To Prepare His Ways

To Prepare His Ways. Patrick J Harrington SMA. (Cork: SMA Publications, 2021). Pp. 416.

Entering St. Patrick’s building in Maynooth and turning right towards the Chapel one finds a series of portraits of 19th century prelates who left college and country and became bishops in faraway mission fields. Among these are the two Fennellys who both served as Vicars Apostolic of Madras (modern-day Chennai, India), John from 1841 to 1866 and Stephen from 1865 to 1880. This recollection of the ‘Maynooth Mission to India’ sets the subject of this book in relief. This is the story of Melchior de Marion Brésillac.

The opening chapter offers an account of his growing up in early nineteenth century France, entry into the seminary and formation there, followed by his ordination as a priest for the diocese of Carcassonne in 1838 and his first years of priestly ministry. Having discerned the desire to be a missionary, he requested and received permission to become a member of the Society of Foreign Missions of Paris (MEP) which resulted in his being sent to Southern India in 1842. The major part of this book is an account of his travels and travails there, as both a priest and bishop of Coimbatore until 1853. Drawing extensively from his correspondence and contemporary sources, these thirteen chapters detail the joys and difficulties of mid-nineteenth century missionary life with its debates and divisions around culture, caste and the creation of a local clergy. The narrative of these years in India is vivid, veritable and very valuable with the view of hindsight. The next five chapters describe in detail his return to Europe after his resignation as a bishop, his relations with Propaganda Fide (Evangelisation of Peoples) in Rome and his resolve to found a missionary society for Africa. The final chapter concentrates on the journey in 1859 of de Brésillac and his companions culminating in their deaths in Freetown, Sierra Leone. The pathos of the final line – ‘Thus ended the first mission of the Society of African Missions to Africa’ – is both prepossessing and prophetic.

With his experience as a missionary in Australia and Liberia, Superior General of the SMA and Bishop of Lodwar (Kenya), the author is eminently equipped to interpret the itinerary of ‘this great servant of mission’ who ‘gave everything – even his very life’ (from Prayer for the Canonisation of the Venerable Melchior de Marion Brésillac).

The Postscript presents ‘A Sketch of the Legacy’ of de Brésillac’, covering eight causes and contexts: The Role of Conscience and The Dignity of Persons, Inculturation and Local Clergy, The Goan Schism and “Malabar Rites” controversy, The Paris Foreign Missions and Legacy to Africa. The last includes the development of the Society founded by de Brésillac which at time of publication numbers 1,223, including members from many countries in Africa and India. These reflections bring out the ethical and anthropological, missiological and ecclesiological implications of de Brésillac’s imaginative and inclusive vision of evangelisation which went on to bear fruit in both the local ministry and global mission of the church, up to and beyond the Second Vatican Council. More than a historical account of the personalities, places and period in question, this book heralds what Saint Pope John Paul II proclaimed ‘the Permanent Validity of the Church’s Missionary Mandate’ in his encyclical Redemptoris Missio (Mission of the Redeemer). Aptly illustrated throughout with maps and photographs, this book sets forth the spirituality of de Brésillac which, springing from his love of scripture, shows him faithfully imitating the example of Christ the Good Shepherd. This is a very readable account of a remarkable life which comes with the highest recommendation.              

Kevin O’Gorman SMA, St. Patrick’s College, Maynooth, Co Kildare

Published in the March issue of The Furrow, reprinted with the permission of the Editor

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For information about getting copies of To Prepare His Ways contact Provincial Office, African Missions, Blackrock Road, Cork, T12 TD54, Ireland

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