Unable to teach the “Undesirables” in India, this Bishop moved to Africa and died serving the poor during a Yellow-fever epidemic

Melchior de Marian Bressilac wikipediia.commons

By Larry Peterson

His full name was Melchior de Marion Bresillac. He was born in a town called Castelnaudary, located in southern France, on December 2, 1813, and was the oldest of five children.

Melchior’s father wanted his boy to pursue a military career. Melchior felt a special calling to the religious life and when he was 19, informed his father of his wishes to become a priest. His dad accepted his son’s wishes, and, in 1832,  Melchior entered the minor seminary at Carcassone to pursue his vocation. He was ordained to the priesthood on December 22, 1838, and assigned as an associate pastor to his hometown parish, the  Church of St. Michael, in Castelnaudry.  

Father Bresillac had a keen mind and prepared and delivered excellent sermons. He reached out to the sick and marginalized, taught catechism to the children, and had immense patience and understanding for others, especially the youth. However,  there was one thing nagging at Father Bresillac. He harbored a strong desire to serve in the missions.

In 1840, Melchior made a retreat with the Jesuits at Avignon. It was at this retreat that he made up his mind to follow his missionary calling. The young priest expressed his desires to his parents and his Bishop about becoming a missionary. They were strongly opposed, but Melchior knew that his calling to this ministry was from God and that he had to pursue it.

Melchior had to summon his courage to resist the heartbreak his mother was feeling. His father was unyielding in his objections. The Bishop refused to give his permission. The young priest never wavered and continued praying and trusting in the Lord. Eventually, both his parents relented. His father wrote him a letter which read, “Go, my dear son. Go where heaven is calling you. Now, I recognize the voice that summons you. May he protect you. Be happy. I submit!”

Melchior now wrote to his Bishop for final approval. The Bishop refused to give his permission. Melchior wrote again and was denied again. The third time was a charm because the Bishop gave Father Meklchior the permission he sought. In 1841, Father Melchior Bressilac left St. Michael’s Church and entered “Missions Etrngeres de Paris” (MEP), aka the Paris Foreign Mission Society. After nine months of missionary training, Father Melchior Bressilac was assigned to Pondicherry, India. He arrived there on July 24, 1842.

Father Melchior spent a few months learning about the culture and studying the Tamil language. The priest quickly realized that there was disagreement among the European missionaries about how to deal with the national customs. The Indian Christians did not like being told how to behave by foreigners. Consequently, the missionaries were resented for wanting to impose European ways on the natives of the country. And the caste system, where the people were divided into different levels of acceptance, hindered evangelization greatly. Contact among the castes was forbidden, and it went against all things regarding the teaching of “love your neighbor.” Creating Christian communities was a daunting task.

Father Melchior spent twelve years in India. He was elevated to Bishop of Prusa, and he was determined to make priests out of the indigenous people. He wanted the native people to have their own clergy, with the Europeans acting as assistants. Their resistance to his objectives was fierce. The people were classified as “desirables” and “undesirables.” Bishop Bressilac was disgusted that so many of his fellow priests agreed with the caste system. He resigned his post and returned home to France

Bishop Bressilac wrote to the Congregation for the Missions in Rome. He asked if he could begin a mission in Africa in order “to go to the most abandoned.” His request was granted, and on February 29, 1856, Rome gave him their permission to start a society. He founded the Society of African Missions and spent the next two years recruiting and training new missionaries. In 1858 the first SMA (Societas Missionum ad Afros).[4]missionaries set forth for the new Vicariate Apostolic of Sierra Leone in western Africa.

A total of six missionary priests (inluding Bishop Bressilac) were in Freetown, Sierra Leone, on May 14, 1859, when a yellow fever epidemic broke out. Undaunted, the priests and Bishop stayed to treat the ill. They all died with Bishop Bressilac passing on June 25, 1859,  six weeks after their arrival.  Father Augustine Planque and some seminarians back in France were the only members of the new order left. Father Planque determinedly continued forward with Bishop Bressilac’s missionary work.

copyright©Larry Peterson 2020


Lucien Botovosoa’s devotion to Christ and Family made him a Martyr—- Today he is counted among the Patrons of Married Couples and Fathers

Blessed Lucien Botovasova                                                      public domain

By Larry Peterson

Madagascar is a vast island nation located off the east-central coast of Africa. It was here that Lucien Botovasoa was born in the year 1908,  the exact day is unknown. He was the oldest of nine brothers and sisters.  Besides that, not much more is known about his early childhood.

Lucien began his schooling at the local public school when he was ten years old. Four years later, he was baptized and received his First Holy Communion. Soon after he was able to transfer to the newly opened “Priests School” at the Jesuit College of St. Joseph. He remained here until 1928 when he completed his schooling. He was awarded a teaching certification and became an instructor.

One of Lucien’s favorite things to do was read about the lives of different saints. He would always be willing to stay after class and read about these saints to any students who wanted to hear the stories. Many did stay, and great discussions about the faith and the saints took place with Lucien guiding the students along.

Lucien had a natural gift for teaching and became highly admired by his peers. On October 30, 1930, he married Suzanna Soazana. Soon after his marriage, a nun asked him if he had regretted getting married since he would have made a wonderful priest. Lucien never flinched and immediately told her that he did “not have the slightest regret at all.”

He went on to explain that he was serving God through his vocation as a married man through the example he set as a husband while living among the people. Lucien and Suzanna would eventually have five children together.

Lucien became a member of the Crusaders of the Heart of Jesus in August of 1935. He learned to speak Chinese, German, and French and was a musician who had a great singing voice. He also directed the parish choir. In 1940 he joined the Secular Franciscans. He had found his spiritual home and immediately went about spreading devotion to St. Francis of Assisi.

He avoided wearing the traditional black slacks that teachers and religious wore.  He dressed in the khaki colored clothes that Third Order Lay Seculars wore. He was proud of being part of the Secular Franciscans and wanted everyone to know he was a layperson. His devotion to his family, his students, and most of all, his beloved Catholic faith was visible to all who knew him.

Political unrest began to explode in 1946. The protests and violence that spread soon became known as the Malagasy Uprising. The Malagasy people were native to Madagascar, and their local rulers began to lead their people in revolt against French colonial rule. Quickly, Catholics became viewed as French loyalists, and officials throughout the country began turning against them. Their immediate targets were those who were among the religious.

By 1947, Lucien was keenly aware of the political situation and its impending dangers. He told his wife and children, “Whatever happens, do not EVER separate yourself from God. I am not afraid of death. and I will find bliss in heaven.”

By Easter, no nuns or priests could be found in the city. The authorities had rounded them all up and taken them away, executing them all. Then Lucien got word that the anti-Christian forces would be coming for him. The date was April 14, 1947. Lucien refused to hide and spent the day with his family.

At 9 P.M four militia men came for him.. He was brought before the local chieftain for trial and judgment. He asked the chief if they could talk before he pronounced sentence. They spoke for more than a half hour. Then Lucien was led off to be executed.

Lucien Botovasoa was taken to the nearby river bank. Ironically,  his executioners were all his former students. Lucien forgave them all and then was beheaded. They tossed his remains into the rushing river. Incredibly, not long after the man who had judged him and passed sentence on him converted to Christianity.

Pope Francis declared that Lucien had died “in odium fidei” and he was beatified by Cardinal Maurice Piat on April 15, 2018, in the town of Vohipeno, Madagascar. Blessed Lucien is counted among the patrons of married couples, fathers, and teachers.

Blessed Lucien Botovasova, please pray for us.

copyright©Larry Peterson 2019