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 ideas.

old Photo of the house .old Photo church. Buzeins of today . today house
(Explanation of the photo with the mouse and click to enlarge)

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 consecrated women.

the major seminary of Rodez (old  photo)In 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

Fr. Charmetant. 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.

Fr. CharbonnierEnFr. Terrassecouraged 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 day of the ordination(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.

Camp 1st Caravan in 1878 à Chamba GonéraFather 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. Mission N-D KamogaThese 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 1890.

Blason Mgr Livinhac

Mgr Livinhac jour du SacreKing  MwangaAfter 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.

Membres caravanes 1885 : debout P. Benoit, Mgr Livinhac, assis: PP. Sollasol, Couillaud, Lombard,  Yosset . escorte bagandas

On the 24th August 1887, at Kipalapala, he ordained his friend Father Charbonnier bishop,In 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

at Kamoga, he ordained his successor Father Hirth (1854-1931), to the episcopatehe visited the Vatican, bringing with him the fourteen BagandaOn 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.

. Mgr Livinhac bénit des confirmandi à Kipalapala . Mgr Livinhac et P Girault, avec orphelins, Kamoga

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 in 1922!

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 and ideas.

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.

Archbishop Livinhac en 1922Bishop Livinhac had the ear of Pope Benedict XV (1854-1922). Even some of his ideas were taken Tombe de Mgr Livinhac peu après sa mort à Maison-Carréeup 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.

Buste de Mgr Livinhac  dans l’église de Buzeins
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

Translation in English by Fr. Donald MacLeod
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