Tag Archives: missionaries

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

Saint Marie of the Incarnation—the “Mother of the Catholic Church in Canada”

Marie of the Incarnation                                                  en.wikipedia.org

By Larry Peterson

Marie Guyart was born on October 28, 1599, in Tours, France. By the time Marie was fourteen, she had already asked her parents if she could enter the convent. In her book, The Jesuit Relation, written in 1654, she wrote that she had experienced a visit from Jesus when she was seven years old. She wrote that Jesus had come to her, reached out, put His arms around her, and hugging her said, “Do you wish to belong to Me?”

She says she told Him loudly, “YES!” Marie also wrote in her book, that from that point forward she could only think of “Goodness.”

Although Marie constantly spoke of becoming a religious, her parents betrothed her to a man named Claude Martin. When she was eighteen, Marie did as her folks wanted and married him. The couple had a son but Claude died when the boy was only six months of age. Marie was twenty. The year was 1919 and Marie was suddenly a young widow with a baby to raise.

She then moved in with her sister and her husband, Paul Buisson. Paul owned a thriving transportation business, and Marie began working for him. She possessed great organizational skills and soon took over management of the Buisson business. However, over the ensuing ten years, her primary focus and desire were always to enter the spiritual life.

Marie’s intense desire to become a religious was always present.  When Claude Jr. became a teenager, she began making plans to enter the Ursuline order. Marie’s sister was willing to raise the young man as her own. Marie was heartbroken to leave young Claude, but she believed that he would be better off with a father figure in his life. Paul treated the boy as his own son, and her sister loved him dearly. Those factors sealed her decision to become a nun.

Marie joined the Ursuline order in 1632. She received the name of Mother Marie of the Incarnation. It was sometime during 1636 that Mother Marie had a vision of a beautiful place filled with mountains and forests and beautiful lakes.  She was told that this place was  Canada, and she was supposed to go there and build a house for Jesus. It took her several years, but she managed to raise the necessary funds.

Mother Marie garnered the support of the Jesuits.  She was given the charter to establish centers in New France (Canada) by none other than Louis XII.  On April 3, 1639, she and two other Ursulines, set sail for land she had never seen but only dreamed of.

They arrived in Quebec on August 1, 1639. Mother Marie and her companions immediately set about doing missionary work by attending to the many Indian people in the area. Soon several more Ursuline nuns joined them, and the nuns moved into a small house donated to them for use as a convent. By 1642 the nuns had managed to have a permanent stone building built.  It became the first school in Canada and was known as the Ursuline Monastery of Quebec.  (Today the building is one of  the National Historic Sites of Canada).

Mother Marie’s unique management skills enabled her to organize the new school and convent into a functional and efficient operation. There were Iroquois, Algonquin, Montagnais, and Ouendat natives in the area and Mother Marie worked with the Jesuits and learned their languages even writing dictionaries in all the languages. Slowly but surely women began joining the order.

Ten years after Marie had entered the Ursuline order, her son, Claude,  became a Benedictine monk. Mother and son kept in frequent contact, and when Marie left for Canada, they kept up a regular correspondence with each other and this continued for more than thirty years. Mother Marie of the Incarnation passed away on April 30, 1672.

She had spent 33 years in the Canadain wilderness. Claude wrote a biography of his mom. In it he wrote, “Her zeal for the salvation of souls, and especially for the conversion of the Indians, was great and so universal that she seemed to carry them all in her heart. We cannot doubt that, by her prayers, she greatly called down God’s many blessings upon this new-born Church.”

Mother Marie of the Incarnation is recognized as one of the primary reasons Catholicism grew and flourished in Canada. There is even a statue in her honor standing in front of the Quebec parliament.

Saint Marie of the Incarnation was canonized by Pope Francis on April 2, 2014. We ask her to please pray for us all.

copyright©Larry Peterson 2019