Roman Catholic Church: Bethlehem Mission Society

Roman Catholic Church

Bethlehem Mission Society

The origins of the Bethlehem Mission Society go back to the French Catholic priest, Pièrre-Marie Barral who founded the “Apostolic School Bethlehem” in Immensee, Switzerland in 1896.  Its original purpose was to educate boys from poorer families for service in Europe’s abandoned parishes.  In 1907, Canon Peter Bondolfi, with a committee of clergy and laity, took over the school with the intention of training priests for missionary service wherever they were most needed.  The initiative was part of a broader wave of missionary fever that took hold of the Catholic Church following WWI.

By Papal decree, on May 30, 1921 the Institute of Immensee became the “Swiss Seminary for Foreign Missions.”  Father Bondolfi was its first superior general.  Since 1934 the institution has been known as “The Society for Foreign Missions of Bethlehem in Switzerland” (Societas Missionaria de Bethlehem in Helvetia).  It is more commonly referred to simply as the Bethlehem Mission Society (SMB) or Swiss Bethlehem Fathers.