ARCHBISHOP LIVINHAC (1846-1922)
MISSIONARY OF AFRICA (WHITE FATHER),
FOUNDER OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH IN BUGANDA,
BISHOP OF PACANDO, ARCHBISHOP OF OXYRHYNCUS,
SUPERIOR GENERAL OF THE MISSIONARIES OF AFRICA
This French missionary was from
the diocese of Rodez in the South of France. He was born on the 13th
July 1846 into a very devout Christian family of the hamlet of Ginals,
in the parish of Buzeins. Baptised Auguste Simon Léon
Jules, he was called Léon. His parents were the owners of a fine
Aveyron farm that they ran with the help of day labourers. They had
three children, Léon, his older sister and his younger brother.
The early death of their father and then of their mother, when Léon
was 6 years old disrupted the happy lives of the three children. From
then on, their education was provided by a grandmother and two aunts,
under the watchful eye of a grand-uncle, the parish priest of Bonneterre.
Léon experienced the be-reavement of his parents in early childhood
as a deep wound. It would be even more so in January 1871 when his only
brother, a former Pontifical Zouave was killed defending France from
Prussia. As a man of duty with a pensive sad look, later on he would
prove to be sceptical faced with the unknown. Possibly due to his rural
background, he did like a simple lifestyle, but was disinclined to new
(Explanation of the photo with the mouse and click
From 1855 till 1860, Léon attended primary school
run by the Brothers of the Christian Schools at Saint Geniez. During
this time, he proved to be a shy and delicate child, but applied himself
well to studying. Well-behaved and pious, he received the Sacrament
of Confirmation before his First Communion, contrary to the practice
of the times. As his health was delicate, he was not equipped for physical
exertion. Nothing would indicate, therefore, that he would one day be
a missionary or even a priest; his family had intended him to become
a farmer and his younger brother a member of the clergy.
After primary school, Léon was enrolled at Saint
Denis, the diocesan college at Saint Geniez. However, he was not at
ease there. His health suffered as a result. Affected by paralysis in
the legs, he was obliged to return home to his family at Ginals. During
his convalescence, he confided in the parish priest, Fr. Malet, who
detected a priestly vocation in him; he then received catching up lessons
for Latin. Finally recovered in 1861, Léon returned to college,
this time as a pupil in the Greco-Latin section, in view of priestly
train-ing. His progress was such that he was able to skip a class in
the 1862 new school year. Throughout his secondary schooling, he lived
at the home of a 'Béate', a member of a pious association of
October 1867 aged 21, he entered the major seminary of Rodez.
This seminary, run by the Sulpicians, at that time numbered almost three
hundred seminarians! Léon first studied philosophy then theology.
Later, he would acknowledge that there had been gaps in his studies;
he would never fill them. His spiritual director was Father Georjon,
superior of the seminary. Among his classmates were the future Bishop
Gély of Mende and Bishop Garriguet, Superior General of the Sulpicians.
Léon received the tonsure in May 1869 and Minor Orders the following
year, in June. His vocation would take an unexpected turn in 1871
In the autumn, he met a Missionary of Africa, Father Charmetant
(1844-1921), a warm and kind person, sent to the seminary of Rodez by
Archbishop Lavigerie (1825-1892) of Algiers. This last-mentioned French
prelate had founded a Missionary Society in 1868 to evangelise the African
continent. Since then, he scouted French seminaries for candidates for
his ambitious project. Léon took an interest, but hesitated to
commit himself. In fact, certain Church circles criticised this famed
project that had only one charitable work, a poor orphanage set up at
Maison Carrée near Algiers, which was also the first motherhouse
of the Missionaries of Africa.
by his friend Father Charbonnier (1842-1888), Léon finally
made his decision after his ordination to the diaconate (May 1872).
He applied to Archbishop Lavigerie on the 26th February 1873, thus delaying
his ordination to the priesthood. At the end of March, Léon,
accompanied by his classmate Auguste Moncet (1849-1889), arrived at
Maison Carrée. He began his novitiate on the 6th April and a
week later was clothed in the missionary habit of Archbishop Lavigerie
(gandoura, chechia and Rosary). As Master of Novices, he had Father
Terrasse (1831-1922), a Jesuit who introduced him to the practice
of Ignatian spirituality.
Archbishop Lavigerie, highly impressed by this model
novice, ordained him to the priesthood on the 12th October 1873.
