100 Years of Supporting Seafarers

In October 1920 in Glasgow Apostleship of the Sea (now known as Stella Maris) was established to support seafarers in need. 100 years later we are the largest ship visiting network in the world, providing seafarers with practical and pastoral support, information, and a friend in times of need. Read the story about everything in between.

The Apostleship of the Sea was founded in Glasgow in 1920. At this time Britain had one of the largest merchant fleets in the world, employing many thousands of British seafarers. The Apostleship of the Sea ran large seafarers’ hostels in all the major port towns where seafarers could stay while their ships were in port, often for weeks at a time. Hundreds of volunteers from the local parishes were involved in providing hospitality and entertainment for seafarers in these hostels, which were always full.

Over time the Apostleship of the Sea grew into a world-wide pastoral and welfare organisation with 80 functioning centres by the end of World War II.

 Then globalisation and the drive for greater profit margins, combined with technological advances, changed the face of international shipping forever. Ships became larger, ports moved down river, and turnaround times for ships in port were reduced dramatically. Crews also became smaller, and were increasingly recruited from developing world countries where wages were lower. Owners registered their ships under so-called flags of convenience to avoid stringent regulatory controls.

Today’s seafarer is no longer in port for a few nights, but often only for a few hours. In these changed circumstances Apostleship of the Sea adapted to provide pro-active outreach by way of ship visiting to assess practical needs, backed up by a modern drop-in centre inside the docks, equipped with email terminals and telephones to facilitate contact with loved ones back home whom they may not have seen for nine or even twelve months.

While the nature of our work has evolved, our founding belief that every seafarer deserves fair working conditions, respect for their human rights and the very best we can offer remains at the heart of what we do and to date there are 1,000 chaplains and volunteers in 330 ports across 60 countries from Australia to the USA.

Do you have a connection with Stella Maris?

Whether your story involves visiting seafarers in times of need to recalling support you received at a seafarers centre, your memories are a vital piece of Stella Maris history and we would love to hear them.

Tell us your story

Late 1800s

Various Catholic Seamen’s Missions were in operation under various auspices, catering for the spiritual, social and material welfare of visiting crews in the ports of London, Bootle, Montreal, New York, New Orleans and Melbourne.

In France, the Augustinians of the Assumption had founded the ‘Société des Oeuvres de Mer’ in December, 1894, with the object of bringing medical, material, moral and religious assistance to French seafarers and those of other nations, especially those engaged in the deep-sea fisheries off Iceland, on the Newfoundland Banks and the Faroes Islands. By the late 1890s, a formal program of ship visitation had been inaugurated by the members of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul in many ports in Britain, and other scattered ports around the world

4th October 1920

The first meeting of Apostleship of the Sea took place in Glasgow, Scotland.

The new Apostleship of the Sea was defined as “A society of Catholic men and women united together in prayer and work for the greater glory of God, and the spiritual welfare of seafarers throughout the world”.

Members were encouraged to visit ships and distribute Catholic literature, prayer­, books, beads, and medals.


Approval from the Holy See.

Father Egger sj, Arthur Gannon and Peter Anson submitted the international constitution of Apostleship of the Sea to the Holy See for formal approval.

22nd April 1922

Pope Pius XI gave his approval and blessing of the constitution, with the invitation to develop this Apostolate all over the world.


By the end of World War Two Apostleship of the Sea had 80 centres functioning and an international council established in Rome under the care of the Sacred Consistorial Congregation.

August 1st 1952

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.

November 21st 1957

Apostleship of the Sea granted approval by the Holy See of its Laws and Constitutions. The international movement became known as Apostolatus Maris, named after Mary, the Catholic patron saint of seafarers also known as ‘Our Lady’ and ‘Star of the Sea’.


Apostleship of the Sea became a founding member of the International Christian Maritime Association


Apostolatus Maris, the Apostleship of the Sea, was under the direction of the Vatican through the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrant and Itinerant People.


During the pontificate of Paul VI the Decree came into force which regulated all the Apostleship of the Sea in the world. The final decree given to Apostleship’s of the Sea: “…The peculiar activity, thanks to which it expresses, is organised and developed is the maternal attitude that the church has towards to mariners and seafarers, who cannot enjoy the same pastoral care given by services on the ground”.

November 2012

Pope Benedict spoke at the Apostleship of the Sea’s 23rd World Congress at the Vatican.

“Today too the Church sails across the seas to bring the Gospel to all nations, and your presence in ports throughout the world, your daily visits to ships docked in these ports and the fraternal welcome you give to the crews whilst in port are a visible sign of your concern for those who are not able to receive ordinary pastoral care.”


The Apostleship of the Sea name was updated to Stella Maris to better reflect the way the charity was known by seafarers around the world.

Our History in Images