Justin de Jacobis was an Italian Vincentian missionary to Ethiopia. A Neapolitan, de Jacobis entered the Congregation of the Vincentians (also known as Lazarists) and was ordained in 1824. In 1839 he was appointed prefect apostolic in charge of a new mission in Ethiopia and after ten years in the country was made vicar apostolic; he was consecrated bishop by Guglielmo Massaja at Massowa. De Jacobis’s mission was to use the Ethiopian rite. This he did with conviction, showing outstanding sympathy for the Ethiopian Christian tradition in all its aspects. He gained some remarkable converts, most notably the future martyr Gebhre Michael. In consequence he established a well-rooted and lasting Catholic Church in northern Ethiopia. However, the favorable relations he achieved with Ethiopian authorities in the early years changed after the arrival of the new Egyptian patriarch, Salama, in 1855, Salama naturally saw in him a rival and a threat. De Jacobis was arrested and thus prevented from further activity during his final years in Ethiopia. If his church survived and grew, it was largely because of his ordination of numerous priests, some of them married men, who remained as a group profoundly loyal to the memory of “Abuna Jacob.” No Western missionary has ever demonstrated greater love and understanding for an Eastern Christian tradition.
M. E. Herbert, Abyssinia and Its Apostle (1867) is the only biography of de Jacobis in English. S. Pane, Il Beato Giustine de Jacobis della Congregazione della Missione (1949) is the most exhaustive study. Donald Crummey, Priests and Politicians Protestant and Catholic Missions in Orthodox Ethiopia, 1830-1868 (1972) places de Jacobis best in his political and ecclesiastical context.
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.