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Douvry, Jules
1879 to 1925
Catholic
Nigeria / Cameroon

The apostolic career of Father Douvry was quite brief, as it spanned barely twenty years. It was largely marked by the role he played in Cameroon during the time this colony was conquered by Allied troops and then organized, as a territory, under a French mandate.

Prepared by nine years of work in Nigeria, he left Calabar for Douala as a chaplain to the British Armed Forces. Once in Cameroon, he was faced with the various temporal and spiritual difficulties occasioned by war, and very creditably accepted all the responsibilities that he was given. His health suffered from it however, and a less stressful life was in order. Having found someone to take his place, he was able to travel to his first mission field in December of 1920.

Before going into those eventful years, it would be helpful to see how he had reached that point in his life.

Jules Douvry was born in Amiens, France, on August 7, 1879. He was raised in Lille by the brothers of Saint-Vincent-de-Paul, and was a good student. He did not seem particularly interested in the priesthood, but in 1897, following a retreat among the Trappist brothers of Saint Mary in Mont-des-Cats, he decided to become a missionary. The abbot himself recommended him to the apostolic seminary in Merville (Nord Department). A bright student, he quickly learned enough Latin to enter the novitiate of Grignon, near Paris, and took his vows there in September of 1899. Following his compulsory military service in Amiens, he studied philosophy and theology in Chevilly (Paris) until his apostolic consecration, which took place in July of 1905.

He was interested in working among the Negro population in the United States, but he was sent to the Igbo region of Nigeria instead. He spent two years in Aguleri, from September of 1905 to the end of 1907. At that time, he was given the responsibility of establishing a mission in Ntejé. In November of 1908 he wrote the following:
I lived alone for ten months, and started out by building myself a mud-walled, thatched-roofed hut. I then built two other native-style structures for goats, chickens, ducks, etc. I also had to travel to Aguleri to get what I would need to build a house: boards, corrugated metal roofing, and cement, which altogether took eight-hundred porter loads. While teaching the catechism I oversaw a school with fifty-five students, and I also taught them English as quickly as I could learn it myself. It is hard to live alone - not only because of the thousand and one small things one has to attend to - but also, and especially, because one is more exposed than ever to so many moral difficulties...
A co-worker was eventually sent to help him. After twenty months in Ntejé, he went to Onisha to serve as the purchasing agent for the mission to Calabar, and eventually went to Igbarian. From there he went to France in August of 1913, where he spent a sabbatical year. He was back in Nigeria when World War I broke out, and he was drafted back into military service as a chaplain to the British forces who were headed to Cameroon.

He served in the campaign that ended with the taking of Yaoundé, and his letters mark the various stages of the campaign. On March 26, 1924, Edéa was taken without a fight. He stayed there for one year because it was quite difficult to advance through the tropical forest: the paths were narrow and poorly marked, there were too few roads, and the enemy was often quick to reappear after they fell back. On January 5 Edéa was attacked and the mission was destroyed. In April several strategic places were taken beyond Edéa, but the march on Yaoundé was not resumed until October. In twenty-five days, a first stage brought the column up to Eséka, and after a second stage that took twenty-seven days, they were in Mangelé. From there, his unit was supposed to advance to the place where the future rail line and the Kribi-Yaoundé road crossed paths, south of Yaoundé. However, on January 1, 1916, Youndé was evacuated and father Douvry's unit was sent after the enemy. They entered Ebolowa January 19 and marched on, causing the German troops to fall back at Muni. The campaign finally ended at that point, and territorial organization was begun.

In spite of many entreaties on the part of the Catholic fathers with the military, the German Pallotine fathers [Order founded in 1835 by Vincent Palloti] were forced to leave Cameroon, which meant that the thirty thousand Christians who had been in their care now needed help. The reality of the situation was frightening: before the war there had been about ninety people at work in the Catholic mission, but now, in 1916, there were suddenly only eight Fathers left. Father Douvry was not one to shrink from a task, however formidable, and in May of 1916, he accepted the administrative responsibility of the mission that was conferred upon him by Father Hoegen, the pro-vicar, with the assent of the office of the Propagation of the Faith. On February 3, 1917, he was named apostolic administrator of the Cameroon. Eight missionaries to Equatorial Africa, some of whom could understand the native language, were called to the mission for a deferred stay by the superior general, Monsignor Le Roy. In October of 1916, those eight missionaries came to help the others who had been at work in the mission for the last two years. Thanks to those reinforcements, Father Douvry was able to reclaim the missions at Kribi, Marienberg, and Edéa, adding them to the already reclaimed missions at Douala, Yaoundé, and Ngowayang. Schools were reopened and the missionary work was resumed.

At the same time, there were problematic accusations that needed to be addressed, and administrative questions had come up: How was marriage to be celebrated? What status did the schools have? How should mission property be dealt with? All these matters called for negotiations between the military authorities and the religious leader, and again, Father Douvry took on the responsibilities that came his way. When the war finally ended and peace treaties were signed, Father Douvry went to France for a short rest in October of 1919.

He was never to return to Cameroon. In August of 1920 he resigned as the apostolic administrator, and, free from all responsibilities in that area, he returned to Nigeria (December 1920). He had dreamt of establishing new mission stations among the Munchis, to the north of the vicarage, but he was prevented from doing so by his health. Less than three years later, in September of 1923, he was back at the mission headquarters, and a month later, in Mortain (Manche Department), where he served as treasurer of the nascent philosophy scholasticate.

The climate in Normandy was good for his health, and he accepted an assignment to Guadeloupe. In Pointe-à-Pitre, he became vicar of the parish and purchasing agent for the district. Only ten months after his arrival, he came down with another spate of albuminurea, and the tropical medicine specialists were unable to reverse the course of the disease, which forced him to return to France. Less than two months later, on September 1, 1925, he died in the same establishment in Chevilly, near Paris, that he had left so many years ago for Nigeria.

Bernard Noël, c.s.sp., (Manager, general archives)


Bibliography:

Douvry, personal file - general bulletin
Cameroon Archive 1916-1920
Article drawn from the general bulletin, Dec. [1925]


This article, reprinted here with permission, is taken from Hommes et Destins: Dictionnaire biographique d'Outre-Mer [People and Destinies: Overseas Biographical Dictionary], Vol. 3, published in 1977 by the Académie des Sciences d'Outre-Mer (15, rue de la Pérouse, 75116 Paris, France). All rights reserved.