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Charles Joseph Mendy
Late 19th century  to  1932
Roman Catholic Church
The Gambia

 

Charles Joseph Mendy was a Gambian Roman Catholic priest. Mendy served the Gambian Roman Catholic Church for eight years (1924-1932) only; his career was cut short when he unexpectedly died during an operation. Mendy was widely considered a saint by his contemporaries.

Few details are known about Charles Joseph Mendy. He was born in Bathurst, but neither his date of birth nor his parentage are known; the name Mendy suggests Manjago descent. Mendy was sent to the Junior Seminary in Ngasobil in 1909 and had his entire formation in Senegal.

He was ordained on June 22, 1924 in Bathurst, the first Gambian in 55 years to be ordained into the priesthood. According to the archival material, people of all denominations attended his ordination and also many priests and religious from Senegal were present. The Spiritan Journal de la communauté states: “in truth the day that the Lord hath made, a red letter day in the History of Bathurst which witnesses for the first time the ordination of a priest and then it is one of our own, a native of Bathurst.” The Journal of the Spiritan Congregation also reported that never before had there been so many priests in the Gambia.[1]  

Mendy served as a parish priest in Hagan Street, Bathurst and soon acquired a saintly reputation because of his piety. Oral history states that Mendy lived an ascetic life, spent much of his time in prayer and shared all he had with the poor.[2] The same oral tradition states that on several occasions, unannounced visitors to the church found Mendy in a levitated state, lost in prayer.[3] Though this claim is not substantiated in written sources, the narrative indicates the respect and standing Mendy had acquired amongst the Bathurst congregation.

Unexpectedly, on July 12, 1932, Mendy died during a bowel operation. The tributes paid to him after his death suggest that Mendy was a committed and compassionate pastor. The Journal records: “The mission lost in him a hardworking and good missionary.”[4] His German colleague Fr. Aloyse Haegy (1922-1946) called him “a priest who was very dedicated to his work.”[5] Only Fr. John Meehan, the superior of the mission, was more critical. Though he admitted that Mendy had been a good priest, he also called him stubborn and arrogant.[6] Then again, Meehan was later associated with racist behavior.[7] It is possible that this outlook on Africans also influenced his evaluation of Mendy.

Oral tradition has given its own appraisal of Mendy, stating that many of Mendy’s contemporaries, both Muslims and Christians, considered him to be a saint. [8]

Martha Frederiks


References:

1. Entry June 22, 1924, Journal de Ste. Marie de Bathurst IV, 1924-1958, Box 4i2.4. The comment that the ordination of Mendy was the first priestly ordination ever in Bathurst, is not quite accurate. Already on April 4, 1849, Bishop Kobès ordained Henry Warlop into the priesthood.
Note: archival material (journals, diaries, reports, letters) from the start of the mission in 1821 until 1965 can be found in the Archives of the Holy Ghost Fathers in Chevilly-Larue, Paris. The Archives in Chevilly-Larue also have the complete series of the Bulletin Général de la Congrégation du St. Esprit et du Sacré Coeur de Marie (1857- ).
2. W. Cleary, Reaping a rich harvest. A history of the Catholic Church in The Gambia, Kanifing: 1990, 32. Cleary adds that this generosity extended to the distribution of mission property, to the extreme annoyance of his colleague Fr. Meehan. Meehan to Le Hunsec, Bathurst, June 21, 1932, Box 4I1.1B, File II Gambie/Bathurst, Correspondence 1932-1935, folder 1 Correspondence Meehan and Whiteside 1932/33.
3. W. Cleary, Reaping a rich harvest, 32.
4. Entry July 12, 1934, Journal de Ste. Marie de Bathurst IV, 1924-1958, Box 4i2.4.
5. Haegy to LeHunsec, July 21, 1932, Box 4I1.1B, File II Gambie/Bathurst, Correspondence 1932-1935, folder 1 Correspondence Meehan and Whiteside 1932/33.
[6] Meehan to Le Hunsec, Bathurst June 21, 1932, Box 4I1.1B, File II, folder 1 Correspondence Meehan and Whiteside 1932/33. Meehan calls him rogue, arrogant, doing things his own way: ”C’était un bon prêtre mais un rogue. (…) Il était à moitié formé. Il faisait tout à la façon de sa tête et je crois que s’il avait veçu il devendrait fou.“
7. In later years Meehan clashed with Fr. Thomas Jobe and oral tradition links the conflict to racist behavior by Meehan.
[8] “Father Charles Joseph Mendy. Priest of intense prayer and unsparing charity,” Diocese of Banjul Newsletter, 38,3 (2014), 31

Bibliography:

W. Cleary,  Reaping a rich harvest. A history of the Catholic Church in The Gambia, Kanifing (The Gambia), 1990.
M. Frederiks, We have toiled all night. Christianity in the Gambia between 1456-2000, Zoetermeer (The Netherlands), 2003.
“Father Charles Joseph Mendy. Priest of intense prayer and unsparing charity,” Diocese of Banjul Newsletter, 38,3 (2014), 31.


This article, received in 2016, was researched and written by Martha Frederiks, Professor for the Study of World Christianity at Utrecht University, The Netherlands. Research foci include West African Christianity, Christian Muslim relations and religion and migration. Frederiks worked in the Gambia between 1993 and 1999 as adviser of the Programme for Christian-Muslim Relations in Africa.