On the same day, he appointed him to the scholasticate (the
major seminary of the Missionaries of Africa.) Father Léon would
be Vice-Rector, bursar and professor of dogmatic theology, without having
completed either his novitiate or his theological studies. Listed as
number 22 in the register of admissions, he took his Missionary Oath
on the 7th April 1874. Moreover, a few months later, on the 12th October
1874, he was even then elected a member of the General Council during
the first General Chapter of the Missionaries of Africa, known as the
Founding Chapter in view of the importance of its decisions. On that
occasion, Archbishop Lavigerie appointed him Treasurer General of the
Society, poor in financial resources, but rich in personal generosity.
At that time, it comprised 43 Fathers and 9 Brothers, forming fifteen
communities disseminated throughout Algeria.
At the end of December 1874, Archbishop Lavigerie sent
Father Livinhac to Paris to set up a procurement office, the first in
Europe. However, eight weeks later, the Father was already back with
the excuse that he lacked the aptitudes for this kind of responsibility.
Indeed, throughout his life, he would feel repugnance for the exercise
of authority. In mid-February of 1875, Archbishop Lavigerie appointed
him to the community of Ouadhias in Kabylia. Much content, Father Livinhac
had his first missionary experience there in direct contact with the
people: he studied Kabyle, taught some children, treated the sick and
visited the villagers. However, his contentment would only last a few
months. On the 24th August 1875, he was once again back in Maison Carrée
to be Rector of the scholasticate. While Rector, he taught moral theology,
composed a Kabyle grammar and drafted a Rule of Life, used from then
on by hundreds of young confreres. This Rule was a summary of the missionary
thinking of the Founder. In 1876, Father Livinhac preached a retreat
for the first time to his confreres in the presence of Archbishop Lavigerie.
That same year, the murder by Tuareg of three of his
confreres on the way to Timbuktu reminded him that missionary life implies
the gift of self even to martyrdom. His mandate as Councillor was renewed
at the 1877 General Chapter.
Even though he obtained the most votes, Archbishop Lavigerie refused
to place him at the head of his Society. Father Livinhac was not unhappy
about it. Indeed, a few months later in March 1878, he would
be appointed to head the first caravan setting out for the high plateaux
of equatorial Africa. Pope Leo XIII (1810-1903), had confided the evangelisation
of this immense region to the Society of Missionaries of Africa.
Livinhac remained in equatorial Africa from 1878 till 1889, more particularly
on the shores of Lake Victoria in pitiful material conditions with interminable
treks on foot and uncomfortable travel by dugout canoe. He survived
two shipwrecks, one by a storm the other by a hippopotamus. During this
pe-riod, he and his colleagues Fathers Lourdel (1853-1890), Girault
(1853-1941), Barbot (1846-1882) and Brother Amans Delmas, all French,
founded the Catholic Church in Buganda, scrupulously applying the instructions
of Archbishop Lavigerie. Their success would make them models for their
confreres to follow.
Obliged by the circumstances, they founded this Church at the Court
of this African Kingdom itself, previously very powerful, but then prey
to the tensions created by Western and Arab presence. These
tensions, based on commercial and religious politicking, would give
rise to fearful violence among the Baganda (inhabitants of Buganda);
that would lead to a civil, religious and colonial war in 1892. Precisely
for security reasons, at the start of 1883, Father Livinhac set up
his residence at Kamoga, in Bukumbi, a region south of Lake Victoria.
Ultimately, he himself would spend little time in Buganda, that is,
from June 1879 till November 1882 and a few months in 1886, 1888 and
his appointment as Vicar Apostolic of the Victoria-Nyanza Vicariate
in June 1883, he lived at Maison Carrée, where on the 14th
September 1884, Archbishop Lavigerie ordained him Titular Bishop
of Pacando. Afterwards, having attended the 8th General Chapter, he
returned to equatorial Africa in May 1885. In Buganda he discovered
a very tense situation. The Kabaka (King) Mwanga, (1866-1903),
had become hostage to rivalries among Court witchdoctors, Arab traders,
Anglicans and Catholics. Each faction sought his conversion, the greater
to monopolise the country.
