Ignaz Knoblecher was a Catholic missionary to central Africa. The vicariate apostolic of the Sudan was established by Propaganda Fide in 1846 to be staffed by a nationally mixed group deriving from the Austrian Empire. Knoblecher, a Slovene, had studied in Propaganda Fide’s own college in Rome and was ordained there in 1845. He then became a member of the first party to the Sudan led by Maximilian Ryllo, a Polish Jesuit, in 1847. After Ryllo died Knoblecher was appointed pro-vicar apostolic in 1851.
The mission established its base at Khartoum. Its boat, the Stella Matutina, was used to reach the mission’s chosen field farther south, perhaps the earliest example of missionary ownership of a boat for inland water travel in Africa. In 1852 a station was opened at Gondokoro, among the Bari, and in 1854 another was opened among the Dinka. At the time no other mission had penetrated nearly so far into the interior of Africa. However, it was grimly unsuccessful. The peoples targeted were unresponsive while the mortality rate among the missionaries was extremely high. The work was brought to a close eight years after Knoblecher’s death.
Knoblecher was outstanding in his missionary approach. An excellent linguist, he was the author of interesting works on the language and customs of the Bari and the Dinka, writings far in advance of those of most of his missionary contemporaries. He was also someone able to adapt his appearance and lifestyle to the society he had entered. Dressed in a white turban and flowing purple robe, he was known up and down the Nile as Abuna Suleiman. Predating the White Fathers by 20 years, he well represented the best in the nineteenth-century Catholic approach as it contrasted with the Protestant-adaptationist rather than civilizing.
D. McEan, A Catholic Sudan: Dream, Mission, Reality (1987); E. Schmid, Alle origini della missione dell’Africa centrale (1987).
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.