The Missionary Sisters of the Society of Mary are an apostolic congregation dedicated to evangelization. The Congregation is one of the five branches of the Marist Family. It is not a Diocesan congregation, but an Institute of Pontifical Right directly under the Sacred Congregation for the Evangelization of Feoples in Rome. So, the special vocation of the Congregation is to be – Missionary – Marist – Religious.
The Congregation is unusual in that it does not have a founder. Instead, there were eleven lay-women – pioneers – who left France in the middle of the last century in order to share in the missionary work of the Marist Fathers in their new missions in the Pacific.
Francoise Perroton was the first of these. She was born 6 February 1796. Very little is known of her childhood but when she grew up she became a teacher. She was interested in the missions and was a member of the Propagation of the Faith Movement. In the Annals of this Society in 1842, she probably read the appeals of Father Forrest and Father Viard (later Bishop of Wellington), for women and for teachers to come and live among the people of Wallis, to teach them and to help them.
Francoise Perroton felt the call to go to the Pacific, and in May 1845, she asked Commander Marceau of the ship “Arche d’Alliance” to take her to the Pacific. At first he refused, but later in the year, agreed. On 15 November 1845, at the age of 49 years, this valiant woman left France and the security of the world she knew. Nearly one year later, 25 October 1846, the ship arrived in Wallis, bringing the missionary Francoise.
But others did come. Between 1857 and 1860 the next ten pioneers arrived in Oceania. These early missionaries were all lay women and if not already members of the Third Order of Mary, on arrival they were soon eagerly enrolled. They had a Rule, a habit, a vow of obedience to the Bishop, were called ‘Sister’, but they were not yet Religious.
The Pioneers knew that the semi-enclosed life of Sisters in Europe did not suit the Pacific Islands. To remain Missionary and Marist they were prepared to wait until a way of Religious Life that did suit the situation could be adopted, as these dates show:
The SMSM Sisters work in 23 countries where they strive to be links of communication between the people, races and cultures, in order to witness the Gospel and the universality of the Church.