, ed. (1910). "Society of the Helpers of the Holy Souls". Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 7. New York: Robert Appleton. Retrieved 27 June 2019.
- Garside, Charles Brierly. The Helpers of the Holy Souls, London: Burns & Oates, 1874 This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.
- "The society of Helpers of the Holy souls", The Sacred Heart Review, Volume 9, Number 21, 15 April 1893
- Naffziger, Chris. "The last member of the Helpers of the Holy Souls is leaving St. Louis", St. Louis, April 5, 2017
- The Society of Helpers -US Province