1886, Bishop Livinhac was present at the heroic deaths of the Baganda
Martyrs who had chosen to remain faithful to the Christian faith; they
had refused to obey the orders of Mwanga who sought to test the loyalty
of his servants in his way, in accordance with customary rights. At
that time, Bishop Livinhac wrote a Luganda grammar to make it easier
for his confreres to learn this language. On the 24th August 1887,
at Kipalapala, he ordained his friend Father Charbonnier bishop,
as he had been appointed Vicar Apostolic of Tanganyika Vicariate. This
was the first ordination to the episcopate in equatorial Africa
Map where are Kamoga et Kipalapala
Whitsunday the 25th May 1890, at Kamoga, he ordained his successor
Father Hirth (1854-1931), to the episcopate. He was from Alsace
and had been his pupil. In fact, in September 1889, during the 10th
General Chapter, he had been elected Superior General - an election
that he received with little enthusiasm. On the 19th September 1890,
accompanied by fourteen young Baganda, he landed at Marseilles just
in time to attend the September Paris Anti-slavery Congress. Added
to that, he visited the Vatican, bringing with him the fourteen Baganda.
On the 5th November 1890, Archbishop Lavigerie installed him as Superior
General, aged 46. When Archbishop Lavigerie offered to make him his
coadjutor, he refused, in order to devote himself to his new task. His
confreres appreciated him very much for his kindness and firmness, and
he would be re-elected Superior General
by the 1894, 1900 and 1906 General Chapters and Superior General for
life, for him reluctantly, in the 1912 Chapter. Afterwards,
he would even then take part in the 1920 General Chapter.
Bishop Livinhac led the Society of Missionaries of
Africa in collaboration with the Congregation for the Propagation of
the Faith until his death in 1922, a period of 33 years, coinciding
with the carving up of the African continent among European powers.
By this fact, he can be considered as the second founder of the Society,
but without doubt less flamboyant than the first. He led it on behalf
of the General Chapters with the help of four Councillors, including
his successor Father Voillard, (1860-1946), French. His first three
years as Superior were still very much influenced by the presence of
Archbishop Lavigerie, then involved in the Anti-slavery Campaign. This
Campaign would have serious repercussions for his missionaries in equatorial
Africa; it would give rise to the ire of Arab traders against their
Missions and would force them, sooner than foreseen, to yield their
privileged place to the colonial powers, a place linked with being the
first to settle in this part of the African continent.
It was only after the death of the Founder in November
1892 that Bishop Livinhac truly became Superior General, with powers
and responsibilities; before that date, he was only 'Vicar General'
like his predecessors. He then wrote to his confreres a sentence that
succinctly summarised his attitude towards the future: "Now we
have to follow the usual pattern of Congregations that have lost their
Founder: each one of us, in his greater or lesser sphere, must become
a man of initiative, while at the same time avoiding anything that would
not be in conformity with the Rules and orders received from above."
Under the direction of Bishop Livinhac, the Society
of Missionaries of Africa would undergo an ex-traordinary expansion
following on the rapid increase of its membership. Whereas in 1892 it
numbered 3 Bishops, 185 Fathers and 64 Brothers, in 1922 there were
16 Bishops, 674 Fathers and 180 Brothers. Thanks to this increase, Bishop
Livinhac was able to open promotion and formation houses in Canada,
Luxembourg, Belgium, Great Britain, Germany, Italy and even Argentina.
He was also able to multiply foundations in Africa and organise the
evangelisation of new regions such as Rwanda, Burundi and French Sudan.
The 3 Vicariates and 3 Pro-Vicariates of 1892 would become 13 Vicariates
Administrative and financial reforms would be instituted.
Bishop Livinhac gave his Society Constitutions (1908), and a Directory
(1914), approved by the Holy See. Anxious to create a family spirit,
he encouraged the publication of several magazines for the use of confreres:
Chronique Trimestrielle 1879-1909, Rapports Annuels from 1905, and Petit
Echo, the bulletin launched in 1912, promoting the sharing of experience
While Superior General, he wrote 133 circulars to his
confreres in which he showed himself to be a spiri-tual master, very
much influenced by the ideas of Saint Ignatius of Loyola, (1491-1556).
With great confidence in Providence and a fervent devotion to the Virgin
Mary, he demanded obedience from his confreres to the Sovereign Pontiff.
According to him, the success of evangelisation depended on the holiness
of the missionary. He corresponded personally with every confrere. He
thus became the father of a very united missionary family. Outside the
Society, he managed to create Catholic interest worldwide for Africa
by a well organised missionary promotion programme.
During his time as Superior, Bishop Livinhac had to
face several challenges. The first was the sharing of property and responsibilities
between the Society of Missionaries of Africa and the Archdiocese of
Algiers. The second challenge concerned the Catholic Church in Buganda.
