THE SOCIETY OF Missionaries of Africa, nicknamed, “White Fathers” is an Apostolic and International Society which was founded 150 years ago in Algeria by Cardinal Charles Allemand Lavigerie, who formerly was a Bishop of Nancy, France.
They are nicknamed “White Fathers” because of their adoption of the North African dress called ‘gandourah’, a white garment with a rosary around the neck. Lavigerie founded also founded female congregation namely, Missionary Society of Our Lady of Africa (MSOLA). Missionaries of Africa are present in 22 countries of the continent of Africa. They are also present in Asia, Europe, South and North America. Their missionary focus is in Africa and among the African people wherever they are. Caritas is their motto and it is symbolised by a ‘Pelican’, a bird which feeds her chicks with her blood during drought and famine. This is a symbolic gesture which presents the reality that as missionaries, sons of Lavigerie, are to be ‘all things to all people.’ That means as missionaries, they are not just for themselves but more so, for the people of Africa and the African people whom God has entrusted to them. And in order to live the Gospel values accordingly, it deems necessary for them to internalise those values in their own lives for the sake of being fully ‘all things to all people’ (1 Cor. 9:22).
Here below is a brief history of the Society of Missionaries of Africa: in 1868 the Society of Missionaries of Africa (M. Afr.) was founded with 13 Missionaries in Algiers, Algeria, North Africa; in 1869 Missionary Society of Our Lady of Africa (MSOLA) was founded; in 1873 Missionary work began officially; in 1876 three missionaries of Africa were killed as they were trying to cross the Sahara desert; in 1878 the first Caravan went to East Africa; in 1881 three more missionaries were killed in the Sahara desert; in 1886 the Martyrs of Uganda – Missionaries of Africa being the ones who Christianised them; in 1891 the first Mission of the Missionaries of Africa was opened at Mambwe Mwele, Zambia; in 1943 Missionaries of Africa came to Ibadan, Nigeria, and later on they were entrusted with the former diocese of Oyo, which are now Osogbo and Oyo dioceses.
In the spirit of celebrating the 150th Anniversary of their foundation, it also reminds them of their own individual anniversaries in different degrees as missionaries of Africa. The time they joined the Society of the Missionaries of Africa, the time of the Novitiate, the time when they made their Oaths, the time when they were Ordained, the time of Silver Jubilee, Golden jubilee. All this makes them realise in practical terms their mission statement that, “Filled with the joy of the Gospel and guided by the Spirit, we are an inter-cultural missionary Society with a family spirit sent out to the African world and wherever our charism is needed, for a prophetic mission of encounter and of witness to the love of God.”
In the spirit of celebrating the 150th anniversary, they also identify themselves with their brother ancestors who have gone before them who are part and parcel of their stepping stones to reaching where they are now, at this particular moment; especially those buried in Yoruba Land since the beginning of their mission here in 1943. they do remember: Rev. Br. Robert McErlean (nicknamed Nicodemus), M. Afr., who died on 22.08.1964, and buried at St. Benedict Cathedral, Popo, Osogbo; Rev. Fr. Cornelius Kingseller, M. Afr., who died on 23.01.1987, and buried at St. Benedict Cathedral, Popo, Osogbo; Rev. Fr. Gerard van der Peet, M. Afr., who died on 05.08.1993, and buried at Ede Pastoral Centre, Osogbo; Rev. Br. Wolfgang Nonn, M. Afr., who was assassinated on 14.02.1994 (Valentine Day), and buried at Ede Pastoral Centre, Osogbo; Rev. Fr. Irenee Edmond, M. Afr., who died on 16.12.2000, and buried at Oyo Pastoral Centre, Owode, Oyo; Rev. Fr. Engelbert Beyer, M. Afr., who died on 30.06.2006, and buried at St. Theresa Minor Seminary, Oke Are, Ibadan, for over 20 years he lectured at Ss. Peter and Paul, Bodija, Ibadan. And Fr. Hugh Regan who died in Scotland taught in the same seminary for over 30 years.
We “Recounting our history is essential for preserving our identity, for strengthening our unity as a family and our common sense of belonging. More than an exercise in archaeology our the cultivation of mere nostalgia, it calls for following in the footsteps of past generations in order to grasp the high ideals, and the vision and values which inspired them, beginning with the founders and foundresses and the first communities. In this way, we come to see how the charism has been lived over the years, the creativity it has sparked, the difficulties it encountered and the concrete ways those difficulties were surmounted. We may also encounter cases of inconsistency, the result of human weakness and even at times a neglect of some essential aspects of the charism. Yet everything proves instructive and, taken as a whole, acts as a summons to conversion. To tell our story is to praise God and to thank him for all his gifts.” (Apostolic letter of His Holiness Pope Francis to all Consecrated People on the occasion of the year of Consecrated Life, November 21, 2014).
-REV. FR. JOHN NGAHY