When the Founder’s village becomes a mission land

This article was first published in the African Missionary Magazine, No 43, Spring – summer 2024. The image on the left is a composite of two photograph, a present day view of the Church in Castelnaudary and a photograph of a young Fr de Bresillac taken not long after his ordination – with the help of modern technology this has been colourised.  

At the the 2016 Provincial Assembly of our Lyon Province (France), it was suggested that an SMA community be established in the birthplace of our founder, the Venerable Bishop Melchior de Marion Brésillac. 

After several years of planning (including discussions with the local bishop) this suggestion became a reality when Archbishop Michel Cartatéguy, SMA, (emeritus Archbishop of Niamey, Niger) officially installed the new SMA pastoral team in the parish of Saint-Michel du Lauragais in Castelnaudary.

Archbishop Michel with Parishioners
Parish Team: Fr Maria, Fr Antoine Chenu, Fe Eleithere Oensavi









Fr Thibault Renaudy, the diocesan priest coordinating the parishes in the area, said: “We are happy to welcome the SMA family to this parish which has an historical importance for them.” Father Maria, from the SMA Indian Province, arrived in Castelnaudary at the end of July 2022. He expressed his joy to be part of the pilot team of the new mission: “I am still discovering the parish. I am aware that this project is not only important for me as a person, and for the Lyon Province, but for the whole SMA family. Our presence in Castelnaudary today gives a deep meaning to the life of the Founder by making him and the SMA charism known through various activities in collaboration with the local church”.

Fr Maria is now joined by two other priests: Father Eleuthère Ouensavi, from the Benin Republic, who was appointed to the Lyon Province to study at the Catholic University of Toulouse and, at the same time, to lend a hand in St Michel’s parish. He brings with him a rich missionary experience from his time as a missionary in Abidjan, Ivory Coast. Fr Eleuthère was also involved in training our SMA seminarians in that country before being called to Castelnaudary. He describes his first impressions as a return to the roots of the SMA. He is convinced that working as a missionary in France is “relevant and compatible with the SMA charism”, concluding that at some point we receive, and at some point, we are also obliged to give. Fr Antoine Chenu, aged 83, an associate priest and an Honorary SMA member worked alongside the SMA in West Africa for 44 years. He has been working in Castelnaudary for several years before the SMA arrived. Fr Antoine welcomed the SMA priests, saying “I am happy to be part of this team even though I am old”. His presence will help to establish a balance between the old and the new, bringing different points of view to the table, contributing to increased innovation and creative problem-solving of the pastoral challenges in the local church.

Saint-Michel du Lauragais -Calips, CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Common

Another reason for the SMA presence in Castelnaudary relates to the ongoing Cause for the Canonisation of the Venerable Bishop de Brésillac SMA. Should the Church officially recognize his exemplary way of life through his canonisation, “it would be a great testimony to the local church of Saint Michel where he was born, raised and ministered”, declared the former Archbishop of Niamey. “It will be easy to do some things to make him, his works and his vision of the mission known,” he added. As well as that, this SMA team will “be at the service of the local Church in the way our SMA Founder was”, concluded the Archbishop. “So, in the name of the Provincial Council and in the name of the whole SMA family, I am happy to officially install this new apostolic community and I hope that it will bear abundant fruit”.    
Fr Dominic Wabwireh SMA   

Venerable Melchior de Marion Brésillac, SMA Founder

The SMA Founder was ordained in 1838 as a priest for the diocese of Carcassonne, France. He was then appointed as a Curate in his home parish, Castelnaudary. He had always wanted to be a missionary but the opposition of his father caused him to put this plan on hold. However, in 1841, he joined the Paris Foreign Missions Society and went as a missionary to southern India. In 1846, he was ordained titular Bishop of Pruse and later appointed as the Vicar Apostolic of Coimbatore, Tamil Nadu. Due to differences with the other bishops about ordaining local clergy and other matters, Bishop de Brésillac resigned in 1855. On returning to France, he founded the SMA on 8 December 1856 in Lyon for missionary work among “the most abandoned’ in Africa.

In May 1859, he arrived in Freetown, Sierra Leone, though Yellow Fever was sweeping through the town. He died of the disease six weeks later, on 25 June 1859.

One of his founding resolutions was “to use every available means, all my strength, all my mind, towards the training of a native clergy.” Thank God, this resolution has seen huge numbers of diocesan clergy in the countries where we work. And, since 1992, our Society has been blessed with more than 350 African SMA priests. Today, we also have 63 Indian, 26 Polish and 13 Filipino SMA priests.

Through the Family Vocations Community [FVC], thousands of Irish families are supporting the training of our seminarians in Africa, India, Philippines and Poland. Contact your local SMA House if you would like to help this work of training and supporting SMA priests in Africa and beyond or send an email to [email protected] for further details. Alternatively if you wish to make a donation you can do so via the Donate Now option on the top of this page. 









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