Although he never visited East Africa, Cardinal Lavigerie is of great importance for its history as the founder of the White Fathers Mission. He was born at Huire in the diocese of Bayonne, France, on October 31, 1825, and was ordained to the priesthood in 1849, having acquired brilliant academic honors. After ordination he lectured at the Sorbonne. In 1858 he became the general manager of the Oeuvre Ecoles d’Orient, which undertook educational and welfare work in the Middle East. In 1861 he was appointed auditor of the rota in Rome, and in 1863 was consecreated bishop of Nancy, where he immediarely set about improving the standards of the clergy and teaching sisters. In 1867 he became bishop of Algiers where he refused to be bound by the previous practice of the church which was to minister only to French Catholics, but he saw the whole of Algiers as a mission field, and when famine was followed by cholera he roused the church to minister to a desperate population. His concern for the Arab population roused the hostility of the French government. In 1868 he was made apostolic delegate for the Sahara and the Sudan, and the same year founded the White Fathers and shortly afterwards the White Sisters who would be dedicated to the conversion of Africa. Their first assignation was by patience and love to overcome the hostility of the Muslim Arabs. Great difficulties were experienced and in 1876 three priests were murdered by the Tuareg, and the work in Algiers came almost to a standstill on the orders of the French government. In 1877 he was made apostolic delegate for Equatorial Africa and the Congo at the time when the first White Fathers were sent to the interior of Africa in the region of the great lakes. In the next few years he was deeply concerned in the Anti-Slavery Movement. In 1882 he was made a cardinal, and the same year saw the foundation of the Jerusalem Seminary for the Greek Melchite rite – it was typical of his attitude that he did not attempt to force this church into a Latin Pattern, but sought to serve it. In 1884 he was made archbishop of Carthage.
This article, used by permission, was written by Louise Pirouet, as part of A Dictionary of Christianity in Uganda (Department of Religious Studies, Makerere University College, 1969), p. 36. Copies available at Africana Section, Makerere University Library (AF Q 276.761 MAK and AR/MAK/99/1); Bishop Tucker Library, Uganda Christian University and in UK at the University of Birmingham; Crowther Centre Library, CMS Oxford and Louise Pirouet Papers, Cambridge Centre of African Studies.