Feast Day of Blessed Joseph Gérard – The Apostle of Lesotho May 29th – Final Day of the Oblate Novena of Prayer Vocations
Blessed Joseph Gérard – The Apostle of Lesotho
Today, May 29th, is the last day of our Novena of prayer for an increase of vocations to the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate. It is also an important day in the calendar of Oblate feasts; today we recall and remember one of our missionaries; Blessed Joseph Gérard.
The eldest of five children, he was born in Bouxieres-aux-Chenes, northern France on March 12, 1831. While at school, he heard visiting Oblate missionaries speak about their work in the newly opened missions in northern Canada. He joined the Oblates when he was twenty. He was ordained a deacon by Bishop de Mazenod on April 3, 1853 and was asked to go to South Africa the same year and never returned to his family or France again.
On February 19, 1854, he was ordained by Bishop Francois Allard, another Oblate, in Pietermaritzburg, the capital of the province of KawaZul-Natal, South Africa. With the other newly arrived Oblate priests and brothers, Joseph had to learn to speak English so that they could work with the local traders. Eventually, they went to live with the Zulus in order to learn their language, customs and way of life. In 1855 they founded the very first Oblate Zulu mission, which they called St. Michaels. Sadly this mission was not fruitful and despite Joseph’s hard work and determination, he made little or no progress.
Even though the Oblates were growing and travelling to more countries, Eugene de Mazenod always kept in contact with his missionaries through letters. Joseph wrote many times describing in detail the progress that had been made including the difficulties and hardships involved in their ministry.
After three attempts to begin a mission among the Zulus, Joseph reluctantly admitted defeat. At the request of Bishop de Mazenod, Joseph went to Lesotho in 1861. Here he spent fourteen years establishing the Church in a country where there had never before been a Catholic Missionary. Through his experience in Natal, Joseph had learnt patience and perseverance and was now more than ready to wait for some small signs of success. He travelled tirelessly by horse through dangerous mountain regions, visiting farms, caring for the sick and celebrating the sacraments. He remained faithful and dedicated to his ministry during the 1865-166 Boer War. He we greatly encouraged by the arrival of the Holy Family Sisters of Bordeaux who were to become a powerful and energetic force for good. Eventually his patience and determination paid off; on October 8, 1865 Joseph baptised the first of many children. And, to everyone’s surprise he even managed to promote and encourage vocations to the Oblates when this seemed almost impossible.
In 1876, Joseph returned to Natal where he oversaw the publication of two books which he had written in the local language Sesotho. One was a translation of Luke’s gospel; the other was a short history of the church. Through these books Joseph was able to share the good news of the gospel with far more people. He then opened a new mission in northern Lesotho. He remained there for twenty-one years while engaged in all the demands of daily ministry of teaching, preaching and caring for the sick. In 1897, aged sixty six, he returned to the region of Roma where he worked for the next sixteen years. In 1914 he wrote to his brother and sister saying that he was now only able to ride his horse for two hours to visit the sick, regretting that that he could not do more – he was 83!
In April 1914 he celebrated the diamond jubilee of his ordination, but by the end of the month he was very sick, quite disabled and was mostly confined to his bed. Joseph Gerard died on the evening of Friday, May 29, 1914.
Blessed Joseph Gérard is an inspiration to all Oblates of Mary Immaculate. Despite his apparent failures and setbacks in his early ministry, he remained faithful to his mission of proclaiming the good news to the poor. He took to heart a particular Oblate value and virtue; perseverance. Our current Rule reminds us of this; Awareness of our shortcomings humbles us, yet God’s power makes us confident as we strive bring all people – especially the poor to full awareness of their dignity as human beings and as sons and daughters of God. (C.8)
Joseph Gerard, who is now known as The Apostle of Lesotho was beatified by Pope John Paul II on September 15, 1988 at the celebration of mass in Maseru, the capital of Lesotho. Three times, the Pope spoke of Joseph’s love of the cross and Mary Immaculate. He said these were the two living springs that sustained him throughout his life as a missionary; the source of his energy and commitment and the inspiration for his life’s work and ministry.
Loving God, you called Blessed Joseph Gerard to bring the gospel to the people of Southern Africa. Grant that through his example and intercession we may share his love for the poor and work for peace, justice and reconciliation in our world today. Encouraged and strengthened by his life, may others be inspired to hear God’s call and offer their lives as Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate and proclaim the good news of the gospel to the poor with their many voices and faces today. Amen.
St. Eugene deMazenod: Pray for us
Blessed Joseph Gérard: Pray for us
Mary Immaculate: Pray for us
Praised be Jesus Christ and Mary Immaculate!
by Br Michael Moore OMI
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