White Fathers

Missionaries of Africa
also known as White Fathers
Pères Blancs
Formation 1868 (1868)
Founder Cardinal Charles Lavigerie
Founded at Algiers
1,769 (2009)

The Missionaries of Africa, commonly known as the White Fathers or the Society of the Missionaries of Africa (French: Pères Blancs; post-nominals: M. Afr.) are a Roman Catholic society of apostolic life. Founded in 1868 by Archbishop of Alger Cardinal Charles Lavigerie, the society focuses on evangelism and education. In 2009, the White Fathers numbered 1,769 perpetually vowed members and 354 students preparing to enter the society.

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


The first convent in Maison-Carrée.

The cholera epidemic 1867 left a large number of Algerian orphans, and the education and Christian instruction of these children was the occasion of the founding of the society in Maison-Carrée (now El-Harrach) near Algiers; 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 novitiate 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.

Cypress Grove House, home of the White Fathers in Ireland

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.


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 1894Bishop Léon Livinhac (later Archbishop)
Lavigerie memorial in Algiers

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 (became Bishop of Wa - Ghana earlier in 2016)
2016.05.27 Fr. Stanley Lubungo

See also


  1. 1 2 "Missionaries of Africa M. Afr.". GCatholic. Retrieved 2013-04-19.

 Herbermann, Charles, ed. (1913). "White Fathers". Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. 

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