The Apostleship of the Sea is the Catholic Church’s Missionary work to the seafarers whether they be on merchant, passenger, war or fishing vessels. While the Church has always been interested in seafarers since Christ first gathered his fishermen-disciples around him, the modern movement began in the 1890s with several isolated and independent beginnings.
In 1891 the Apostolate of Prayer first posted devotional magazines and books from Wimbledon College to 12 ships and began enrolling seafarers in this pious association. The seafarer section eventually became known as the Apostleship of the Sea.
Two years later, The Society of St. Vincent de Paul commenced visiting seafarers in the ports of Bristol, Sunderland, and Tyneside. In the same year a Catholic Seafarers’ Centre opened in Montreal – ” a snug little kingdom up two pairs of stairs”
In 1920, Catholic port ministry was started and developed in Glasgow, Scotland, by Archbishop Donald Macintosh, Arthur Gannon, and Peter Anson, who were concerned about the lack of witness the Church was showing aboard ship.
Two years later they approached Pope Pius XI who bestowed his blessing on the ministry and encouraged the Apostleship of the Sea to extend its mission to the oceans and shores of all the hemispheres. The Apostolic Constitution of 1952, “Exsul Familia” raised the Apostolate from special work of the St. Vincent de Paul to an official, missionary work of the Church. Its headquarters moved to Rome.
In every major country, a Bishop serves as the AOS Episcopal promoter, overseeing the work of the national director. It is the director’s responsibility to co-ordinate the individual chaplain’s efforts and to assist them in developing their ministries.
Additionally, the National Director’s office serves as a communication centre which produces a newsletter, establishes and maintains rapport with organisations protecting the seafarer’s interests, and appeals to the dioceses for port chaplains.
Each country hosts an annual conference. Tying all these national conferences together is the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People.
Because the Apostleship of the Sea’s “parishioners” move around the world, it is necessary that their pastors be in touch with one another. The World Congress held every five years (last one in Gdynia, Poland, 2007) mandated by the Apostolatus Maris office at Palazzo San Calisto, Vatican City, ensures this connection between the countries, and updates and disseminates the commission’s policies.
Short History of The Apostleship of The Sea, Australia
In Australia, it has a long history. In 1902, Fr Patrick May established a Conference of the Society of St Vincent de Paul which later became known as St Augustine’s Conference for Seafarers. In 1904, he addressed a congress of the St Vincent de Paul Society in Melbourne and the members passed a resolution that “Seamen’s Conferences be established in all ports of call in Australia.”
In 1905, Seamen’s Conferences started in Brisbane and in 1906, they started in Sydney. Other port parishes followed.
Later, in 1922, Pope Pius XI approved the first constitution of the movement, known as Apostleship of the Sea. Initial work included visiting Catholic seafarers, providing them with literature and bringing them in contact with the Catholic priest. Praying for seafarers was a strong practice those days.