The life of Ignace Ramarosandratana, who was the first Malagasy bishop, is particularly representative of the development of the Catholic Church in Madagascar.
Ignace Ramarosandratana was born on October 19, 1893, in the village of Ambohipeno, which is located in a suburb 4 km east of the capital. The son of Joseph Rainitsimba and Lucile Ratavy, he was the fifth child in a family with nine children. He was a student at the school of Saint Michel in Amparibe, where a group had been formed, in 1911, for children that seemed inclined towards a religious calling. In 1921, the thirty-six students (sixteen secondary school students, and twenty seminarians) moved to Ambohipo. Ignace Ramarosandratana was one of them.
He was ordained to the priesthood by Monsignor de Saune on February 18, 1925, along with eight other young Malagasy priests who constituted the first group of diocesan clergy in Madagascar. Ramarosandratana was assigned to different stations in the countryside and then in the cities, eventually being transferred to the parish of Ambatonilita in Antananarivo, and then to Tamatave. In 1932, he was a member of the commission of six priests that were led by Reverend Father Delom (superior general of the Mission of the Imerina) to undertake an excavation in Andevoranto on the 4th of January, in order to search for the mortal remains of Mgr. de Soulages there.
He was named spiritual director of the students at Saint Michel School in Antananarivo after that, and was elevated to the episcopacy from that position.
Under the vigorous initiative of Pope Pius XI, the Holy See had encouraged the training of indigenous clergy in mission lands so that bishops chosen from among the priests could take over the responsibilities of the dioceses and curacies. This had been done in Asia, India, China, Japan and the Annam, and it was Africa and Madagascar’s turn. It was also the first thing on Pope Pius XII’s agenda.
On May 31, 1939, Rome announced the creation of the apostolic vicariate of Miarinarivo, which until then had been organized as an autonomous mission under the auspices of the Italian Trinitarian Fathers, under the jurisdiction of Antananarivo. Ramarosandratana was designated to lead the newly created vicariate, which included a territory that had been evangelized since 1926 by the Trinitarians, as well as other detached territories of the vicariates of Antananarivo and Majunga. The vicariate had a land area of over 9,600 square miles and a population of 120,000 inhabitants that included 37,233 Catholics. Within it, there were twenty-one churches, 176 chapels, and thirty-five schools that, altogether, had a total of sixty-eight teachers and 2,268 students.
On October 29, 1939, Ignace Ramarosandratana received Episcopal consecration from the hands of His Holiness Pope Pius XII. The Second World War had just begun, and Rome wanted to emphasize the catholicity of the Church by conferring the full authority of the priesthood upon twelve missionaries that represented the various races: along with Ramarosandratana for Madagascar, there was Mgr. Kiwanuka for Uganda, as well as someone from India, China, and eight Europeans.
For seventeen years, Ramarosandratana directed his apostolic vicariate, giving it significant impetus through his goodness, devotion, eloquence, and know-how. He also increased the number of laborers for the harvest by ordaining six new priests. He died “on the job” while carrying out his duties.
Exercising his ministry throughout the diocese as was his custom, Ramarosandratana had set out for Andolofotsy on the morning of August 31, 1957, to take care of some confirmations. Toward the end of the morning, feeling very tired, he lay down. The next day, September 1st, he was brought back to Miarinarivo, where he died peacefully. He would have been sixty-four years old the following month.
A very elaborate funeral was held on Wednesday September 4th in front of the very cathedral in Miarinarivo that he had built, but that could not hold the enormous crowd of people who came from all over the island. The archbishop of Antananarivo, Monsignor Sartre, who had received Episcopal consecration from the hands of Ramarosandratana on July 17, 1948, was flanked by two other bishops and the representatives of every diocese in Madagascar. In addition, many French and Malagasy officials were present, including Mr. Tsiranana (vice-president of the cabinet council), who, along with his colleagues, came as a representative of the High Commissioner.
After the funeral oration given by the archbishop of Antananarivo, and the recounting of Ramarosandratana’s career by Reverend Father Edouard Ranaivo (one of the last surviving priests from the group of nine that had been ordained in 1925), various other short addresses were given in front of the tomb that had been prepared in front of the Bishopric. These addresses all mentioned the great goodness and the calm, welcoming manner that marked the one who had been the first Malagasy bishop.
In 1947, Ramarosandratana had been decorated with the Cross of the Legion of Honor by the High Commissioner, de Coppet, and had been named Officer of the same order a few years later.
A. Boudou, Madagascar, La mission de Tananarive [The Mission of Antananarivo], 1941.
Lumière [journal] no. 1126, September 13, 1957, Fianarantsoa.
Rajemisa-Raolison, Dictionnaire historique et géographique de Madagascar, Fianarantsoa, 1966.
This article, which is printed 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.