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White Fathers

Charles Martial Lavigerie, founder of the religious Society of the White Fathers

The missionary society known as "White Fathers" (Pères Blancs in French), after their habit, is a Roman Catholic Society of Apostolic Life founded in 1868 by the first Archbishop of Algiers, later Cardinal Lavigerie, as the Missionaries of Our Lady of Africa of Algeria, and is also now known as the Society of the Missionaries of Africa. Members of the society use the post-nominal initials M. Afr.


  • Origins 1
  • Dress and membership 2
  • Missionaries of Africa 3
    • Building the Church 3.1
    • Evangelization 3.2
    • Christian development of the laity 3.3
  • Leaders 4
  • See also 5
  • References 6
  • External links 7


The famine of 1867 left a large number of Maghrebian orphans, and the education and Christian instruction of these children was the occasion of the founding of the society; but from its inception the founder had in mind the conversion of the Arabs and the peoples of Central Africa. Missionary posts were established in Kabylie and in the Sahara. In 1876 and in 1881 two caravans from South Algeria and R'dames, intending to open missions in Sudan, were massacred by their guides. In 1878 ten missionaries left Algiers to establish posts at Lakes Victoria, Nyanza and Tanganyika. These now form the present Lakes Archdioceses of Kampala, Gitega, Tabora, and the dioceses of Kigoma, Lilongwe, and Kalemie-Kirungu. In 1894 the mission of French Sudan (now Mali) was founded, now the Archdiocese of Bamako.

The missions of the Sahara are grouped in a prefecture Apostolic. In 1880, at the request of the Holy See, the White Fathers established at Jerusalem a Greek-Melkite seminary for the formation of clergy of the Melkite Catholic Church. The society is composed of missionary priests and coadjutor brothers. The members are bound by an oath engaging them to labour for the conversion of Africa according to the constitutions of their society. The missionaries are not, strictly speaking, a religious institute, whether "order" or "congregation". Instead, they are a society of apostolic life. They may retain their own property; but they may expend it in the society only at the direction of the superiors. One of the chief points in the rule is in regard to community life in the missions, each house being obliged to contain no fewer than three members. At the head of the society is a General-Superior, elected every six years by the chapter. He resides in Rome at the Generalate house on Via Aurelia. Those desiring to become priests or brothers are admitted to the novitiate after their philosophical studies. After the noviciate they spent two years of missionary training on the field and four years of theology. This training can be slightly different for brother candidates. The theological studies are spent in scholasticate presently located in Abidjan Ivory coast, Nairobi Kenya, Merrivale South Africa, Jerusalem. The society admits persons of all nationalities.

Dress and membership

The habit of the missionaries resembles the white robes of the Algerian Arabs and consists of a cassock or gandoura, and a mantle or burnous. A rosary and cross are worn around the neck in imitation of the mesbaha of the marabouts.

The society depends directly on the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples. The White Fathers succeeded in establishing small missions among the Kabyle Berbers, there being at present nine hundred and sixty-two Christians; but the regions bordering on the Great Lakes and Sudan show the best results. The number of neophytes in all the vicariates (as of June 1909) was 135,000; the number preparing for baptism 151,480. A test of four years is imposed on those desiring to be baptized. To religious instruction the missionaries add lessons in reading and writing, and teach also, in special classes, the tongue of the European nation governing the country, which was mostly French in these aerias. The brothers train the young people for trades and agriculture. The number of boys in the schools (June, 1909) was 22,281.

In January 2006, the society numbered; 9 bishops, 1,498 priests, 156 brothers; 16 clerics with perpetual oath, and 5 associates. There were 354 students preparing to enter the society.

Missionaries of Africa

Cypress Grove House, home of the White Fathers in Ireland

Building the Church

It has been noted by several authors (e.g. Philip Jenkins' The Future of Christendom) that the growth of the Church in Africa is so dynamic that it may represent the future of Catholicism. In contrast to the United States and Western Europe, vocations to the priestshood and the religious life are on the increase, moreover the average age of priests and religious declines each year, the number of religious communities, parishes and dioceses is increasing each year.


The Missionaries of Africa are turning over to the African clergy the care of those Churches where the Gospel has been heard and are devoting themselves to those who have not heard the Gospel message.

Christian development of the laity

Lavigerie memorial in Algiers

Notwithstanding the increase in African vocations, a very large percentage of African Christians cannot celebrate the Eucharist every Sunday and feast day. In these areas the Church is led by lay leaders who gather the people to pray. They effectively run the Church in their villages. The education and support of these lay leaders is a priority for the Missionaries of Africa and the entire Church in Africa. Also a priority is the deepening of the faith among the educated and elite classes in Africa.


Under the overall leadership of Archbishop, later Cardinal Charles-Martial Allemand-Lavigerie, General Superiors were:[1]

1874 1880 Fr. Francisque Deguerry
1880 1885 Fr. Jean-Baptiste-Frézal Charbonnier (later Bishop)
1885? 1886 Fr. Léonce Bridoux (later Bishop)
1886 1889 Fr. Francisque Deguerry
1889 1894 Bishop Léon Livinhac (later Archbishop)

Subsequent Superiors General were:[1]

1894 1922.11.11 Archbishop Léon Livinhac
1922 1936 Fr. Paul Voillard
1936.04.22 1947.04.30 Bishop Joseph-Marie Birraux
1947.05.05 1957 Bishop Louis-Marie-Joseph Durrieu
1957 1967 Fr. Léon Volker
1967 1974 Fr. Théoz Van Asten
1974 1980 Fr. Jean-Marie Vasseur
1980 1986 Fr. Robert Marie Gay (later Bishop)
1986 1992 Fr. Etienne Renaud
1992 1998 Fr. Gothard Rosner
1998 2004.06.02 Fr. François Richard
2004.06.02 2010.05.31 Fr. Gérard Chabanon
2010.05.31 Fr. Richard Baawobr

See also


  1. ^ a b "Missionaries of Africa M. Afr.". GCatholic. Retrieved 2013-04-19. 

 "White Fathers".

  • Missionaries of Africa
  • Missionaries of Africa in West Africa
  • Missionaries of Africa UK
  • Register to the Photograph Collection of the White Fathers (Society of Missionaries of Africa), National Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Institution

External links


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