Toussaint Bourdaise was one of the Lazarist Brothers sent by Saint Vincent de Paul to Madagascar in the 17th century.
Born in Blois, France, in 1618, he entered the Congrégation de la Mission [Missionary Congregation] in Paris on October 6, 1645, at the age of twenty-seven. He was ordained to the priesthood in 1651. His overseers had expressed a few concerns about his capacities, since they considered him to be someone who “…has too little talent and knowledge.” His missionary vocation was about to prove the exact opposite.
Saint Vincent de Paul selected him for Madagascar along with another priest named Mounier as soon as he heard about the death of Father Gondrée, who had been sent there six years earlier. Bourdaise arrived in Fort-Dauphin on August 16, 1654, to a warm welcome from the little French colony that had been deprived of a priest for three years, and from the Antanosy who had been baptized by the first missionaries.
The beginning of his apostolate was marked by the destruction of Fort-Dauphin by fire, in 1655, and by the death of his co-laborer, Mounier. Pronis, who was named governor of Fort-Dauphin again after the departure of De Flacourt, also died. His successor, Des Perriers, abused of his power in a violent manner, which turned the Antanosy population against the French.
In spite of those difficulties, Bourdaise gave himself completely to his work. He had begun to learn the language and had started to compile a dictionary, but he didn’t have time to finish it because all his days were taken by his work. Fort-Dauphin was rebuilt with an even larger church that could hold 200 people. He exchanged letters with Saint Vincent de Paul, keeping him abreast of the difficulties encountered by the mission as well as the accomplishments. He was given advice on how to care for his health and how to moderate his zeal, in order to avoid the fate of his co-workers, many of whom had died within a few months of their arrival.
In early June of 1657, he went to the fort of Ambolo to be near his commander, Champmargou, who was sick. Having barely arrived, and having just administered the last rites, he too was taken sick with a fever, and was barely able to make it back to Fort-Dauphin, where he died from dysentery on June 25, 1657.
He had been a tireless worker. In order to keep the mission from becoming a burden, and in order to enable him instead to be able to help others in times of dire need, he had developed some land that was producing rice and other foodstuffs, as well as a herd of cattle that had grown to 300 heads by the time he passed away. He always responded to calls from the French community that was established around Fort-Dauphin, and he used to go to all the surrounding villages to contact new converts to the faith. Five to six hundred Malagasy families had been converted through his work, and he had begun to gather a small group of new converts in the hope of starting a small seminary.
[Biographical] notes on past priests, clerics, and brothers of the Congrégation de la Mission, Paris, 1898.
Henri Froidevaux, Les Lazaristes à Madagascar au XIXè siècle [The Lazarists in Madagascar in the 19th Century], Ch. Poussielgue, ed., Paris.
This article, reprinted here with permission, is taken from Hommes et destins: Dictionnaire biographique d’Outre-Mer [Men and destinies: Overseas Biographical Dictionary], vol. 3, published in 1977 by the Académie des Sciences d’Outre-Mer (15, rue la Pérouse, 75116 Paris, France). All rights reserved.