Charles Duparquet was the first modern Roman Catholic missioner to the interior of central Africa. He was born in L’Aigle, Normandy, and was ordained as a priest in the missionary Congregation of the Holy Ghost (Spiritans) in 1855. He devoted his next 33 years to opening up the African heartlands to Roman Catholic missions. Illness marked his strenuous life, forcing his early return from Dakar (Senegal) and Libreville (Gabon). Back in France, he learned Portuguese, researched the Congo River region, and initiated a memorandum to Propaganda Fide in Rome, offering Spiritan personnel for that territory. In 1865 Rome created the Prefecture of the Congo and assigned it to the Spiritans. His health renewed, Duparquet was appointed to the new mission, but, meeting with the bishop of Angola, he was persuaded to work in that country. As the first Spiritan in Angola, Duparquet found that his French citizenship made him unwelcome to Portuguese authorities. Returning to Lisbon, he was instrumental in establishing the Holy Spirit College of Braga and founding a Portuguese (Spiritan) province. But his sights remained on the interior of Africa.
Appointed to the Zanzibar Prefecture, in 1870 Duparquet left Bagamoyo (opposite Zanzibar on the mainland) by donkey caravan for the interior. After a ten-day trek, no suitable site had been found. The destruction of parts of Bagamoyo and Zanzibar in a cyclone forced him to rebuild, while the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian war virtually cut off financial support from France. Weakened by recurrent illness, he left eastern Africa, and, in 1876, attempted a new initiative on the west coast, advancing far up the Congo River and finding traces of the early Portuguese missions.
From France, where illness again drove him in 1877, Duparquet next planned a route to the interior of Africa from the south. Named vice-prefect of the Prefecture of Cimbebasia (a million square miles between Angola and the Cape), he sailed for southern Africa and, in 1878, tried to reach the heart of the continent through Kimberley; however, political unrest halted him. The next year he sailed round to Walvis Bay (in present-day Namibia) and up the Cunene River. In 1881, undaunted by vicissitudes, he was back in Kimberley, heading towards present-day Botswana by way of the Kalahari Desert. Five years later he tried again via Mafeking, withdrawing because of conflict with Methodist missionaries. Through negotiations in Rome in 1885, Duparquet helped establish the Vicariate of French Congo, a territory extending from present-day Zaire through central Africa to Chad. It was assigned to the Spiritans over strenuous opposition from Cardinal Lavigerie, who wanted to control the whole of the hinterland of sub-Saharan Africa. Finally back in Africa in 1888, Duparquet was stricken by peritonitis and died at Loango, Congo.
Anthony J. Gittins, CSSp
Henry J. Koren, To the Ends of the Earth (1983) and The Spiritans (1958); Le R. P. Duparquet (1888; n.a.).
This article is reproduced, with permission, from Biographical Dictionary of Christian Missions, copyright © 1998, by Gerald H. Anderson, W. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, Michigan. All rights reserved.