The Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest
By Losana Boyd
The Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest had its origins in France in 1990, and was officially founded in Africa. The Institute continues to grow steadily throughout its native France, as well as in apostolates in Africa, Europe and the United States. The fundamental spirit guiding the Institute’s work is to faithfully serve the universal Church, especially through its charism of exclusive use of the Extraordinary Form of the Mass.
“We go where we are called,” explains Canon Jason Apple, an American priest of the Institute. After Pope Benedict’s 2007 Motu Proprio, many parishes throughout Europe and America have turned to the Institute for their great reverence and spirituality in the Mass, out of a deep desire to reclaim the heritage of Catholicism.
Through the universality of the Roman Church, the Institute has brought the spiritual tradition and heritage of France to eleven countries around the world. The Institute further expresses the longtime friendship and cultural ties between France and the USA. In the namesake city of the great French Saint Louis IX, in Missouri, within the Archdiocese of St. Louis, the Institute houses the St. Francis de Sales Oratory.
The Institute’s French Character
With all this international focus, how much of its native French character does the Institute retain? Quite a bit, it seems. Currently, the Institute has eighty seminarians and seventy three priests, and more than 40 percent are from France.
“We are first of all Roman,” clarifies Canon Brieuc de La Brosse, a native Briton and a priest of the Institute at their seminary in Gricigliano, Italy. “Then we are French in keeping the classical way of life in our community.”
“There is a quality of French refinement present in our life here,” the American Canon Apple continues. Though gastronomy and wine-making are well-known areas of French expertise, there are other important national characteristics, as well.
Love of defending the truth, Canon Apple says, is one such trait. The rooster is the symbol for France and represents the willingness to fight for the truth. Historically, French Catholics have had to fight hard for their faith, and perhaps it is true that we value most what we have to strive for. The French are always glad for a challenge, the Canons acknowledge with a smile.
The belief that nothing is impossible also imbues the French spirit. The founding of the Institute itself, in spite of seemingly insurmountable obstacles, is a classic example of this spirit. To illustrate, towards the beginning of the foundation, the superiors even had to sell a car to buy food for the seminarians, dwelling in the beautiful but crumbling Italian villa donated to the Church by the Martelli family.
French Catholic Spirituality
Catholic spirituality has particularly deep roots in France. Often referred to as the eldest daughter of the Church, France claims as its own sons and daughters a vast number of great saints, from Joan of Arc to St. Martin, St. Therese of Liseux, to the Institute’s own patron, St. Francis de Sales.
Salesian spirituality — encouraging prayer as the foundation for a life of truth and charity — guides the daily life of the Institute. St. Francis de Sales wrote the classic “Introduction to the Devout Life” in 1608 to great and continued success.
The French also have an exceptionally strong devotion to Our Lady. ‘Notre Dame,’ after all, is an international expression for the Mother of God. Of the nine major approved Marian apparitions, four have occurred in France: in Rue de Bac, La Salette, Lourdes, and Pontmain. An annual pilgrimage to Lourdes with Cardinal Burke is a revered Institute tradition.
In keeping with this French reverence for Mary, the Institute is consecrated to the patronage of the Immaculate Conception, and all the Marian feast days are celebrated with great honor and devotion. The Month of Mary, while originating in Italy, flowered in the heart of France and is well celebrated at the Institute.
French Family Life and Language
As well, there is the cherished importance of the family, and the Institute fosters this spirit of healthy family engagement and interaction.
“Through my exposure to the Institute’s apostolates, I saw the life of the priests together as a very charitable, brotherly life. This was very appealing and attractive. Living my priesthood in the spirit of community, of family, is very important to me,” said Canon La Brosse.
The language of the house is French, and all seminarians must learn French as well as Latin, in their formation.
“It was humbling,” recalls an American seminarian, who now speaks French with ease. “All these lofty ideas were in my head and I couldn’t express them. I was reduced to very simple communication of my needs, and had to rely on the charity of my brothers to help me.”
“A common language fosters a spirit of unity,” explains Canon Apple. The sharing and support for each other is essential for building community life.
The Vietnamese mystic Marcel Van was instructed by Our Lord and St. Thérèse to pray especially for France. This prayer for France, from his book of Conversations, could be said to guide the Institute’s work, as well: “Lord Jesus, have compassion for France, deign to embrace them with Your Love and show them all Your tenderness. Filled them with Love for You, help them to contribute in making You loved in all the nations on earth. O Love of Jesus, we hereby pledge to be faithful to You forever and to work with an ardent heart in order to spread Your Kingdom through the universe. Amen.”