Its existence had been at risk following on the dramatic events of January
1892, when Anglicans, supported by London, took power by crushing the
Catholics. On that occasion, the Missionaries of Africa were accused
of being secret agents, sometimes of Paris and sometimes of Berlin.
Bishop Livinhac succeeded in rising to the challenge by finding a solution
that satisfied all parties. From then on, he would try hard to internationalise
his Society a little more, given that it had remained very French. The
colonial powers demanded of missionaries in their colonies the same
nationality as their Western rulers. Tensions between colonial powers
would ultimately provoke the First World War (1914-1918).
This would have serious consequences for the Society
of Missionaries of Africa: its activities would function at a slower
pace for several years and among its members called up for active service,
60 would be killed, 29 would be grievously wounded and 42 would change
direction in life as a result. Bishop Livinhac succeeded in restoring
his Society from this human disaster. In 1904, he once again faced another
challenge tied to the anticlerical policy of the French government that
threatened the very existence of the Society of Missionaries of Africa.
This challenge, that gave rise to many anxieties, would meet an unexpected
solution when the French government abandoned its anticlerical policy
a few years later.
Livinhac had the ear of Pope Benedict XV (1854-1922). Even some
of his ideas were taken up
by him in his missionary encyclical Maximum Illud, published in November
1919. In this encyclical, the Pope emphasised the rejection of European
nationalisms, the need to form local clergy and the importance of collaboration
between Missionary Institutes and Vicariates in Mission countries. In
this context, in June 1920, he beatified the Baganda Martyrs, whose
cause had been introduced in 1912. Bishop Livinhac, who could not attend
the ceremony due to ill health, was created Archbishop of Oxyrhyncus
on the 21st November 1920. Worn out by his heavy responsibility as Superior
General, he passed away at Maison-Carrée on the 11th November
1922, aged 76.
Since 1975 the remains of Archbishop Livinhac are in Uganda, in the
Shrine of Nabugala since June 24th 2007
BIBLIOGRAPHY: BURLATON L., Mgr Léon Livinhac,
archevêque d'Oxyrhynque, Supérieur général
de la Société des Missionnaires d'Afrique (Pères
Blancs), fondateur de la mission de l'Ouganda - Première partie:
1846-1892. Manuscrit, 529 pp. CEILLIER J.-C., De Chapitre en Chapitre
: Les premiers Chapitres généraux de la Société
des Missionnaires d'Afrique (1874-1900). Série historique n°1,
Rome, 2002, 84 pp. DOSSIER : éléments et notes biographiques
concernant Mgr Livinhac. MAZE J., Mgr Livinhac, première partie
: depuis sa naissance jusqu'à son départ aux grands Lacs
(1846-1878). Manuscrit, 53 pp. MGR LAVIGERIE, Les martyrs nègres
de l'Ouganda; circulaire de S.E. le cardinal Lavigerie portant communication
d'une lettre de Mgr Livinhac. Procure des Missionnaires d'Afrique, 1886.
MGR LIVINHAC , Essai de grammaire ruganda, par un Père de la
Société des Missionnaires de Notre-Dame des Missions d'Afrique
d'Alger. F. Levé, 1885, 98 pp. - Grammaire luganda, (Nouvelle
édition). Imprimerie des Missionnaires d'Afrique, 1921, 252 pp.
- Grammaire luganda. 1890, 134 pp. - Instructions de Monseigneur Livinhac
aux Missionnaires d'Afrique (Pères Blancs), Alger, 1938, 423
pp. - Lettres circulaires adressées aux Missionnaires d'Afrique
(Pères Blancs) : 1889-1912. Recueil de 97 lettres (n° 1 -
n° 97). - Lettres circulaires adressées aux Missionnaires
d'Afrique (Pères Blancs) : 1912-1922. Recueil de 37 lettres (n°
98 - n°134). - Manuel de langue luganda comprenant la grammaire
et un recueil de contes et de légendes. Etablissements Benziger
& Co. S.A., 1894, 290 pp. - Plans de méditations pour une
retraite de 8 jours. SHORTER A., African Recruits and Missionary Conscripts
: The White Fathers and the Great War (1914-1922). London, 2007, 270
pp. - Cross and Flag in Africa : The "White Fathers" During
the Colonial Scramble 1892-1914. New York, 2006, 294 pp. VAN DER BURGT
J., Mgr Léon Livinhac. Notices nécrologiques (1922-1931),
Tome IV, pp. 65-80.
Rome, March 20th 2007
Fr. STEFAAN MINNAERT, M.Afr.
Translation in English by Fr. Donald MacLeod
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