Tag Archives: Madagascar

This Aborigine child’s legacy lives on in the 21st Century-Meet Francis Xavier Conaci

Diremera and Francis Xavier Conaci       19th Century Australia Aborigines

By Larry Peterson

Kate Galvin is a nursing student from Australia who is a descendant of the Aborigines, the indigenous people native to her homeland.  Her roots are ingrained in what is known as Australia’s  Stolen Generations.

In July of 2018, she was awarded the Francis Xavier Conaci Scholarship. Sponsored by the Australian Catholic University and the Australian government, she flew to Rome where she received her award and is finishing up her final year of study at the Rome Campus. She expects to earn her degree in nursing and midwifery sometime in 2019.

So who was Francis Xavier Conaci and why is a scholarship named after him?

On March 1, 1846, two Spanish Benedictines, Rosendo Salvado, and Joseph Serra, founded a mission on the southwest coast of Australia. It was named New Norcia, (after the Italian town of Norcia) which is the birthplace of St. Benedict. Within one year of their arrival, the cornerstone for their future monastery was set in place.

Friar Rosendo had devoted almost 20 years to spreading the gospel and teaching about Jesus to the Aborigines. Indigenous to Australia and Tasmania, these people were not even considered fully human.  Incredibly, Friar Rosendo had made remarkable progress in bringing the Catholic faith to these folks. He lived with them, camped with them, learned several of the primary languages (there were many), wrote dictionaries for them, and even acted as a lobbyist for them with the colonial authorities.

Rosendo Salvado realized the intelligence of these people and became aware of their potential. He decided to select a few of the children who seemed to shine above the rest and take them to Rome.  He hoped to train these youngsters as European religious so they could go back home and spread the faith among their own people.

Friar Salvado chose two boys: one was Francis Xavier Conaci*, age seven, and the other was John Baptist Diremera*, age eleven.  They left Perth on January 8, 1849. The youngsters were very excited about the journey and were bubbling over with enthusiasm. So was Friar Rosendo.  (They were not the first to travel to Rome. A year earlier the first boy baptized in New Norcia,  Benedict Upumera*, was taken on the journey but sadly, he died on the way. Benedict was only seven years old).

The journey was long and hard. The big sailing ship had to travel from Australia to Madagascar, round the Cape of Good Hope and then north to Europe.  It was several months before they arrived in Rome. But first, Friar Salvado,  was invited to speak before the Royal Geographical Society in London. The Society believed the Aborigines were sub-human and he was able to convince them that they were just as human and of the same intelligence as all of them. Having the two boys with him were his living, breathing, walking, talking, proof.

It was on to Rome, and they had an audience with Pope Pius IX. The Holy Father presented the boys with their black, woolen Benedictine robes. The pope, laying hands on Francis Xavier, said, ”Australia needs a second Francis Xavier; may the Lord bless this boy, and make him into one!”

The boys also met the Kings and Queens of Sicily and Naples and were filled with awe at the royal guards and all the pomp an beauty of the palaces. Then it was off to the monastery in the Campania region of Italy to begin their education. Amazingly, both of them were quick to understand Latin. Little Conaci was not only impressive with his learning he also exhibited a great love for Jesus and prayed often. The friars began predicting he might become the first Aborigine bishop in Australia. But, that would never happen.

In early 1853 the abbot at the monastery advised the Vatican that two boys seemed ill and he could not understand why. Doctors, including the Holy Father’s personal physician, decided that the two young boys who were just homesick. Their advice was to send them home to Australia. It was too late for Francis Xavier. On October 10, 1853, at the age of eleven, he died. He is now buried at the Major Basilica of St. Paul’s Outside the Walls in Rome.

John Baptist arrived back in Australia in May of 1855. The youngster, all of fifteen years old, died three months later. Church historian, Father Brendan Hayes of Melbourne says, “They pined away.”

The scholarship, established in 2016,  is named after Francis Xavier Conaci to extend the boy’s legacy from the beginning in 1849 and carry it to the present day. His youth, his love of Jesus, and the fact that he passed on while at the Benedictine monastery all reach across the decades to embrace the Australian Catholic Church and tie all Catholics “down under” together.

*The boy’s names; Francis Xavier, John Baptist, and Benedict are their baptism names given by the Benedictines. The last names are their Aboriginal or tribal names.

copyright©Larry Peterson 2019

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