Our Society was founded in Steyl in the Netherlands in 1875 by Arnold Janssen, a diocesan priest, and drawn mostly from German priests and religious exiles in the Netherlands during the church-state conflict called the Kulturkampf, which had resulted in many religious groups being expelled and seminaries being closed in Germany. In 1882, the Society started sending missionaries into China’s Shandong Province, where their aggressive methods were part of the chain of events that led to the Boxer Uprising in the late 1890s. In 1892, missionaries were sent to Togo a small country in west Africa. The Togo mission was particularly fruitful for by 15 years later the Holy See had appointed an Apostolic prefect. The Society’s third mission was to German New Guinea (the northern half of present-day Papua New Guinea). In 1898 a fourth mission to be opened was in Argentina, an historically Catholic country where the Society quickly assumed responsibility for several parishes, schools and also seminaries in four dioceses: Buenos Aires, Santa Fe, La Plata and Paraná all of which are now archdioceses.
In the 20th century the Society further expanded, opening communities in Australia, Botswana (Gaborone, Gumare and Ghanzi), Brazil, Canada (Quebec and Ontario), South Africa (Phalaborwa, Polokwane and Pretoria), the United States of America (Appalachia and Illinois) and Zambia (Kabwe, Livingstone and Lusaka).
Additional European communities were established in Austria (Bischofshofen near Salzburg and Vienna); the Netherlands (Tegelen); Rome; the United Kingdom and in the Silesian area.